X2: X-Men United (2003)

Okay, my optimism has rewarded me on the analogy front and has also shot me down to a degree. X2, the second of what will soon be 7 X-Men films (blatantly) continues the analogy from the first film that mutants are gay.  It also continues the Malcolm X/Magneto, MLKR/Professor X train of the analogy and actually gives it more substance and complexity (even if it is still somewhat problematic in conclusion).

The first aspect of the film to mirror a rights struggle analogy is in the opening battle sequence. Nightcrawler attacks the white house, almost killing the president with a knife that has a ribbon attached to it with the words, “Mutant Freedom Now.” I unfortunately see that as an attempted knock at more militant activist groups (in the American consciousness most commonly associated with the Black Panther Party) and a continuation of Magneto’s problematic nature in these films.

The analogy then takes a more progressive/realist turn with an attack on the school. The raid seems reminiscent of the raids on gay bars that eventually led to the Stonewall riots and the film rightfully portrays this raid as a flagrant abuse of power that should be righteously rebelled against (as done by Wolverine).

Because of the raid, Wolverine, Iceman, Pyro, and Rogue flee to Boston to Iceman’s house where we are treated to a classic “coming out” scene. The mom has such great lines as, “when did you first know that you are a…” and “have you tried not being a…” Never being able to say the word mutant. While funny, it does come off as a little too on the nose until the police arrive. The best part of this scene is the younger brother who storms out angrily and calls the cops. He is made to represent the rejection that these teens face when coming out and it is done really effectively.

The other perfectly done part of this film happens between the villain Robert Stryker and Professor X. It is a short scene with other elements that transcend the analogy but a key piece of dialogue woven in involves Xavier saying, “Mutation is not a disease,” and Stryker screaming back, “YES IT IS.” It is jarring and feels like the honest denial of a homophobic parent. It also highlights his character’s relationship to the analogy through his son. He sent his son to Xavier’s school to be “cured” and then took him out when he realized that wasn’t Xavier’s goal. It then seems to become Stryker’s goal in life to reform mutants, turning him into the hyper-conservative gay reformer we think of today.

Then the film does something truly interesting. For about an hour Magneto becomes an anti-hero and teams up with the X-Men to stop the antagonist. Magneto’s methods are condoned for a large portion of the film as necessary due to circumstances. Where Xavier’s pacifism would have failed, Magneto’s violence seems to succeed through most of the film as a means of saving Xavier. It’s unfortunate that he eventually tries to use Xavier’s powers to kill all human beings, again feeding into the revolutionary-as-villain trope. But the film at least complicates the issue this time and I give it points for that.

The other aspect of the film that I want to comment on even though I have no firm conclusions is the concept of naming. Xavier uses a mix of birth names and mutant names in reference to his X-Men. Ororo Munroe is Storm and Scott Summers is Cyclops but Phoenix is Jean Grey and Wolverine is Logan. Stryker and Magneto on the other hand use the mutant names almost exclusively. For Stryker it is a method of demeaning and dehumanizing the mutants but for Magneto it’s something different.

There is a scene where Magneto is talking to the young mutant John Allerdyce and asks him his name. John replies that it is “John” but Magneto then asks for his ‘real’ name to which he replies, “Pyro.” Magneto then affirms Pyro that he is a god among insects and to never be ashamed of his powers.

This complements another scene when Nightcrawler asks Mystique why she does not always stay morphed to look “like everyone else.” She replies that it is because she shouldn’t have to.

Like I said I don’t have anything concrete to say about the use of birth vs mutant names but there are airs of both an analogy to the trans experience of changing names and the general oppressed experience of reclaiming harmful language. It is definitely one of the more interesting parts of this series and something I will continue to keep a close eye for going through the other 5 films.

X2 is a much better film than its predecessor and its use of the primary analogy in the series is better and more nuanced. There are still problems in the film when following the analogy but its nice to watch a superhero film that can have fun while still having meaning.

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