I’m a big X-Men fan. Given its parallels between discrimination against mutants and prejudices faced by marginalized groups and Charles’s and Erik’s philosophical differences and both nonviolent and violent resistance against discrimination, it’s pretty easy to see the draw for someone working in the peace and human-rights space.
So, despite the repeated disappointment I’ve felt toward a majority of the X-Men movies, the blatant and unironically racist The Wolverine flick and the less-than-stellar reviews Apocalypse has received, I spent the 20 bucks and saw the latest installment in 3D.
At first glance, it seemed a better X-Men movie than most that came before. The story line is engaging, with enough character development to draw in an uninitiated audience, and the set designs, costumes and special effects were superb. Still, First Class, to me, remains the best of the bunch, especially since Erik’s tragic backstory was better explored in that film, as it gradually drove him toward increasing violence, whereas in Apocalypse, its speedy unraveling made it seem manipulative and a convenient excuse for Magneto to return to his erroneous ways. (At the same time, the pace of Apocalypse is understandable given the already lengthy film and vastness of it story line. Perhaps Bryant Singer should have taken a cue from Quentin Tarantino and his Kill Bill series to release Apocalypse in smaller, more fleshed-out segments.)
By contrast, despite being a much better character than in The Last Stand and coming into her own while the Xavier-et-al leadership team was whisked away separately by Apocalypse and Colonel Stryker, Jean Grey became a bit useless during the big fight scene, until the very end. While her passivity served as an understandable plot device to build up toward her big scene, the writers could have made Jean much more active without taking away from her dramatic entrance as the Phoenix.
Overall, although the fact that women play a major role in this movie is encouraging to see (when so few strong female characters are presented on the big screen), the story line made them seem lacking in agency and reliant on men to realize their full potential. This is manifested either directly through the gift of more power (Storm and Psylocke from Apocalypse) or indirectly through coaxing (Raven from Hank McCoy), coaching (Jean from Charles) or the return of something that was firstly taken without permission (Moira from Charles).
Additionally, while this movie features more minority speaking and minor roles than many Hollywood blockbusters, it made me feel extremely uncomfortable to see a blonde & blue-eyed actress as the mouthpiece against prejudice in a movie with few minority principal actors, especially as one realizes the apparently propagandist message delivered by this movie.
Given the X-Men’s inherent parallels to the real world, what emerges from Apocalypse is a disturbing premise wherein an ancient Middle-Eastern false god leads a team of minorities (African, Asian and Jewish) and a fallen angel (whose character represented the LGBTQ community in The Last Stand) toward apocalypse, only to be defeated by a team of mall-loving lily-white Americans, a Christian German (rescued by an American) and, in the end, a reformed Jew (who, incidentally, when the X-Men are not facing greater threats, is mostly an outcast, if not an outright enemy), all led by a Brit, a CIA agent and a white male weapons-developing hawkish geek.
Apocalypse paints a not-so-subtle image of a heroic and benevolent white, hetero and Christian Anglo-American-German alliance against the misguided and villainous rest of the world. This not only runs counter to the ethos of X-Men, it reinforces white-supremacist ideology and harmful stereotypes about marginalized groups. Much like the relationship dynamic between the female and male characters in this movie, it is paternalistic and patronizing, recalling an ethnocentrism worthy of colonialism.
Given the worldwide growth of right-wing, nationalistic extremism and its ability to gain political foothold in multiple governments globally, the clawing back of minority and women’s rights, the rekindling of Islamophobia and the rise in anti-Muslim sentiment and violence since 9/11 and throughout the Syrian refugee crisis and the continual under- and misrepresentation of non-white, non-Christian peoples in media that’s disseminated throughout the world, this twisted messaging of an all-out war brought about by non-whites and marginalized whites against white Christians only serves to spread the ignorance that already undergird and bolster the prejudices we have and continue to experience.
The fact that this propaganda is delivered under the guise of a summer-blockbuster, specifically, a popular franchise expressly associated with the civil-rights movement and the fight against discrimination of marginalized groups is especially damnable. I can’t help but wonder if this is an outcrop of deliberate planning or the subconscious manifestation of deep-seated prejudices.