Blockbuster Banality

By Bowman, James | The American Spectator, July/August 2006 | Go to article overview

Blockbuster Banality


Bowman, James, The American Spectator


YOU HAVE AN EXTRAORDINARY GIFT, JIMMY," Says big, blue, bushy "Beast" (Kelsey Grammer), also known as Dr. Hank McCoy, Secretary of Mutant Affairs in an American government of the "not too distant future." Jimmy (Cameron Bright) does have an extraordinary gift too. He has just shown how, by his mere touch, he can make the Beast a beauty-or at least transform his furry paw into a reassuringly human-looking appendage when he touches it. As Beast moves away from Jimmy, his hand reverts to beastliness, but by his tribute he identifies himself as one of the good mutants, in the terms established by Marvel Comics and its durable X-Men franchise, nowbrought to the screen for a third installment by Bret Ratner (director) and Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn (screenwriters) in the early summer blockbuster, X-Men: The Last Stand. The good mutants, in case this is all new to you, are those who are pro-mutant-choice and strong proponents of mutant multiculturalism. Like the saintly and telepathic Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), founder of an academy for mutants and general good guy, they strongly believe in a "vision of a world united." In other words, they're liberals.

On the other side are the bad mutants, led by Holocaust survivor "Magneto" (Ian McKellan), né Eric Lensherr, and his gang of black-shirted-or bluetorsoed-mutant-supremacists, including the world's only "Class Five" mutant, Dr. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). Jean has been dead but now is alive again, since "her powers wrapped her in a cocoon of telekinetic energy." But being dead hasn't agreed with her. She used to be a nice girl, but now she's a raging storm of passion and appetite. Charles Xavier urges her: "Don't let it"-meaning her power-"control you," but, well, let's just say he isn't going to be urging restraint on anyone else anytime soon, not unless he has powers equal to her own. Magneto is naturally glad to have such an ally as Jean-"You have no idea what she is capable of "-in his effort to resist mutant integration into normal society. This has been made possible by a single "cure" for all the mutants' various genetic conditions, a cure that the Worthington pharmaceutical company has extracted from Jimmy, the biologically anti-mutant, in its laboratories on Alcatraz island. Some mutants may choose, as "Rogue" (Anna Paquin) does, to become "normal" by taking the cure.

As you can imagine, those with adaptations less desirable or useful than the ability to fly, to extrude fire, ice, or sharp blades from one's hands, to run through walls, bend metal telekinetically, or negate gravity are first in line to be "normal." But even "Storm" (Halle Berry), one of the good, pro-choice mutants, wonders if it isn't "cowardly" of them to take the cure "just to fit in." Obviously, the analogies in all this are not limited to the political. The whole idea of mutants who feel they don't "fit in" with others at the same time when they are feeling enormous pressures to fit in is an elaborate allegory of adolescence. Jean Grey's disinclination to put any rein on her appetites is a familiar young-teenage phenomenon, as is the combination of self-consciousness, self-pity, and a sneaking belief that one possesses powers that put one far above the ordinary. Like Jimmy, they possess extraordinary gifts, especially when they've just had a self-esteem lesson. And they too like to hide their true identities away beneath their super-hero nicknames.

In this they are also hinting at the double life of many gays. There is surely a special appeal to the latter in the idea of social pressure to accept a "cure" for what seems to them a genetic condition-even if science hasn't yet located a specific "gay gene." They, too, are a persecuted minority with, urn, extraordinary gifts who are often attacked just for being different. Bet those gay-bashers would think twice about attacking "Wolverine" (Hugh Jackman) or "Mystique" (Rebecca Romijn). But wait just a minute! Though there are powerful power-fantasies here for everyone who has ever felt lonely or out of place-fantasies as powerful as the swirling vortex out of which the resurrected Jean Grey emerges-we can't help but notice an interesting twist on the gay analogy. …

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