X2: X-Men United

X2: X-Men United
Tuesday, May 20, 2003

I watched X2: X-Men United last Sunday with four other guys. Over all, it was a good movie, but there were some prominent themes that merit commentary.


The X-Men story line assumes naturalistic, molecules-to-man evolution. Mutants are the next logical step in the evolutionary chain that began with pond scum and worked its way up to humanity. Mutants are a new species of humanity: Homo sapiens superior. In the world of the X-Men story, there are thousands or millions of mutants around the globe.

The X-Men story line may be a good example of "If P, then Q; if not Q, then not P." That is, the concept of these mutants seems rather far-fetched. Most random mutations that we observe in animals are detrimental. Many cause death. Marvel Comics wants us to believe that two normal, human parents can give birth to offspring who have the power to read and control minds, or manipulate magnetic fields, or steal another's life force (and any mutant powers) with skin contact. Not only that, but it seems that millions of pairs of human parents give birth to these mutants, and we don't seem to have any indications of mutations gone awry. We have a character born with dark purple fur and a long tail who can teleport by translating himself into another dimension and back into ours. However, where are the thousand mutants who vanish at their first attempt at translation into an alternate dimension and never return?

The answer seems to be punctuated equilibrium. As the voice of Patrick Stewart announces at the beginning of the first X-Men movie:

Mutation: it is the key to our evolution. It has enabled us to evolve from a single-celled organism into the dominant species on the planet. This process is slow, normally taking thousands and thousands of years, but every few hundred millenia evolution leaps forward.

Punctuated equilibrium suggests that the coming mutations can build up in a particular genome for millenia before being expressed in any individuals. Then, suddenly, many individuals express the new characteristics, and very quickly a new species forms.

Of course, X-Men is just a science fiction story, and we're not expected to take it too seriously. In such a story, we accept certain laws in that fictional Universe, and expect only that the author define those laws and abide by them. The interesting question to ask is: how much more far-fetched is the X-Men story line than the idea of naturalistic macroevolution--that humanity could evolve from a single-celled organism without the intervention of a Designer? Surely mutants are no more incomprehensible to a man than man is to a banana slug.

The Marvel Comics writers are not alone in their evolutionary optimism: the concept that man will continue to evolve into something even better than he already is. Anyone who has followed Star Trek at length will see that Gene Roddenberry not only believed that man would eventually bring about earthly peace, but also held to a belief that our current species is not the end of the chain.

Returning to my Ps and Qs, it begs the question whether naturalistic evolution and its concept of punctuated equilibrium leads to such an evolutionary optimism. Yet if the outcome of that sort of optimism is Marvelous super heroes and super villains, one might come to question whether the first premise might be flawed. Though it was likely not the intent of the authors, X-Men strongly challenges the notion that blind chance, time, and natural selection were sufficient to produce us and all we see around us.

Homosexual Images and Politics.

Though it is not evident to many viewers, the X-Men story line includes a good-sized dose of the homosexual political agenda. For the sake of brevity, I will define the homosexual political agenda as the goal to persuade the majority that homosexual activity is morally neutral and socially acceptable. Part of the reasoning behind this assertion is based upon the twin assumptions that homosexual inclinations are inherent to a group of people termed homosexuals and that those inclinations are therefore natural and unchangeable.

Let us consider for a moment who the mutants are. Mutants are another species entirely. They are born to human parents, but something in their genetic expression makes them very different from their forebears. As the first X-Men movie explains, mutants first notice they are different sometime around puberty, often during an event of high emotional stress. At that time, they first acquire their mutant powers.

Rather than being celebrated as are most heroes of D.C. Comics, such as Superman or Wonder Woman, Marvel's mutants are feared and hated. Certainly in the first movie, there is the repeated mantra that man fears what he does not understand and hates what he fears. Even the home is not a haven for mutants, because their powers tend to alienate them from their parents and families.

The mutants are images of other people groups, to be sure. In one way, they are an encouragement to any people group that is maligned and mistreated, because the stories reveal that what others despise is their greatest asset. The first X-Men movie opens with Magneto's first mutant power experience as Nazis are pulling the young Erik Lensherr away from his parents, who are apparently on their way to the gas chamber. The movies invoke the same image when there is mention of proposed legislation that would require all mutants to register with a governmental agency.

I would argue, however, that the most prominent and consistent image invoked in the X-Men movies is that of the homosexual. Perhaps this image is to be expected, since the nature of homosexuality and the extent to which homosexual activity should be sanctioned is one of the hottest topics in the United States today. The evidence of this image is again (1) that mutants differ significantly from their parents, (2) that the difference tends to manifest itself around puberty, and (3) that the difference causes alienation from family.

If the descriptions of mutants are insufficient to assure oneself of the author's intent, two key exchanges in X2 make the image more apparent. The first exchange is when Bobby Drake (a.k.a. Ice Man) brings the X-Men to his parents' home. The Drake family does not know that Prof. Xavier's school is for mutants. They think that he is merely attending a school for the gifted. He and the X-Men arrive when his parents are not home, and there is an uncomfortable encounter when his parents do arrive. Bobby has to sit them down and tell them his big secret. He demonstrates his frosty powers, and his parents and younger brother are horrified. His mother's response is the key to the interpretation of the scene: "Have you ever tried not being a mutant?"

What exactly does that question mean? How could Bobby Drake try not to be a mutant? Does that mean that he should try not to use his powers? He could, of course, do that, but he would still be a mutant. Does this question even make sense? Would a mother actually ask such a thing? Perhaps the question is interjected merely for comic relief, as the irrational response of a bewildered mother, but I suggest that the purpose of the question is instead to point to the idea of mutants as an image of the homosexual identity. When a man goes to his parents to tell them he is a homosexual, no doubt a common pair of questions must be: "Are you sure? Have you ever tried not being a homosexual?" The point the author seems to get across is that a homosexual orientation is as inherent as Bobby Drake's ability to freeze water. It's as nonsensical for a homosexual to try not to be homosexual as it would be for him to try not to be a mutant. Such an attempt would amount to nothing more than pretense, because his powers are central to who he is. His identity is wrapped up in his mutant powers.

The second exchange that manifested the author's intent for this image was when Gen. Striker and Prof. Xavier speak of the past. Striker sent his own mutant son to Xavier's school in order to have him cured of his telepathic mutant powers. Striker was disappointed when Xavier said that mutant powers were not a disease to be cured. The first question is whether Striker's response to his son's mutation is rational. Fear and discomfort are expectable responses, but why would Striker think that his son's mutation is some sort of disease that begged for a cure? Such may have been the case with someone like Rogue, whose uncontrollable power of draining the life force out of anyone she touches makes it impossible for her to experience human touch, but the mutation of Striker's son seems to be controllable and advantageous. I would submit that the exchange between Striker and Xavier is meant instead to reinforce the similarity between mutants and homosexuals. From the political activism that led to the 1973 decision to remove homosexuality from the list of sexual perversions in the Diagnostic Manual of the American Psychiatric Association to present-day tirades against the supposed evils of reparative therapy, it is clear that a common message of the homosexual political agenda is that homosexuality is not a disease and therefore a cure is nonsensical. Striker's cure for his son was to consider him dead and use him as a gruesome experiment to determine how to kill all mutants. Perhaps it is the author's intentional hyperbole to link the desire for a cure to homosexuality with Striker's cure for his son and all mutants, which is not unlike Hitler's Final Solution.

At least one of the guys I watched X2 with did not recognize the homosexual imagery. The imagery was more obvious in the second movie than in the first, but it is still not blatant. Indeed, I did not make the connection until I learned that X-Men comics or their derivates had a few characters who identified themselves as homosexual. If the imagery is not obvious, then what effect could it possibly have? I contend that the purpose of such imagery is to lay down the political vocabulary for later use. The key to political gain is changing public opinion, and public opinion is largely based on how one frames the question at hand. If the issue of homosexuality is a matter of temptations and actions, as the Judeo-Christian world frames it, then people can relate in some ways, because we all face temptations. And people can understand why we would want to proscribe some behavior, as we make laws to curb some other forms of sexuality, such as pederasty and incest, or other forms of behavior, such as indecent exposure, theft, or driving while intoxicated.

However, if the issue of homosexuality is framed as the quest for basic human rights for a particular minority, then the response is entirely different. People may feel uncomfortable around members of that minority. They may not seek to associate with them, just as they may feel about people from a religion or ethnicity they are not accustomed to, but ultimately people will recognize that others deserve the same rights that they enjoy.

Perhaps the X-Men authors are looking for a punctuated equilibrium of their own. The hope may be that they will instill the vocabulary of mutant oppression now in the hope that some day people will recognize the same vocabulary in a different context and make a sudden leap forward.


It was no doubt with a sense of irony that the X-Men authors created the character Nightcrawler. He has fang-like canines, two toes per foot, three fingers per hand, dark blue fur, and a tail with a dragon- or demon-like arrow point at the end. He teleports by translating himself into another dimension, and when he does so leaves behind a cloud of blue smoke and the smell of sulphur. Despite his shady appearance, this character is a devout Bavarian Catholic who in X2 recites the Rosary in German and the Lord's Prayer and the 23rd Psalm in English. A conductor I sang under found the same irony in Joseph Haydn's Te Deum, where the composer uses a rather prominent tritone ("the devil's interval") on the words "the Holy Church". Perhaps Nightcrawler is a tip of the hat to the gargoyles of Gothic Cathedral architecture. Or perhaps the author had other thoughts in mind.

Irony aside, Nightcrawler is a likeable character who takes his Catholic faith very seriously. The introduction of his character into a story line in which even such supernatural wonders as mind control, levitation, and miraculous healing are the result of natural mutations makes for a stark juxtaposition. Storm and Jean Gray are not surprised that Nightcrawler looks as he does and can teleport, but they have a look of bewilderment when he tells them that he tattooed his body according to designs given him by the archangel Gabriel--one tattoo for each sin.

Nightcrawler delivers Storm a message on faith. She intimates that she has been treated poorly, and he asks her why she feels so much anger. Halle Berry portrays the tension among anger, hurt, and the desire to do right when she answers that anger can keep you going. She is surprised when Nightcrawler answers, "So can faith."

Nightcrawler's message to Storm encapsulates an important Christian truth. The one who has faith that God is in control, that the world has not somehow caught him unaware, and that He will ultimately make all things right has the freedom to let anger go. Anger can motivate a man to carry on, but ultimately it is a trap. It will make greater demands as time passes. Anyone who has felt a great anger toward another person because of some injustice will recall that the anger which begins as righteous and proper indignation can very easily become a time-consuming passion. It takes effort to remain angry. What is gained?

Faith in God is also a trap, but the Hunter is good and promises to work all things for good for those who love Him. Nightcrawler's faith in God is a thing of beauty. I read that Nightcrawler was abandoned as a baby (not surprising, given the blue fur and tail) and ended up joining the circus. He must face far more rejection than any other mutant, because he cannot hide his mutations as well as others can. Perhaps the author understands that it is often those who have the least or who go through the most averse circumstances who are the most grateful for all that they have. Teresa of Calcutta said, "You do not know that Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have."

It is evident that Storm, and I assume also the author, completely misses the point. When they are in a dire situation at the climax of X2, Storm wants Nightcrawler to use his teleportation power in a way that he has already told her is too dangerous. Her motivational response is, "I have faith in you." Doubtless, that response is intended to refer back to their previous conversation, but her faith and his faith bear no resemblance to one another. Before their first conversation, Nightcrawler was reciting the Rosary. The propriety of praying to saints aside, the content of the prayer is a confession of sinfulness and a supplication for mercy. Nightcrawler's faith rests in a higher power. He receives comfort and is free to let go of anger, because he has faith in a God who is far above him and who has all matters under control. God has demonstrated His character and made promises and He will keep them.

In what does Storm put her faith? She says she has faith in Nightcrawler. What does she mean by that? She does not think that he has all matters under his control. She can only hope that he has the ability to do what she wants him to do. At best, her faith is optimism intended for motivational purposes. Her faith motivates the object, while Nightcrawler's faith rests in Someone who needs no motivation.

Faith is only as good as the object of that faith. If the object is unworthy, then the faith is useless. A rash of proclamations of faith without any substantive object have their origin in everything from pop songs by Mariah Carey to dubious sermons by Word-Faith preachers. If faith is merely positive thinking, then it is preferable to remain a skeptic. If faith is anchored in a God who loves and provides, then let it flourish no matter how it may bewilder others.

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