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» Seeingblack.com Movie Review - X-Men: The Last Stand

X-Men’s Weak Storm
by Makani Themba-Nixon, SeeingBlack.com Contributing Writer, published on June 16, 2006, 12:38

I came out of the latest installment of the X-Men movie series, “The Last Stand,” like most fans of the comic book: deeply disappointed. Some were upset by the limited screen time of aficionado favorites like Angel (precursor to Archangel), while others lamented the two dimensional vilification of Magneto, X-Men antagonist and leader for mutant self determination. My own issue has been smoldering over the entire series – the disempowerment and basic all around “girlification” of X-Men leader Storm.

Given the name Ororo, Stan Lee fashioned Storm much like the Yoruba-based deity Oya whose powers, like Storm, also include control over weather. Although Lee’s Storm hails from East Africa and Oya out of West Africa, Storm’s many Black fans have long reconciled the differences on their own terms through a growing body of writing on “fantasy noir” sites across the web.

Why would filmmakers cast the coquettish Berry to play the fierce and dominating Storm in the first place? Given the fact that the film was put out by Fox, one might suspect the worst. However, one can only surmise that the filmmakers lacked the imagination to get beyond the bankable Berry, thinking they needed to tone down the only Black heroine to star in a major comic book franchise. And that’s too bad.

The comic book Storm’s cold blooded, self-assured fearlessness conjures up more of a Grace Jones or Angela Bassett than the cowering, wimpy character Berry brings to the screen. According to a recent interview, Berry expressed concern about the role saying she hoped to do more than ‘go get the plane’ in the trilogy’s final installment (Washington Post, “Halle Storm,” May 27, 2006)

“All I ever wanted was for Storm to have a point of view. She’s a strong woman and a strong character — very opinionated while being the earth mother of the group. A woman who is from Africa, who has strong feelings about being in this country and being not only discriminated against but dealing with her mutation, which was revered in her country, but looked down upon in this one. All I wanted was for her to have a voice.”

And Berry does give her voice but one that bears little resemblance to the Storm that helped make the comic book franchise the most popular of all time. In fact, Storm was the exact opposite of earth mother for the group. She led the X-Men through much of the series and was its most daring member.

X-Men creator Stan Lee first conceived of the series as an allegory about race relations in the United States. The two leading characters, Professor X and Magneto, represented Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X respectively and the emergence of mutants in his fictional world was a direct parallel to the struggle for racial justice in the real world.

The comic book deftly explored tensions between integration and self determination, of “otherness” and gender issues while providing some of the most interesting and complex characters in mainstream comic genre.

Storm’s character was a bright spot in the relentless denigration of Black women in media. Her character operated as a strong metaphor for what it means to be a Black woman in the United States. In Africa, she was revered as a goddess and a queen. In the United States she faces fear and bigotry but she remains tough, unapologetic, strong; a warrior in every sense of the word.

The movie series stripped Storm of her power and the storyline of all its potency. The comic’s artful portrayals of the complex relationships among mutants across the continuum of the political spectrum are reduced to two dimensional good versus evil. Magneto’s character in the comic series had a strong sense of love for “his people.” He would not harm other mutants and saw the struggle for self determination as key to liberation and dealing with humans on equal terms. The vilification of his character in the film served to mute these important themes in favor of advancing jingoism and assimilation.

The plot (based on the comic classic “Dark Phoenix”) offered plenty of opportunities to explore these questions of identity and difference and still blow up enough stuff to make bank. Filmmakers even added the potent dilemma of a mutant “cure,” which provided rich writing possibilities. Unfortunately, what started as a pretty interesting idea was mostly used as a vehicle for bio weaponry and transfiguring special effects.

X-Men provided filmmakers with an opportunity to bring a compelling story to the screen featuring a strong Black character. Given the fact that the comic book series is the best selling of all time, it would not have been much of a risk to keep that much of the franchise intact. If filmmakers could not deal well with race and gender on a property that already had a track record with audiences, it certainly does not bode well for these themes in future films.

Source: www.seeingblack.com

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