It probably comes as no surprise that the new film X-Men: Days of Future Past is positively bubbling over with queer subtexts. Directed by noted gay auteur Brian Singer,the film follows the X-Men (especially Wolverine, Professor X, and Magneto), as they struggle to change the past in order to prevent a future in which powerful robots called Sentinels annihilate mutants and any non-mutants who might carry the gene. While Magneto and (for a time) Mystique believe in killing the inventor (played by the inimitable Peter Dinklage), Xavier and a time-traveling Wolverine believe in co-existence and cooperation, rather than killing.
In many ways, this film replays and amplifies the tension that has existed in all the films in the franchise: between peaceful rapprochement with humanity and extreme separatism (represented by Xavier and Magneto, respectively). Given the pretty blatant queer overtones that also exist in the films–the process of coming out, the shunning of mutants in wider society, the attempt to relegate them to the status of second-class citizens–the film also seems to take the position that assimilation of mutants within the larger society, as well as, by extension, LGBT people, is the only way to attain peace and understanding between the two groups.
At the same time, however, the film also seems to undercut this message by continuing to offer us the charismatic Magneto as a potential point of identification. Certainly, Days of Future Past, like most of the entries before, seems to come down pretty solidly and unequivocally on Xavier’s side (in this case, by ensuring that Mystique finally breaks Magneto’s hold over her and opts for peace instead of war with humanity). However, one can’t deny that Magneto (especially as portrayed by Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender), is almost more compelling the the heroes whose viewpoints he adamantly opposes. It seems as if X-Men may not be as assimilationist, after all.
X-Men: Days of Future Past continues to engage with the ways in which we conceptualize the role of queerness in 21st Century American culture. The debate about whether it is more politically efficacious to join with and accept the modes of behavior (monogamy, home ownership, reproduction) that characterize heteronormative America or to instead resist through “aberrant” sexual practices (barebacking, promiscuity, etc.), still simmers beneath the surface of contemporary LGBT and queer activism. Nor, I should add, is it anywhere close to a resolution.
What this film does, however, is offer two points of view that ultimately have a great deal of credibility, even as they remain opposed to one another. At least, I’m hoping that I wasn’t the only one who held out a little bit of hope that Magneto would be successful in his attempt to defeat his human enemies. There is something perennially frustrating about both mainstreaming as a political process and mainstream society’s reluctance to bring LGBTQI people into the fold (or, for that matter, to even consider the possibility of a queer society). X-Men’s compelling villain hero serves as a valuable reminder of the promise, and also the inevitable limitations, of a radical queer politics.