X2: The first out and proud superhero movie
Despite complaints to the contrary, comic books have always been political. As such, their big screen counterparts have also had a fair amount of political bite to them. This is none more apparent than in 2003’s superhero sequel X2.
The follow up to 2000s genre defining X-Men (released 20 years ago this week) was a bigger, better and more confident affair. The first film was a more self-serious, cerebral film, opening with scenes from the holocaust and dovetailing into discussions on mutant registration in a world that fears the next step in human evolution.
The sequel upped the political jabs but also knuckle cracking action. Twenty years on it’s quite staggering just how openly LGBT+ the film is, proudly wearing it’s subtext across it’s runtime and setting the tone that many of the better films in the series would attempt to emulate.
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X2 follows the mutant heroes as a vengeful army colonel William Stryker (Brian Cox) mounts a siege on Xavier’s school, taking Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Cyclops (James Marsden) hostage, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and the rest of the X-Men have to form an uneasy alliance with Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Mystique (Rebecca Romijn).
Much of the film concerns Wolverine and his team looking for Xavier who has been taken by Stryker. Over the course of the film we learn that Stryker’s son, Jason, is a mutant with similar powers to Xavier.
Desperate to “cure” his son, Stryker sent him to Xavier’s school but was told there was nothing to cure. Vengeful Jason drove his mother insane until she killed herself and Stryker had his son lobotomised so that he could only do what he was told by Stryker.
This aspect of the villain’s story speaks to the underlying LGBT themes: the idea of “curing” someone for something they are born as. Xavier chastises Stryker for wanting to cure his son, telling him there is nothing to cure but Stryker feels differently. His plan, in the end, is to rebuild a version of Xavier’s Cerebro, a means of finding Mutants around the world, and use Jason to kill the mutants.
We also learn that Stryker has several mutants under his control, and has been using them as means for exportation for decades. It’s not hard, therefore, to see parallels with how the government has always used the “other” to test on throughout history.
The film also allows for character to moments to explore the themes, a subplot involving Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) taking a group of heroes to his family home leads to him admitting he’s a mutant to his family.
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The subtext is clear. His “coming out” scene was suggested by Ian McKellen who coached the actors on how to act as if he were coming out as gay. Much of the dialogue his parents suggesting “have you ever tried not being mutant?”, and “I blame myself” are lifted directly from thousands of examples of people coming out.
It’s not coincidence that the film has such a subtext when it’s director, and two main actors — Ian McKellen, Alan Cumming — are all LGBT, and it radiates through the film. Nigthcrawler’s conversation with Mystique in which he suggests she should appear as a normal human all the time is met with her angrily rebuffing him with “we shouldn’t have to”, the idea of straight passing or “don’t ask, don’t tell” which was approaching it’s tenth year of being in action in the US military.
It should also be noted that Rogue’s (Anna Paquin) storyline concerns her blossoming romance with Ice-Man, hampered by her inability to touch another person. The film’s release of 2003 coincided with the USA finally repealing all laws against homosexual activity across all states.
The LGBT subtext of the comic books has been well established, with Chris Claremont establishing much of the lore in his famous runs on the characters, but the films still remain somewhat reticent to fully embrace the LGBT aspects.
It should be noted that while this film wears the subtext loud and proud the films are still uneasy about explicitly showing same-sex romance on screen.
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Twenty years on, it’s surprising just how open the film is about it’s sexuality and metaphor, especially in a time where comic book films are now more dominant than ever and seem to shy away from this.
Later films might have followed suit but this was the first film to be truly mutant… and proud.
X2 is streaming on Disney+.
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