I have a secret: sometimes I sneak off to go watch the latest comic book movie by myself.
Actually, I’d be happy to do this with the rest of my family, except they don’t like comic book movies.
My husband didn’t grow up with comic books, so he thinks watching people in goofy costumes run around pretending to have superpowers is absurd. This is fine with me. I knew this about him before we got married, and I made peace with it long ago. But my eleven-year-old daughter’s indifference sometimes breaks my heart a little. I’ve always done my best not to push my interests on her, to let her discover her own, but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t ever a sly toy, poster, video game, or licensed t-shirt intended to nudge her toward fandom. She never took the bait, though, hence these weekend afternoons at the movies by myself, half-wishing this geeky vestige of my childhood had also become part of hers.
Lately, though, the feeling has faded.
A few weeks ago, I went to see X-Men: Apocalypse. I walked out of the theater appalled. This was not like what I grew up with. For one, the movie spent so long checking in with or introducing an unwieldy cast of characters that there was no time left over for any kind of plot to unfold. The people making these movies have obviously realized that their audience consists mostly of adults like me who are tapping into childhood nostalgia and eager to see the faces of characters they used to love. But in trying to cater to this desire, director Bryan Singer crammed Apocalypse full of cameos from favorite X-Men of yore (Psylocke, Nightcrawler, Jubilee) without letting those characters actually do anything. Previous franchise installments First Class and Days of Future Past had this problem too. The X-Men movies are starting to feel less like films and more like money printing machines. Thankfully, the online games I’ve seen popping up like the X-Men online slots machines still capture the magic of the franchise, they are such a fun experience that every adult should try at least once. If I can’t enjoy the movies, at least I can enjoy the games. My enjoyment of gaming has been steadily growing while my enjoyment of movies in general has been waning. But I digress…
More importantly, at least regarding my desire to watch these movies with my daughter, none of the scant character development in Apocalypse is spent on its women. Part of the reason X-Men was my favorite comic when I was my daughter’s age was because it was full of women characters who have kick-but abilities as well as interesting life stories. The women in Apocalypse have neither. In the comic books, Storm is a Kenyan princess who struggles with the ecological implications of her ability to control the weather. In Apocalypse, she has almost no lines and hardly even uses her power.
Maybe my daughter is right to turn her back on my comic book movies. I may be old enough not to need role models anymore, but she isn’t. I’m glad she’s looking for them elsewhere, because there aren’t any to be found here.