There’s a particular difficulty in evaluating the X-Men movies for pass/fail of the Bechdel Test. Both Xavier’s ability to speak through other people and Mystique’s metamorph ability rather muddy the waters for assessing whether two or more women in any given X-Men movie are talking to each other about something besides a man. But those considerations aside, let me say straight away how disappointing it is that the X-Men series as a whole (spoiler alert!) doesn’t pass Bechdel with flying colors, especially given many of the mutants are women. Let’s take a quick stroll, shall we, through prior X-Men flicks to see how they measure up against Bechdel before tackling the most recent franchise offering.
X-Men squeaks by with a pass due to one scene where Mystique disguised as Bobby talks to Rogue. This is either liminal or a great statement about gender as performance and the space Mystique has to construct her own identity. I’m going to go with liminal.
X2 passes Bechdel a bit more respectably thanks to multiple conversations between Storm and Jean, Mystique (disguised as a male custodian) and Yuriko, and undisguised Mystique talking to Storm. I don’t count the interaction with the woman piloting the other plane because Storm and Jean don’t respond to her but I am appreciative of the pilot being cast as a woman. Expansion on the original Bechdel Test concept often touches how often incidental characters are male: male coworkers, male cops and soldiers, men in administrative jobs, random men on the street. Just make some of them women. It’s not that hard.
X3 passes but is the least faithful to the comics and is overall just a terribly grating film. Making Phoenix horny instead of planet-eating is not forgivable, and neither is the awkwardly-inserted death of Cyclops.
X-Men: First Class entirely fails the Bechdel Test, with the only conversation between two women being centered on the male gaze and a couple of one-line remarks.
So what about X-Men: Days of Future Past? It gets a marginal Bechdel pass due to a very short exchange between Kitty and Blink at the beginning of the film. The only other woman-to-woman conversations include Mystique talking to an unnamed nurse after she gets shot in the leg and Mystique talking to Trask’s assistant.
But really, the larger failure here, again touching on expanded notions of the Bechdel Test, is that despite Mystique being vital to the plot, she has almost no character development. Mystique has been badly underserved in this movie and in First Class, where her conflicts about identity, visibility, what it means to be able to pass, and whether mutants in general should aspire to blend in are such big themes. Her character development is so poor that although she’s intelligent, a master of disguise, and adept at playing a long game, she plots to assassinate someone publicly in broad daylight.
While I enjoyed Wolverine as a reluctant time traveler, I think shifting this plot role to him in lieu of Kitty Pryde (who time traveled in the original comic storyline) is where the excessive focus on men becomes truly egregious. Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine is great and all, but why bother casting Ellen Page just to decline making use of her, especially in such a beloved a role as Kitty Pryde?
I appreciated Xavier having to choose between walking and having access to his power as a continuation of the discussion about his privilege that First Class opened. Magneto being developed as a sympathetic character where he and Xavier share goals but not approaches is a compelling thread. At the same time, what I have always loved best about the X-Men is the way mutants are used to discuss the value of diversity, and to water this down by focusing so heavily on white men serves to undermine the message.