Bow to the Queen: Why Can’t the ‘X-Men’ Movies Capture the Majesty of Storm?
Goddess. Windrider. Queen. Leader. Storm has worn multiple hats during her existence; roles that have aided in her evolution as one of comics’ most significant and abiding heroes. Yet although Storm’s pop cultural significance is great, her characterization has seen glaring inconsistencies from comic book to screen. Fans of the '90s cartoons remember a majestic leader whose long winded monologues became part of her appeal, but fans of the films were subjected to an unimposing and rather useless version of the character.
But what was lost in translation? What is it about Storm that the movies' writers and producers failed to understand?
The X-Men film franchise is a many-headed beast, and after 15 years of movies, it's still far from perfect. The intrigue of the X-Men has always been the underlying message of acceptance and diversity, and it’s hard to see that message when the franchise is spearheaded by a triumvirate of white men: Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, Patrick Stewart's Professor X and Ian McKellen’s Magneto.
While all three of these men are important to the X-verse, they shouldn't overshadow the stories of women and characters of color. Despite Storm’s status as a heavy-hitter in multiple eras of the X-comics, she's become a B-lister at best in the movies.
To understand how film Storm should be characterized is to understand her presence in comics. Created by writer Len Wein and artist Dave Cockrum, Storm was introduced in 1975 in Giant Sized X-Men # 1, along with an international roster to help save the original X-Men. (It should be noted that, even in a diverse team, Storm was the only woman.)
When Xavier first encountered Storm, he saw “a goddess” bestowing her blessing; a torrential downpour on a drought-afflicted village in Kenya. In our first view of Storm, she is idolized and worshiped. That nobility remains key to her stories and her character forever thereafter.
Shortly after Storm’s debut, writer Chris Claremont took over the title for the next 16 years, making Storm an essential component to his stories. Storm’s “goddesshood” becomes a subplot when she loses her abilities, resulting in one of her most moving arcs, Lifedeath.
In this story, Storm struggles with finding her true sense of self, since she her identity was so tied to her abilities. The 80s is truly the era that defines Storm’s growth; not only does she lose her abilities, but she gains her punk mohawk look, fends off a Brood invasion, and defeats Cyclops in single combat to assume leadership of the X-Men. Storm repeatedly validates her worth, fights her own battles and earns her title, whether it's leader, goddess, or even queen, as in her marriage to the Wakandan king Black Panther in 2005.
But my introduction to white-haired wonder was through the ‘90s animated series. Finally there was a hero, a mutant, a black mutant --- one who’s dark complexion mirrored mine --- that possessed amazing abilities, and a star power unparalleled by any superhero I’d seen. We even shared the same fear; claustrophobia. Needless to say, I’ve been impersonating her ever since.
The big hair, her magnanimous presence among the team, and that stark white quintessential pop-star wardrobe, were all markers of a superheroic diva.The animated Storm, Jean and Rogue were a pop trio that I never wanted to stop watching. But Storm, most of all, was electrifying to watch.
Her command of the elements is a show; her cape twirling is akin to Beyonce’s hair flips. There’s a performance aspect to her; lightning, snow storms, monsoons; the world is a stage for her spectacle.
This aspect of Storm has been completely neglected in the films.
The gravitas is also absent. In X-Men: The Last Stand, Brett Ratner tossed her around at the hands of Callisto, who she not only defeated in the combat in the comics, but also usurped as leader of the Morlocks. Actor Halle Berry cannot deliver on the character's presence. Her timid instructions and deference to Wolverine in battle devalued and diminished her. Even her grandest set piece, the creation of a multi-twister super storm in X2, ended in failure. It was infuriating.
In Days of Future Past, Storm is reduced to only a few minutes of footage, barely speaking, and dying unceremoniously. In the first X-Men film, Storm is best remembered for a line of dialogue that will go down as one of the most embarrassing silver screen fumbles of all time ("You know what happens when a toad gets struck by lightning? The same thing that happens to everything else"), paired with a collection of ridiculous wigs and a horrid attempt at a South African accent.
However, X-Men: Apocalypse presents an opportunity to right the wrongs of the X-franchise. The first opportunity was casting, and already I’m disappointed in Fox’s choice of Alexandra Shipp. Instead of casting an actress who actually looks of Kenyan descent --- to put it bluntly, a dark-skinned woman --- Fox cast another actress whose complexion is closer to that of her white colleagues than Storm’s original skin tone.
Storm’s blackness is very much a part of who she is. It shouldn’t be denied.
Nonetheless, I wish Alexandra Shipp the best in this role. What fans really want to see from her is gravitas. Is she worthy to wield such an awesome power? Can she perform in a manner that presents her as a true "mistress of the elements”? If the rumors we've heard about the film's plot are true, there's a chance the film will show her as the badass she's meant to be.
The X-Men movies ought to uphold the same principles of inclusion and representation that are core to the comics, and that includes showing proper respect for the characters that made the X-Men such a symbol of diversity. In a genre where powerful women are often poorly represented --- see the treatment of Black Widow in the latest Avengers movie, or Hope Van Dyne in Ant-Man --- it’s foolish not to take advantage of the history of one of the most dynamic women in comic history.
We want to see a fierce, powerful and bold Storm taking to the skies. To the fans, Storm is a warrior, and one of comics' most unique and important super-powered women; a woman of color who has earned her mantle. It’s about time we saw that on the screen.