Ok, the last X-Men film was pretty good (here if you didn’t read it) but that other X-Men film about those two royal sisters was really good too. In fact, it was a close run thing.
It’s not the first time a story about mutant powers was set in a magical seeming kingdom, concerning members of the royal family. In fact, the same could be said of one of Marvel’s oldest superhero characters who derrives their power from the mutant gene – Namor, the Prince of Atlantis.
It’s also not the first time we have focused on a character who can control the power of ice and freezing. As you will know, one of the original X-Men Bobby Drake possessed this power under the alias Ice-Man. It’s not uncommon for mutants to have similar powers (Professor X, Jean Grey and Emma Frost are all telepaths for example). What’s striking is that The Ice Queen’s powers seem to be superior to Drake’s even at a young age. Bobby Drake is often overshadowed by some of the other members of the X-Men team but is considered to be an Omega level mutant, meaning that he is among the most powerful mutants in existance. While Bobby has from time to time bent the laws of physics out of shape and generally been awesome (making himself into an ice-titan, being able to become a sentient gas), he was never able to conjure seemingly independently sentient beings into life. That’s a pretty mind-blowing power – along with most of the other stuff that Bobby seems able to do, so for now Elsa seems like the more potent mutant.
And we know that she is a mutant. When her father takes her injured sister to the trolls for advice (it’s not uncommon for mutants to consort with supernatural creatures for advice or for other family members to have no active sign of the mutant gene), the Troll asks a simple question:
Was she born with the powers or was she cursed?
Elsa was born with her powers.
See, the thing is that most X-Men films concern mutants that have been sought out by the X-Men (or another group) and taught to use their powers. Elsa (like presumably many other characters unseen) has no such guidance and her part of the story illustrates her struggle to master her abilities without the aid of Charles Xavier or some other helpful mentor.
The film initially illustrates the danger of not allowing a mutant to be who she really is or to explore her powers. Without a mentor to teach her how to safely use her powers, Elsa’s well meaning father advises her not to use her powers and to shut herself away, hiding her powers from others. Though Elsa’s father is a kind figure, this mirrors the treatment shown in other films about the X men where mutants are asked by their families “not to be mutants anymore” or to hide their abnormalities away in other ways. In such stories, this is never shown to be a good thing – it is equated to hiding your own identity and denying yourself (a metaphor for race, sexuality and many other things). Such attempts are usually doomed and can lead to the main character not developing full control over their powers, as it does here.
The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside
Couldn’t keep it in;
Heaven knows I’ve tried
Not only is Elsa not able to use her powers in a mature or safe way, she runs the danger of using the furthest reaches of her powers without the ability to properly control those powers and associates them with tragedy.
HAVOK: You know, when I do this, bad things tend to happen.
XAVIER: I have complete and utter faith in you.
X-Men: First Class
As X-Men: First Class showed in the cinematic universe, some mutants are unable to control their powers fully without coaching (Hank McCoy, aka Beast), some are unable to use their powers in a safe or targeted way (Alex Summers, aka Havok) and some even require tools or equipment to use their powers in the most constructive way (Havok and also Sean Cassidy, aka Banshee).
Further to this, we see that even an incredibly poweful adult omega-level mutant such as Erik Lenscherr (Magneto) is unable to control his powers fully to the extent that Xavier sees that he could. We also learn that mutant powers are deeply ingrained and thus are often closely tied to the mutant’s emotional or mental state. As a ward of the murderous Sebastian Shaw, Magneto has been trained to use his powers by utilising anger and lashing out as if violently. Shaw uses the murder of his mother to expose a manifestation of Erik’s power, tieing together use of his magentic power and use of violence, fear and anger in the young Erik’s head. When Erik teaches others to use their powers, he usually does so by using fear and anger, not calm control – for example pushing Banshee from the tower to force him to first use his power of flight rather than allowing him to do so in a safe controlled condition.
Meeting with the more level headed Xavier, Erik has it explained to him that in fact using only negative emotions to power the use of mutant abilities is very limiting and dangerous. Erik suggests that Xavier fire a bullet at him to see if he can deflect it, again using fear to take his powers to a new level. Instead, Xavier shows that Magneto is far more powerful when he concentrates on positive emotional connections and is able to use his powers calmly.
You know, I believe that true focus lies
somewhere between rage and serenity.
There is so much more to you
than you know.
Not just pain and anger.
When you can access all of that,
you’ll possess a power no one can match.
Xavier, X-Men: First Class
Meanwhile, Elsa’s story concerns much of the same themes. Upon abandoning a society that fears her, she flees to the edges of society and is now free to master her powers on her own and seems to grow in mastery. As she sings, she acknowledges that she is no longer part of regular society and can do what she wants, live how she wants and revel in her true nature. Even traditional morality, which has held her back is up for question. At this moment, Elsa is becoming like Magneto at his most sympathetic. She is someone hurt and rejected by society, looking for an alternative which won’t hurt her any more. And what’s more, she is free to develop her powers.
It’s time to see what I can do
to test the limits and break through.
No right, no wrong, no rules for me.
However, as Charles Xavier would point out, this is not a satisfactory solution. Being free is one thing but we turning your back on emotional connection and abandoning friends and family cannot lead to a healthy existance. Casting yourself as the terrible monster on the mountain can only lead to more trouble and heartbreak. What’s more is that by limiting yourself to using negative emotions to call on your powers, the powers themselves remain stunted. Without Xavier’s help, Magneto cannot turn the satellite dish in First Class. Though Elsa is able to construct a castle and protectors on the mountain, she is unable to undo what she has created (the storm over Arendelle for example), unable to prevent others from getting hurt by her powers and unable to undo what she has done to her sister.
Elsa’s powers at first seem to be motivated purely by worry, fear and anger and manifest during these emotions even if she doesn’t want them to. However, later on we see that this is not the case. Elsa in fact can undo her actions and can control her powers in society. By the end of the film, she finds that her powers can be tamed by positive emotions and motivations – and does so in the ultimate act of saving her sister.
At the end of the film, the kingdom seems to be somewhere where mutants and non-mutants can live alike.
Charles Xavier would be proud.
One last thing in this film that you need to learn about mutants, is that when you design a prison that they can’t use their powers to escape from…..well, that doesn’t usually work.
Wait, maybe I’m reading too much into this.
If this was really supposed to be an X-Men movie, they would have put in an obvious reference, wouldn’t they? Like two characters with almost the same name and a key feature in common? Something like that.
Well I never, sugah.