Simon Kinberg is a screenwriter and producer on the latest movie in the long-running X-Men franchise, Days of Future Past. The time-travel story follows the adventures of Marvel's mutant superheroes through an alternate version of the 1970s and a dark near-future. Kinberg's resume includes a slew of Hollywood blockbusters, and he will write and produce the upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse, The Fantastic Four, and Star Wars Rebels.
In July, Kinberg spoke with Reason TV producer Tracy Oppenheimer at San Diego Comic-Con about the politics of superhero films, the legacy of Richard Nixon, and why we all relate to mutants.
Q: Part of why X-Men is so successful is how relatable it is to a wide audience.
A: With the X-Men, there's something inherently relatable to the idea that everybody feels a bit of an outsider, feels a little different, feels like they have something that makes them embarrassed or ashamed. For everybody there's something about mutantcy that we can connect to, relate to.
It's probably truest for teenagers who are sort of going through physical transformations and not in total control of their bodies.
Q: They start out as outcasts, but society grows to accept them. Can you talk about how that might parallel our society?
A: Obviously being different and an outsider, and the majority world being xenophobic and prejudiced against those people, is something that can stand as a metaphor for racism, for sexism, for anti-Semitism, for homophobia.
Different people read mutantcy and anti-mutantcy different ways. [Director] Bryan Singer, when he started the film franchise with X-Men and then X2 and now Days of Future Past, he's a big gay rights activist, and the homophobia angle of it was interesting to him. But he's also Jewish, and I think the anti-Semitism was interesting. Magneto is a Jewish character who lost his parents in the Holocaust. So there is an inherently political aspect to it.
Q: It really comes down to individualism. There's good and bad on both sides-on the government, mutants, every walk of life-and it really boils down to the person and their choices.
A: We could have set [the movie] in the '60s when X-Men: First Class took place. We could have set it in the '80s. We chose the '70s because it was a particularly dark period in American history, because of what happened with Nixon and because of Vietnam. The movie shows that there is the possibility for evil or nefarious activity on the human side and on the mutant side, and that ultimately people can change. You're not just born good, and you're not just born and destined to be bad.
Q: A government program run amok-that story line is somewhat popular in these kinds of movies. What makes that such a usable plot line?
A: I think there's always suspicion of large organizations and immense amounts of power. Whether it's a corporation or government or an evil society of mutants.
Q: And they're working together.
A: Yeah, especially when they're all working together. The '70s is a rich time for that, because there was corruption in the government, and there was maybe more pernicious things happening than even in the '80s and '90s and this last decade.
We wanted to show the human capacity for doing bad, but also the human capacity for doing good and learning a lesson. We had a line actually that was cut out of the movie because it just didn't fit-it was a scene we cut out. But there was a sort of epilogue scene with Nixon. Nixon has a moment where he says, "I don't think these machines are the answer. I think we're going to need some of them on our side." Meaning the mutants.