The better Mystique: Rebecca Romijn or Jennifer Lawrence? (X-Men Xamined Part 1)

Reports these days have suggested that the release of next year’s Dark Phoenix will probably mark the end of 20th Century Fox’s X-Men franchise, which started back in 2000. 20th Century Fox was acquired by Disney (who owns Marvel) at the end of 2017, so the possibility of the X-Men being rebooted and relaunched into the Marvel Cinematic Universe is likely.

We’ve had nearly twenty years of mutant movies, and along the way, an ever-changing cast owing to the films’ complex timeline jumps and changes. In preparation for what might possibly be the last movie in Fox’s X-Men universe, I’m looking back at past portrayals of beloved mutants. Which actor played the character better, and who better to start with than Mystique:

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When Mystique was first introduced on the silver screen in 2000, Rebecca Romijn (then Romijn-Stamos) played the blue-scaled shapeshifter.

The character’s backstory was unveiled in the 2011 prequel film, X-Men: First Class, played by then-upcoming actress Jennifer Lawrence, who has since become an A-lister with The Hunger Games and Oscar-approved performances.

When Romijn first portrayed Mystique, the mutant was written as your typical, attractive femme fatale secondary to the film’s main villain. She was practically naked throughout the film, strutting around in mutant blue and intricate scales; it must have been a distraction for teenage boys of the year 2000.

Mystique had meagre lines. In the first film, she only had one: “people are you are the reason I was afraid to go to school as a child,” she said in demonic multi-voice shortly before apprehending Senator Kelly with her foot. That was our only glimpse to the villain’s backstory, but while we never fully understood her motivations, she deserves a medal for her loyalty.

The dangerous mutant was Magneto’s trusty go-to for missions, and never failed the metal manipulator. Her dedication to him surpassed that of any secondary villain in any subsequent superhero movie, saving him repeatedly until he abandoned her in X-Men: The Last Stand when she shielded him from a cure dart and lost her abilities.

“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” was true, because Mystique, now human and clothed, still stood up for herself by leaking documents of Magneto’s schemes to the human government. Romijn’s Mystique was no pushover.

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While essentially the same character, Lawrence’s version of Mystique is effectively a reinvention. What was a reliable yet secondary character got pulled to the forefront in First Class as the film’s female lead, and crossed over from villain to hero.

Lawrence’s Mystique was a much more developed, layered character as far as motivation and story are concerned. In her opening scene as a child, an orphaned and homeless Mystique befriends Charles Xavier, and would become the telepath’s best friend through his formative years.

Her ideological views often clashed with the pacifist Xavier, because she didn’t feel the need to conform and hide her blue skin in order to fit in with human society. That was what initially aligned her to Magneto, even though they didn’t get along after all in the next film.

In X-Men: Days of Future Past, Mystique went solo (not that she needed Magneto anymore.) The character was further amped up because Lawrence had become Hollywood’s biggest obsession by then. Mystique was the single most pivotal character in Days of Future Past, responsible for everything that had happened, and everything that would eventually unfold in future films.

Lawrence gave the character opportunities both creatively and emotionally that one could’ve never foreseen to be granted to a sexy femme fatale there to do the mastermind’s dirty work.

And yet, I don’t prefer Lawrence’s version of Mystique to Romijn’s.

In the original films, Mystique was the mistress of martial arts. Her stunning display of gymnastic tricks presented as formidable fight moves that took on Wolverine’s adamantium claws made the character a true force to be reckoned with. There’s no debate that she would easily defeat Scarlet Johansson’s Black Widow in a fistfight. If Black Widow is a black belt, then Mystique invented martial arts.

I’m not one that chooses action over storytelling, but Romijn’s version of Mystique is not any lesser just because she’s the confident, loyal adult. While Lawrence’s younger Mystique had a great deal of sorting out to do, Romijn’s older Mystique had gotten her shit together.

When Lawrence took over, Mystique’s fighting abilities became child’s play. She barely did anything physical in X-Men: Apocalypse, except for the one time she knocked a man out with her elbow.

In Apocalypse’s climax, she was the least powerful member on the battlefield, a stark contrast to when Romijn’s Mystique singlehandedly battled Wolverine or infiltrated an underground base guarded by armed soldiers (she even found time to flip them off while sliding across the floor.)

And let’s talk about that mortifying makeup in First Class. Mystique’s makeup was beyond hideous; you could literally see the poorly executed stick-ons around her breasts. A-list Lawrence hated the tedious hours-long makeup sessions and made increasing demands with subsequent films to reduce the amount of time she had to spend in the makeup chair. Except First Class, her blue skin was mostly a skin suit, which looked shiny and unrealistic in Days of Future Past. And in Apocalypse, she was barely even blue. What is Mystique if she isn’t even blue?

On the flip side, Romijn wore Mystique perfectly back in the mid-2000s. It was pristine, convincing and truly a work of art. Romijn was never the same Oscar-winning A-lister that Lawrence is today, but she was a dedicated actress nonetheless.

But most importantly, Romijn played Mystique while Lawrence merely played a female character. Romijn’s version of Mystique was a fully utilized super villain who used her shape shifting and martial arts to propel the story. Whenever she appeared, she sent chills down our spines and you knew she would accomplish her mission.

Lawrence’s Mystique really could’ve been any other mutant with a different ability (like the poorly explored Emma Frost) and it would’ve made no difference to the films, particularly First Class and Apocalypse when her shapeshifting gift had zero implication on the story.

So while I loved the emotional depth Jennifer Lawrence brought to the character (or any character she plays, really), she didn’t make Mystique a character that was unique. Conversely, Rebecca’s Romijn played Mystique to the fullest: a confident, dedicated mutant whose body was her weapon, and a true female force in the superhero film genre. I pick Romijn as the superior blue-skinned mutant.

X-Men Xamined is a bimonthly series that compares multiple portrayals of the same mutant character in 20th Century Fox’s X-Men film series, leading up to the release of Dark Phoenix in February 2019.

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