What the X-Men Movies Get Wrong About Westchester

I grew up in Westchester County.  I still work there, and my family still lives there. I know Westchester.

So, while Queens has Spider-Man, Metropolis has Superman, and Gotham has Batman—though the nickname “Gotham” was given to New York City by Washington Irving, a writer who lived in Westchester—Westchester has the X-Men. Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, the X-Men HQ, is said to be in “Salem Center,” a fictional hamlet in North Salem, a real town in northern Westchester County.

Out in the suburbs, we support our superhero team. I remember seeing X-Men with an excited crowd on opening night, in a theater that’s now a fancy Alamo Drafthouse. (Back then, it was a dinky UA/Regal.) When they mentioned that Xaviar’s school was in Westchester, the theater broke out into applause.

And yet, none of the X-Men movies have, to my expert opinion, really captured the spirit of living out in Westchester. Here’s why.

The Houses Never Look Right

The Parkwood Estate in Ontario, Canada
The Parkwood Estate in Ontario, Canada

This is a problem that actually gets worse as the movies go on—the budget constraints actually work in accuracy’s favor. I look at the house above—the Parkwood Estate in Ontario, Canada, which stands in as the X-Mansion in X-Men—and I don’t immediately think of Westchester. But it’s not impossible to see something like that in the county, especially in the north, where lot sizes are larger and the houses can be a little more grand.

Then X-Men 2 rolls around, and suddenly the X-Mansion looks like this.

The Hatley Castle in British Columbia, Canada
The Hatley Castle in British Columbia, Canada

Yeah, Westchester houses don’t look like that. That’s a friggin’ castle: the Hatley Castle in British Columbia. Westchester’s conspicuous consumption stops just short of turrets. We might be showy in Westchester, but we’re not that showy. There’s some architecture around that might resemble something like the Hatley Castle, but they’re not residences; they’re mostly hotels, landmarks, or wedding venues.

X-Men: First Class switched up X-Mansions for a third time, and they still didn’t get it right.

The Englefield Estate in Berkshire, UK
The Englefield House in Berkshire, UK

The Englefield Estate that was used in First Class inspired an article in Architectural Digest when the movie came out, but I didn’t need to read it to know where the house came from. This just looks so English to me, and unlike anything you’d ever find in Westchester.

It’s not that there aren’t big houses with stupid names in Westchester. Sure, there are plenty of people who build estates big enough to house a school, a Danger Room, and an X-Jet hangar on-site. It’s just that ours tend to look more like this.

The Devonshire in Katonah (not far from North Salem)
The Devonshire in Katonah (not far from North Salem)

According to The Real Deal, the house pictured above was the most expensive home sale in Westchester as of February 2013. (It could’ve been yours for a cool $21.5 million.) And yet: no towers, no turrets. It looks like a normal, suburban house, just longer, taller, wider, and with a big-ass lawn. That’s what Westchester looks like to me.

I’m sure you could explain it away, and say that Charles Xavier’s family was British and wanted to build something more aligned to their tastes at home (which would be an inference—it’s never addressed in the movies themselves). If that’s the case, rest assured that, if it were really Westchester, all their neighbors would be cluck-clucking their tongues behind the Xaviar family backs for building something so out of character for the neighborhood.

Westchester Is Not Upstate

NYS CountiesThe argument about where “upstate” New York begins is always contentious, and it’s an argument that Westchester can never win. People who never leave New York City believe that everything outside the city is upstate, no matter how much Westchester insists it’s not. But if Westchester were to throw up its hands and say “fine” to the designation, the people who really live upstate get all uppity about it.

Really, though, if you can read a map, you can clearly see that Westchester is not upstate. I provided one for you. Westchester is the county shaded in gray. You can make your own determination about where upstate begins, but if you point to that big gray blob at the bottom of the picture and say “upstate,” I might think you’re confused about what the word “up” means.

And yet, in X-Men 2,  Colonel Stryker says the X-Mansion is in “the Salem region of upstate New York”. The only way I’m okay with that statement is that I assume the movie is using his blatant disregard for geography as a way of telegraphing that he’s a villain.

Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters Seems Unconcerned with Getting Kids into Elite Universities

BeastBooksActually, calling it a school for “Gifted Youngsters” is very Westchester. I bet you didn’t know that 85% to 95% of all youngsters growing up in Westchester are gifted.

But there’s only one way to prove to the other parents of Westchester that your child doesn’t fall into the average 5%, and that’s with an acceptance letter to some kind of prestigious university.

Watch the X-Men movies, though, and the subject of college doesn’t come up. There are academic seminars about literature and athletics in the Danger Room—but where are the AP courses? Charles Xavier, an Oxford man, should certainly know better than to let that slide. I say the school needs fewer catastrophe drills, and more  SAT prep.

Nobody Drives Anywhere

Stick Figure X-Men FamilyThis is my biggest complaint. In Westchester, we’re attached to our cars.

In the X-Men movies, they mostly get around by X-Jet. Okay, that’s not far-fetched for Westchester. Our wealthy elites would probably leave from Westchester County Airport rather than, you know, the hangar under the basketball court, but I bet they would opt for the at-home runway if they could.

But what about the shorter trips? Wolverine takes off on Cyclops’ motorcycle a few times, but even those are some long-haul trips. In Westchester, the motorcycle would be deemed way too dangerous for a family-friendly community. We don’t have the public transit or cabs of the city, and walking is out of the question in the northern part of the county where everyone lives far from downtown. We drive.

I’m not saying the X-Men need a minivan—that’s a stereotype. But some kind of SUV/van crossover vehicle, with room to take a half-dozen or so unlicensed, junior mutants on errands.muppets vanActually, when Rogue tries to quit the X-Men, she takes the train. That didn’t look right, either. She goes to a nice-looking train depot, where it looks like there’s some kind of regional rail line, before havoc ensues.X-menTrainYeah, Westchester doesn’t have a train station like that, either. It has commuter platforms with small, one-room depots where you can hop a train that’ll take you to a big, nice station like that one (Grand Central Terminal). From there, you just need to take a subway across town to a subterranean dungeon of a train station, and then you can find the regional rail line. Now you see why Westchester residents usually drive instead.

Actually, the ease of transport to and from Westchester is overestimated throughout the X-Men movies. It seems like they’re always popping out of the X-Mansion for their little side-trips, jaunting off to places like Alkali Lake or the woods in California near Alcatraz, then returning on a motorcycle like it’s no big deal. These destinations are thousands of miles away from Westchester—Alkali Lake is said to be in the Canadian Rockies!—and they’re usually there and back in a day or two. It should take at least half a day by X-Jet and a couple days by car for these trips, and it never does.

To really understand what it’s like to get around in Westchester, there should definitely be more scenes of the X-Men taking a long time to drive from place to place, stopped dead in rush-hour traffic. Really, the X-Men movies should be more like True Detective, with Wolverine and Cyclops stuck in a car together, sniping at each other about their opposing philosophies of life.