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X-Men, written by David Hayter from the story by Tom DeSanto and Bryan Singer and the original comic book by Stan Lee, directed by Bryan Singer, 2000, 100 min.

I am not a fan of the X-Men comic book or cartoon, so I have no emotional investment in the franchise and I know little to nothing about the background and the characters. This means two things: when I watched the movie version of X-Men, I was either easily impressed or overly critical. Plot developments and character surprises that might have been old hat for fans were news to me. Fans, however, would have a grounding in the franchise and not challenge the movie to prove the worth of its existence. Of course, knowing the typical backlash of fan anger, my analysis might be completely mistaken, but the reaction on the part of fans has seemed much more favourable than towards last year's Jar Jar Binks extravaganza, The Phantom Menace. Having said all this, I am a little surprised to find that X-Men is a decent movie in its own right. It doesn't entirely escape the comic book movie curse, that of basically silly events and people taken as high drama and seriousness. I have no problem seeing the worth in comic books or graphic novels, but the success rate of the conversion to the big screen has been pretty grim. As far as these things go, X-Men is mostly a success.

The movie begins in the Nazi death camps, as a young boy is torn away from his family. The boy reaches out in agony and terror, and the metal gates are somehow torn out of shape. Cut to the present day. Many more humans are demonstrating mutant powers, and normal humans are sometimes very frightened. A young teenager is in love, and causes the death of a boy by her very touch. She takes the name Rogue and goes on the road. Wolverine fights cage matches in the back and beyond of redneck country, taking all punishment without a sign because of his ability to heal. The two meet up, and are ambushed by some malevolent mutants on the road. However, they are rescued by some friendly mutants and brought back to a secret school for mutant children, run by the kindly Professor X. Rogue is tricked into trying to leave, and Wolverine goes after her. The trap is sprung however, and Rogue is captured. I won't give away much more, except to say that the climax takes place in the Statue of Liberty. Which is symbolic or something. Or it might have been, if it hadn't already been done to death in other movies. Worse, the protagonists comment on the silliness of the plan of the villain. In other words, it's not very terrifying or logical. It's good that the characters see this, but it would have been far better to have a terrifying and logical plan in the first place.

X-Men has many characters to introduce, and does so competently. Giving everyone something to do is another matter entirely. The bad squad is sketched in with the slightest of touches, and Magneto himself, the main villain and the boy who survived the death camps, is also a bit vague around the edges. He is fighting hard against humans because he sees the same cycle of prejudice and perhaps violence happening all over again, but he seems to have lost his mind over the matter and has missed how he has become a monster in the process. A credible villain, but still a bit sketchy -- without the introductory material, he would be a complete cipher. Professor X is solidly written as Magneto's opposite, and X is unwavering in his principles. But I was curious as to where X's optimism was coming from. Yes, he's surrounded by a band of friendly mutants, who work together, save the world, and so forth. But there weren't any scenes of human reacting favourably to mutants, and the fear of the Other seemed just as strong throughout. I liked how X was an idealist, and I applaud the movie for this, but idealists don't need to be completely out of touch with reality.

The movie focuses on Rogue and Wolverine, which is a good move, as both are sympathetic. Rogue is young and frightened, but still brave enough to go her own way. Wolverine is a bit older and angrier, and his snappy retorts are the best dialogue in the film. The two build trust as outsiders at the school, and later during the terrible events that follow. Too bad, then, that Wolverine has a romantic fixation on Jean Grey (the school's doctor). It was good to see a genuine friendship develop between Wolverine and Rogue, but no need to make Wolverine a jerk.

As I've said, the plot ends with a whimper. Characterization gets spread too thin. X-Men tries to be a strong statement about prejudice, but it doesn't quite transcend its limitations.


Last modified: November 3, 2000

Copyright © 2000 by James Schellenberg (james@jschellenberg.com)


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