Inspired by Mr. James Howlett’s solo effort, I’ve gone back to the original “X-Men” film and see if it is still mut-astic 9 years later.
I nearly watched “X-Men” twice in the early 2000s. Whilst this may seem like the beginning to the worst anecdote ever, it leads on to a valid point, so cram it. Around the age of 13/14, it’s safe to say I was an idiot, mainly because back then I could take or leave film as a medium. I remember watching the opening scene on good ol’ VHS and then distinctly remember stopping it because I got bored. My point is I don’t think I was mature enough for “X-Men”. Thanks to the ravages of time, I grew up, watched it and guess what? I loved it.
In a near future world, mutants with special powers exist alongside humans. The mutants must choose to side either with Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) who want them to use their powers to help the world or with Magneto (Ian McKellen) who wants the mutants to take it over. Along the way we are introduced to the emotional heart of the film, Rogue (Anna Paquin) and the gruff, ridiculously haired Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). In terms of acting, this has got to be one of the best, most varied ensemble cast for a long time. We have experienced, respected thesps like Stewart and McKellen mixing with younger actors like Paquin. I liked everyone really, apart from Tyler Mane’s Sabretooth who doesn’t do much apart from growl, roar and occasionally utter a line containing the word “scream”. I thought Ray Park’s Toad was brilliant though, but the dude’s Darth Maul so I can’t really be impartial. For a film with so many plotlines, it fares well- which can mostly be attributed to Bryan Singer who handles all the characters with equal care. He gives as much screentime to fan-favourite, but ultimately boring character Wolverine as he does to Xavier and Magneto’s subtly played friendship/rivalry. I get the feeling that if the recent “…Wolverine” film was in Singer’s hands he wouldn’t have ignored Deadpool (Sigh)
In fact, if you ignore the typically fanboyish Deadpool comment, you have a neat link to one of the most interesting things about this film- the Xavier/Magneto relationship. Comic books have the ill-deserved reputation of being very black and white when it comes to heroes and villains. Heroes are spandex-clad, muscled and always on the side of justice, whilst villains are scarred, unbelievably evil bastards who have so many issues they could fund their therapist’s trip to Mars and back on a spaceship made of diamonds and Sony products. The relationship between McKellen and Stewart’s characters is best likened to the Martin Luther King/ Malcolm X differing approaches in the Civil Rights movement. Xavier, the MLK of the two, believes that the public are just ignorant in their fear and hatred of mutants, whilst Magneto is on the side of action and violence if necessary. Magneto wants what Xavier wants but he’s seen the ugly side of humanity and so therefore believes the human race is beyond saving.
This may all sound like it’s too deep for a comic book adaptation, but “X-Men” puts us in that frame of mind right from the off with a powerful opening scene where a young Magneto is forced to watch his parents be carted off to a concentration camp. If I may borrow Pokémon terminology, it’s super-effective at drawing you in. I loved the introductions to all the mutants and finding out what their powers are. Special mention to Rebecca Romijn for making the blue-skinned, scaly, yellow-eyed Mystique both an interesting and oddly sexy character. The fight scenes are great too- the stand-out being the Wolverine vs Mystique sequence which is fantastically done.
Casual references to the Holocaust and Civil Rights aside, “X-Men” isn’t a perfect film. The one thing that really gets to me is an awful (and apparently Joss Whedon-written) line spoken by Storm (Halle Berry) to Toad, before she hits him with a lightning bolt- “You know what happens to a toad when it is struck by lightning? (Pause) The same thing as everything else.” In your head this line may not sound that bad, but it’s the delivery that gets me. You can tell it’s meant to be a bad-ass, kiss-off line but it just doesn’t work. I am well aware this is nit-pickery to the nth degree, but it genuinely takes me out of the film, which in my terms is inexcusable.
So that’s “X-Men”. A great, enjoyable flick with some actual brains and heart behind all those stunts and special effects.