A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 135 – X-Men

X-Men – July 13th, 2010

This is going to be a long-ish review for what is essentially a popcorn action movie. This is because I feel like I have to explain my history with X-Men. When I was a kid, comic books were frowned upon. I was reading at a 12th grade level in 3rd grade and More Was Expected. I was supposed to be reading novels with serious content. My brief obsession with The Babysitters Club was tolerated so long as I was also reading heavier books. So comic books had a sort of mythical quality. I had classmates who would talk about the X-Men universe and it fascinated me. A family friend left an issue of Wolverine at our house one summer (I believe it was either the introduction of Shatterstar or just introducing him to Wolverine in particular) and I read it over and over and over until it fell apart.

After my first year of college, my roommate, R, who had brought three long boxes of X-Men (and related titles) comics to school, left them with Andy for the summer instead of paying either exorbitant storage fees or exorbitant shipping fees. We had custody of them the next summer too, and being nocturnal by nature (when not held to a work schedule) I spent many summer nights reading my way through the boxes. And even though now I couldn’t really tell you specifics, and I have to look up particulars, I absorbed a lot of general knowledge about the universe and I love it.

So, all that being said, one might expect me to have some complaints about this movie. After all, it takes some severe liberties with a few characters, repurposing and reaging them for the plot at hand. Magneto needs Rogue in order to power a device that he believes will turn regular humans into mutants and maneuvers her into his power after she hitches a ride with Wolverine and they both end up at Professor Xavier’s School for the Gifted (and as a side note, the reason we’re watching this tonight is that it’s Patrick Stewart’s birthday – happy birthday, Sir Patrick!). But I’m not going to nitpick this one too badly. I’ll save my bitchery for the third movie and Callisto.

And the reason is thus: X-Men, as a comics universe, is practically swimming in a sea of alternate universes. The comics alone have a variety of timelines as part of the canon! Look at the Summers family tree! And that’s not even touching the animated cartoons, of which there are three I can think of off the top of my head (I’m partial to Evolution as I think it’s cute, but we have some of the original animated series episodes too). This is something I had to come to terms with when we watched The Little Mermaid. If I can excuse this movie’s mucking with canon – it gives Rogue an entirely new background, ditches her flight and gives her a first name – then shouldn’t I be able to deal with re-done fairytales?

Anyhow, I really do enjoy this movie. I like the casting, even though Hugh Jackman is way way taller than Wolverine should be. I think it’s fantastic that Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan (both knights!) are in this as the leaders of the two mutant factions. I totally buy Anna Paquin as Rogue, and I give major props to Rebecca Romijn for her performance as Mystique (and the time she had to spend getting that makeup done). I wasn’t super fond of Famke Jansen as Jean, or James Marsden as Cyclops, not at first, but they’ve grown on me a lot. And while I think poor Halle Berry had some pretty pathetic lines and that wig to contend with, she did an admirable job with what she was given. Also? They let Ray Park actually speak in this. Not much, but it’s his real voice.

Sure, the plot’s got holes. Sure, it’s pretty silly in places. But let’s face it, there is some wacky stuff in the comics it’s based on. A machine powered by Magneto’s power that emits radiation that causes immediate mutations? That is so tame in comparison. And overall it deals with a lot of the themes that I’ve always taken as core to the universe. It touches on the fear regular humans have for mutants, shown with Senator Kelly and the Mutant Registration Act. Which also then touches on the risks of dehumanizing a group of people who are already largely in hiding. Magneto’s entire character is based on that very idea. It also deals with the theme of young mutants coming into their powers and having to deal with what those powers will mean, and the sacrifices they’ll have to make in order to lead their lives. Which really just goes right back to the first point. The movie does a good job showcasing how dangerous mutants can be, but also how difficult it is to be one and that it’s not an easy issue. Like I said, I think that’s really at the core of the X-Men in general, so I’m going to go ahead and call it a success.

July 13, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

X-Men

July 13, 2010

X-Men

Happy birthday, Sir Patrick Stewart! We’ve already watched Jeffrey and Dune, so today we start the X-men trilogy in Patrick’s honour. I’m glad we are watching it, too, because these movies are a lot of fun. Especially for a comic book movie lover like myself.

It took a long time for Marvel to allow anybody to make a movie based on their largest and most successful franchise. They wanted to be absolutely certain that it was done right, because they couldn’t afford to damage such an essential property. And it wasn’t just a matter of waiting for the world of special effects to catch up to the world of comics. Spiderman had proven that the technology of the day was sufficient to make superheroes real, but just because you could flawlessly make somebody look like a comic book character on the big screen didn’t mean that it was a good idea. They could have ended up with something gaudy, silly and laughable.

I’m pleased to say that the film makers didn’t go that way. Much of the credit, I believe, lies with Bryan Singer who directed this and its sequel and shares a writing credit. He does a great job of keeping the movie grounded and establishing the rules of the universe that it exists in. I have to wonder how the pitch for the movie’s opening must have gone. “We’re going to start your summer blockbuster adventure film in a Polish concentration camp during World War II.” It’s a bold move that sets the mood for the film extremely well.

The movie is thus positioned as a cautionary tale about racial profiling. In the world of the X-Men there are Mutants, who have for whatever reason got unusual super powers as a result of genetic mutation (and not, say, extra fingers or webbed feet.) In this alternate universe there’s a movement to register and isolate Mutants and keep them separate from the normal human population. Opposed to this we have Eric Lensherr – aka Magneto – who as a child survived those Polish concentration camps and sees it as his clear duty to gather a team of Mutants and establish their superiority to the puny humans. Sir Ian McKellen is Magneto, and plays him with honest passion and gravitas. It helps the movie enormously that it has a strong and almost sympathetic bad guy. You get the distinct feeling that Eric could have been a hero of the movie under just slightly different circumstances.

Opposing Magneto we have Professor Charles Xavier – Patrick Stewart. He, too, has a team of Mutants, but his is fighting to protect humankind even as they are denigrated by the people they attempt to help. Professor X has a whole secret school full of Mutants that he’s training and educating. (Which makes the whole affair a little one-sided, really, because if it came to all out war it would be four or five members of the Brothehood against about a hundred teen-aged students of the Prof. But the movie doesn’t get into that.)

Besides the strong opening, and the power of the two great actors that they have playing the heads of the opposing sides, the other strength this movie has is in the two new Mutants with whom we discover the world of X-Men. To introduce the audience to the school for Mutants the audience has two outsiders – the young Rogue (played brilliantly and with a lot of vulnerability by Anna Paquin) and the enigmatic Wolverine (far and away the coolest thing in the movie and the break away star – Hugh Jackman.) We really need somebody like Wolverine to be the skeptic, to ask questions about what’s going on, and to poke fun at the conceits of the slightly silly comic book world.

Another cool thing about the movie, and something that was a lot of fun in the sequels too, is playing “spot the X-Men character.” Many of the students at Xavier’s school are characters from the comic book universe. It’s a gift to the fans, really. We get to see Pyro, Ice Man, Kitty Pride and Jubilee all taking classes at the school. Little things like that add a whole level of enjoyment to the film if you’re a nerd like me.

Of course the movie is not perfect. The central plot is so strong and dark and cool that the action set piece Mutant battles don’t fit perfectly with it. And some of the comic book like one-liners are real groaners. They also try to establish a whole love triangle between Wolverine, Jean Grey and Cyclops that absolutely doesn’t work at all. There’s no chemistry whatsoever between Hugh Jackman and Famke Janssen, so whenever their characters talk about their supposed forbidden attraction you have to sort of scratch your head and wonder what they’re talking about.

Still, it’s one of the better comic book adaptations. I enjoy it, and its sequel, an awful lot. And I look forward to seeing what the producers do next with the characters and the world of the X-Men. There is simply so much there to play with – it would be hard to run out of X-men to bring to the screen.

July 13, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment