A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

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.

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July 13, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,

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