'X-Men' Rocks! 'Nuff Said!
By James DiGiovanna
JULY 24, 2000: IF YOU DON'T know who the X-Men are, then you've either been living under a rock for the last 15 years or you had sex in high school. If you do know who the X-Men are, then face forward, true believers, because July 14, 2000, was the day you've been dreaming of since you discovered the delirious world of mutant-kind.
Yes, o members of the Merry Marvel Marching Society, the X-Men movie, appropriately titled X-Men, finally came out. It was, then, with intense anxiety that thousands of X-nerds purchased tickets for the early shows, hoping thus to be able to get in the minimum four repeat viewing all in the same day. Would the movie live up to the high standards set by its four-color forefather? Let's just say that the fans were not disappointed! (Full disclosure statement: I used to be an assistant editor at Marvel Comics, home of the X-Men. I am, then, technically, a complete geek.)
Dashingly directed by boisterous Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects) X-Men's opening scene powers up in a Nazi concentration camp in Poland in 1944. A bewildered boy is nabbed by Nazis and pulled away from his precious parents. However, one Ratzi alone cannot hold him, as he is being magnetically moved towards the massive iron gate detaining him from his darling dam. All X-fans know at this point that the boy is the young Magneto, Mutant Master of Magnetism, and the experience in the camps will form the basis for his relations with humanity in the future.
Cut to said future. At a congressional hearing on "the mutant problem," the evil Sen. Kelly (if you're a Republican, you will think of him as a depraved, down-with-guns Democrat; if you're a Democrat, he'll seem the type of the rotten, repressive Republican) is marshalling support for a measure to make all mutants register with the government. The grown-up Magneto watches from the rafters, drawing the obvious parallels, making malevolent and mutinous mutant plans.
However, Magneto does not observe the proceedings alone. He is joined by his old friend and future nemesis, Dr. Charles Xavier.
Xavier (as all X-lovers know) runs a school for mutants (the strangest teenagers of all!) in the snotty suburban town of Westchester, New York, where he hopes to train them to use their great powers with great responsibility. Xavier is played by Jolly Jean Luc Picard, I mean Powerful Patrick Stewart, who was basically born for this part. When I was at Marvel comics some 10 years ago we actually had all already agreed that Stewart was the man for the role, and all the fans were in concurrence. I'm not sure there's ever been a case like this in cinematic history, where a man is cast in a role by the public (well, the dweebier elements of the public) a decade in advance of any such role even existing.
Anyway, Stewart is of course perfect as Xavier, but the best acting in the film comes from the insatiable Ian McKellen as Xavier's foe, Magneto. Both Stewart and McKellen come from the stagy, Olivier school of acting, but McKellen manages to appear simultaneously studied and natural, where Stewart always comes off as if he were playing to the back rows.
Both Xavier, who seeks to protect and serve, and Magneto, who plans a war against humanity, are trying to bring new mutants into their groups, and emissaries of the two collide in a clash of titans when they happen upon Wolverine and Rogue, mutants who are traveling together through the cold climes of Canada. As if to hammer home how fantastic the X-Universe is, in the film Canada is a brutal and barbarous land, and all Canadians are rowdy roughnecks who never say "sorry."
Nor do they say "thank you," as Wolverine, a bar-room brawler with a metal skeleton and superhuman powers, is a bit peeved at being rescued from the evil Magneto by Xavier. Of course, he has trouble getting along with his prissy Westchester compatriots, except when he's trying to get over on the dazzling Dr. Jean Grey (played by the fabulous Famke Janssen).
The dynamics between the characters, and the characters themselves, are sketched lightly and broadly in order to make room for the back story and plot. I would imagine that the sequel will flesh things out a bit (two sequels are already planned--'nuff said!)
Unfortunately, this leaves some characters desperately underdeveloped. Storm (played by Hit-and-Run Halle Berry), a weather-controlling mutant, comes off as a vapid pretty girl whose only role is to take orders, and Cyclops (played by juvenescent James Marsden), field leader of the X-Men, is a stereotype of the rich asshole.
Wolverine and Rogue, however, are explored in more depth. Rogue is played by the able Anna Paquin, one of the youngest human beings ever to win an Academy Award (for her role in the sappy and overrated The Piano). Rogue's power leaves anyone who touches her skin in a coma. This presents some obvious social consequences for someone who's going through puberty, and, as a cinematic moment, hammers home, with an enormous, ball-peen hammer, the terrors of being an outsider.
She hooks up with Wolverine as he's being threatened by a group of Canadian hooligans, and falls in love with him. Of course, Wolverine has fallen in love with the rather more grown-up Dr. Jean Grey, who is in love with the immature but classically handsome Cyclops, who is in love with himself.
This mutant-powered love parallelogram provides the pathos for this potent tale of pre-apocalyptic power struggles. Who will prevail, the paladin-like pulp heroes or their predatory opponents? Proceed to your local picture-house for the answer in this profound play of powers!
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