Thursday, June 9, 2016

Blast From The Past Movie Review: X-Men (2000)

The other night for Myopia: Defend Your Childhood, we watched the 2000 film X-Men, which re-ignited public desire for comic-book films after Batman and Robin temporarily killed the genre. I owned a VHS copy of the movie when I was in high school, so this was definitely something I wanted to participate in. Here's the podcast. And onto the review...

The Plot

In "the near future," U.S. Senator Robert Kelly (depicted as a Kansas Republican, which is no surprise given Hollywood politics) wants to register the growing numbers of mutants, citing how potentially dangerous they could be. This does not sit well with Eric Lensherr (Ian McKellan), a Holocaust survivor whose "mutant power" is controlling metal. His old friend Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who runs a school for young mutants to teach them to use their powers responsibly, must stop him from using a young mutant Rogue (Anna Paquin) in a terrorist plot with the help of mysterious loner Logan (Hugh Jackman), whose cage-fighting name is Wolverine...

The Good

*The movie does a good job depicting the villains sympathetically. The film opens with the young Magneto separated from his family in a concentration camp, with the implication he's being kept alive for forced labor while his parents are sent to the gas chambers. Given his history, it would be very difficult for him to not view the proposed Mutant Registration Act as another set of Nuremberg Laws. Mystique (Rebecca Romijn), in a conversation with Senator Kelly, tells him it was men like him that made her afraid to go to school as a child. If her shape-shifting abilities didn't kick in until she was older and she was born with blue skin and those yellow demon-eyes, well, that's not really a surprise. :(

*I watched Hellboy earlier that afternoon for another podcast and X-Men's quick pace and near-complete lack of "let's check the time" moments was a great contrast. The movie is rarely if ever boring and moves along at a nice clip.

*The film's got a holy trinity of Jackman, Stewart, and McKellan in terms of good actors. Paquin, despite being born in Canada and growing up in New Zealand, does a good job playing the Mississippi-born Rogue. Paquin plays Louisiana's Sookie Stackhouse in the True Blood series, so it seems she was always able to do a good job playing Southern women.

*There's a fair amount of character growth in the film. Wolverine grows out of being a loner "living from day to day" and sustaining himself by cage-fighting, while some incidents that happen at the end of the film show that the X-Men, though they'd never become terrorists or hate normal people, might be a bit more tolerant of Magneto's militancy than they were before. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) learns to overcome her self-doubt about her abilities when an injury to Xavier forces her to use the telepathy-amplifying Cerebro. Even Senator Kelly, although he doesn't do the "mutants are human beings" Heel-Face Turn of the animated series I watched as a child, does show signs of overcoming his prejudice.

*Magneto calls his organization "The Brotherhood of Mutants," in contrast to the original comic's "Brotherhood of Evil Mutants." Nobody ever thinks they're evil--in his mind he's trying to protect mutants from another Holocaust by any and all means, and his plan in the film isn't especially evil by the standards of comic-book villain schemes. No details though--that would be spoilers.

*Wolverine's past is shown, not just told, when he wakes up in a strange medical facility and immediately lashes out at the first person he encounters. He doesn't just say that he remembers weird and painful medical experiments.

*Although Senator Kelly is clearly a villain (in a private conversation later he said if it was up to him mutants would be locked away and people like him are needed for the "war," that according to Grey consists of mutants getting picked on), he's not a one-dimensional straw-man. When discussing the Mutant Registration Act with Grey before the Senate, he raises the national-security implications of super-powered individuals--he cites how Kitty Pryde could easily walk into a bank or the White House. And she's fairly low on the mutant food chain--Magneto could take on an entire army by himself, while Xavier could park himself outside the White House and mind-control the president into launching a nuclear strike. If I lived in this world I'd oppose the Mutant Registration Act on the same grounds as Magneto, but there's a lot more gray here than with the Nuremberg Laws.

*There's some good snarky lines, like Magneto's response when Cyclops orders Storm (Haile Berry) to unleash lightning on him or Storm's Pre-Asskicking One-Liner to Toad. Most of my fellow podcasts thought that was a groaner, but I liked it. :) However, the best line of them all is the "yellow spandex" riff on the goofy comic-book costumes of the heroes.

*The special effects have really held up well. I don't recall a single instance of obvious CGI, obvious puppets, etc.

*Kelly's villainy is depicted in pretty subtle ways too--he keeps referring to Jean Grey as "Miss" instead of "Doctor" and this list of mutants he has in his hand are an obvious tie in with Joseph McCarthy, who claimed to have a list of 200 Communist spies in his hand.

*Wolverine's old injuries appearing when his healing factor is momentarily shorted out is a good science gag. One symptom of scurvy is that old wounds re-open, so even if cuts, bruises, etc. go away, to some degree they're still there. Given how scientifically implausible many X-men powers are (someone online pointed out that to generate laser blasts from his eyes, Cyclops would have to drink gasoline), that was actually pretty cool.

The Bad

*The minor villain Toad has a bit of New Powers As The Plot Demands thing going. Throughout the movie he's depicted as having a lengthy tongue he can use as a weapon as well as preternatural jumping ability, but in battle with Jean Grey, he somehow manifests the ability to spew gunk that clings to her face and threatens to suffocate her. It would've been better if he'd used his giant tongue as a weapon in that particular scene.

*Sabertooth's lengthy history with Wolverine, which is later revealed in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, is never even hinted at. Although the movie depicts the reasons Wolverine lost his memory, there's no indication that Sabertooth ended in the same position. It would have been nice if Sabertooth kept dropping hints or even tried to sway Wolverine to his side, with Wolverine having absolutely no idea what he was talking about.

*There's a deleted scene where Storm is teaching students at Xavier's school about the conversion of Constantine that could have been left in the film, perhaps when Wolverine wakes up in Xavier's mansion and is wandering around. It'd be a nice bit of foreshadowing for the final confrontation.

The Verdict

*I'm not going to go out of my way to buy a new copy of the film, but it's pretty good. 8.0 out of 10.

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