Marvel Movie Madness! Part 10: X-Men
The beginning for Marvel's beloved franchise.
Part 10: X-Men (2000, 82% @ 154 reviews)
Directed by Bryan Singer, starring http://www.rottentomatoes.com/celebrity/hugh_jackman/, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen
Alex: I see now X-Men isn't about superheroes. It's about mutants. About the fear, the isolation, the terror of inhabiting a world that seeks only to shun or bury you. This movie has a hard edge, likely because in 2000 it represented some risky filmmaking. An ensemble comic book movie? The furthest thing from a sure bet. So then kudos to Bryan Singer for knowing what he had in Hugh Jackman and sticking with him. If you're watching X-Men again with us, I hope you took note how much Singer challenged Jackman and what a fantastic performance he gives back. Check out the compelling single-take, zero-dialogue scene of Wolverine scampering through Xavier's school, running up against walls, avoiding detection. Jackman, a thespian with a background in dance, moves like a feral animal. His presence makes the movie feel robust and physical. And Singer makes the rest of X-Men feel real: Magneto's effective (if exploitative, whatever) holocaust origin story; the melting horror of Senator Kelly; the way Mystique hisses in agony when Wolverine slices off a part of her body. The powers are mutant, but their pain is human all the way.
Luke: I agree. I really like this film. I know a lot of the kudos conventionally goes to X2, but for me this is just as good: a lean, character-driven introduction that hits most of its marks with well-crafted finesse. X-Men is a great character movie. It takes its time to establish the players and their relationships, which is tricky when you've got so many to deal with, to the point where you feel for them individually -- even through the more routine pyrotechnic climax on Liberty Island. I like that Singer spent time building the backstory of Magneto and Xavier -- McKellen and Stewart, both all class; as ever -- and how he handled the Nazi experimentation stuff (echoed later in Del Toro's Hellboy intro, even), a subject he seems to return to with fascination (see his previous Apt Pupil and later Valkyrie.) I wonder how First Class can top this, frankly.
What Alex said about Jackman is spot-on: I don't know that he's ever been better, in anything, than he is here -- he's hungry as a performer, able to combine limber physicality with a gruff sensibility, and he brings a real thread of sardonic humor to what might have been an overwrought exercise in superheroes-as-metaphor. Considering he got cast last minute when the film was already shooting, it's even more impressive -- can you imagine the first choice, Russell Crowe, or Dougray Scott, who began and then dropped out? Never. Also, I dug his protective relationship with Rogue and her look-but-don't-touch bind, and the comic sparring with Cyclops over Jean (that throwaway gag where he flips the adamantium bird is great.) It's a solid bit of filmmaking that didn't presume it could coast on existing fanboy sentiment, probably because it was sort-of out on its own as a comic-book franchise opener at the time, and maybe because Singer approached it as a filmmaker rather than simply a slavish fan -- he'd turned the project down originally a couple of times before agreeing. It works hard to set itself up as a series, which then duly paid off (well, at least until the third part made a popcorn meal of things, anyway.)
Tim: Alex, the key word is indeed ensemble. X-Men has a lot of characters to introduce, and it does the job without shortchanging anyone (or getting bogged down in the details). Take Rogue, for example: she's as much a victim of supernatural teen angst as Bella Swan, but X-Men deals with her predicament more poignantly and economically in 104 minutes than all three of the Twilight movies. Her relationship with Wolverine is wonderful as well -- the X-Men are all outsiders, and it's touching the way they bond over their shared idiosyncrasies. Plus, the fight scenes are coherently edited, which allows us to see the mutants? powers in action, without shaky-caming things into a blur. The film's gay rights subtext seems brave for an early 2000s blockbuster, but the movie never gets didactic -- instead makes its points within a briskly-paced, richly compelling action movie framework.
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