I find that the trick to superhero movies is to let the audience in
on the joke, otherwise you wind up with disasters like "Batman and Robin,"
which turned the Batman franchise into such a sex-plagued travesty that
all of its noir origins dissipated as a result. On the other hand, there
are superhero movies that make you gasp in wonder at all the wondrous
sights, and also make you identify with the protagonists, namely the
superheros. Superman and Batman are two classic examples. "X-Men" is a
close second - the first comic-book movie since Tim Burton's "Batman"
that not only feels like a comic book yarn, it looks like one too. While
watching it, I got the feeling that every sequence, every shot, was
unspooling before your eyes like the dynamic sights of color and information
that often leap from comic books. Stan Lee should be proud.
The X-Men, for those who have not read the comic books, are essentially
powerful mutants - men and women with extraordinary powers that they
seemed to have been born with. There is Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), who has
metal claws that elongate from his hands when he gets mad; Cyclops (James
Marsden), who has deadly laser vision protected by a visor; Storm (Halle
Berry), who can conjure rainy weather when necessary; and Rogue (Anna
Paquin), who can turn people to stone if she touches them (she is not
popular on the dating scene). These are the good mutants, presided by
Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who has the ability to read
The evil mutants are presided over by Magneto (Ian McKellen), a former
Holocaust survivor who wants the world population to be converted into
mutants so they can be accepted into society. His minions include the
tongue-lashing Toad (Ray Park), a human frog-of-sorts; the shape-shifting
Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), covered in blue-colored scaly skin; and
finally Sabretooth (Tyler Mane), a growling animal, not unlike Wolverine
though not as beastly.
The plot concerns an anti-mutant revolt started by a senator (Bruce
Davison), who feels mutants present a danger to society. One can't quarrel
with his view when witnessing the deadly emotions of Wolverine, seen at
the beginning to be a bare-knuckled fighting champion for some kind of
fight club, or the tragic, existential Rogue whose lips and mere touch
warrant a coma-like paralysis or even death. Naturally, Magneto is at
odds with the senator, as is Professor Xavier, though Magneto's plans
are more dastardly - at least the kind-hearted professor is a believer
in hope for his race.
"X-Men" rivals other recent comic book extravaganzas in its
character-driven story - these mutants are suffering because of their
condition and unfortunate deviance from society. I tend to quarrel with
people when they say entertainment is just sheer entertainment - even in
something as hackneyed as "The Matrix," there is the sense that the
filmmakers are sharing their thoughts about the world of today and how
it is envisioned in these trying times. The best character in "X-Men"
is Wolverine - an almost half-werewolf mutant with the ability to heal
himself. He has a great line (that could sum up most of the mutant
characters) when asked if the retraction of the blades from his knuckles
urt: "Every time," he says.
My main quibble with "X-Men" is that it is simply an introduction to
these characters - they come across as more than character types but
they only seem defined by their powers. I know that it is too much to
ask a blockbuster for some insight but consider what might have been.
Wolverine is the most full-bodied character, but where does that leave
Rogue and her emotional connection to him? What about Cyclops, Storm, the
Professor or Jean Gray (Famke Janseen), the smart doctor who may have
a thing for Wolverine? They are fun characters to watch, but who are
they? And what about Magneto and his plans? He somehow does not seem to
be such a major threat after all the sound and fury of the special-effects
on display here.
Still, "X-Men" is sheer fun to watch, and every moment gives us something
to look at. The fights, the battles, and the characters (particularly the
titanic Ian McKellen) contribute highly to the sense of fun it instills.
And if this is what it takes to get the rumored "Spider-Man" movie rolling,
then I am all for the "X-Men."
Copyright © 2000 Jerry Saravia