Saturday, July 7, 2012

Marvel Movie Project #9: X-men

That's right, another one from the early days that still manages to hold up, even in the face of far superior super-hero team movies like The AvengersX-men has obvious signs of being an early super-hero movie: there is the improbably world peace summit or whatever, there is the giant doomsday device that makes mutants via a whirling gyroscope, and there is inevitable battle atop a national landmark.  All entirely unnecessary, but not unexpected in a film that breaks ground the way X-men does.

If you overlook the goofy "Hollywood" crap, what you find underneath is a movie with a lot of heart that gets its base characters pretty much exactly right, and tells an adventure story that is fun to watch.  With a simple adventure story, there is plenty of time to focus on getting those characters right and satisfying the nerd contingent while also keeping things light enough for those who actually get out and date.

Speaking of getting characters right, Hugh Jackman.  Much like Snipes and Blade, I will accept NO ONE ELSE in the role of Wolverine.  Jackman nails the character right out of the gate and once he is introduced to the story, he is the reason we watch.  Look, Patrick Stewart is incredible as Professor X and Gandalf is compelling as Magneto (more so in the second film).  Cyclops, Jean, Rogue and Iceman are all great, but Jackman is so likeable as Logan that what is intended to be a team film borders on being a Wolverine film (and better one than the actual Wolverine film...)  Rebecca Romijn is also a breakout in this film, laying some nice groundwork for her future roles in the next two X-films.

Despite having a fairly standard plot, the storytelling is also smartly done here.  The story starts following Rogue, transitions to Logan and then opens up once we get to the school.  We are given two characters to relate to and to introduce us to the bigger world that the story takes place in.  It is also nice that the film has a sense of humor about itself that is allowed to manifest naturally through Logan's character ("what do they call you? Wheels?").  This keeps the gloomy plot from getting bogged down in itself and running us all into the river.

Like Blade, X-men is a product of the dawning of a new era in comic book movies.  It has its stumbling points, but it also has its successes and those successes greatly outweigh the "blockbuster syndrome" that plagues so many films of this genre.  It features enough geek moments for us comic book fans, but does not do so to the exclusion of a general audience.

Aimee's Take:

I'm not as taken with this film through the lens of time, but it's still a very serviceable X-Men vehicle. It suffers from all the problems of a major "introductory" film (i.e. "Hey, look at all these characters! This is what they do!") and suffers from some odd choices on the part of the direction/acting (Storm's inconsistent accent comes to mind.)
Still, it manages to capture the essential flavors of all the characters presented. Stan is quite correct; Hugh Jackman kills it as Wolverine and I'll accept no substitutes. It's not his fault that the stand-alone movie sucked. I think Cyclops is a douche here, but he is in the comics so no harm done. Magneto is compellingly cardboard here, doing typical super villain type stuff, but failing to delve much deeper. It's ok, though, there are more movies to go into with these characters and they improve. Oh, do they improve.

I think the ridiculous "world peace togetherness" bullshit is what kills the overall greatness of the film. A number of earlier comic book efforts are guilty of this, and I continue to hate seeing it. The over-the-top Hollywood ending is a miserable thing to saddle a movie with, and sadly, this isn't the last we see of it. Not by a long shot.

While not, to me, as satisfying as our last entry, Punisher: War Zone, this movie packs an overall higher quality of storytelling, depth of character and production value. When you add in a little top-notch casting and characterization, X-Men manages to present a solid, fun ride that is ultimately quite worthy of the Top Ten.

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