Wednesday, May 25, 2011

X-Men [Indeterminate Amount of Time] Day 3: Review of X-Men (Film)

X-Men Month or Whatever continues! Let's take a break from pretentious Top Tens for a quick review.


So yeah.  Have you heard?  The new X-Men movie is coming out soon.  It’s called X-Men: First Class. Supposedly it’s a prequel to the trilogy of X-Men films that were made last decade but I suspect that that’s a filthy lie.  We’ll know more when it actually comes out but for now I’m cautious.  Speaking of those other movies at this point the oldest of them is over ten years old which feels pretty weird.  I thought it’d be interesting to take a look at those original films.

X-Men hit theaters in 2000 and was directed by Bryan Singer who admittedly didn’t know much about the comic beforehand but came to greatly appreciate the characters over time. The film’s script was worked on by about a half a dozen writers, including Joss Whedon, but only David Hayter got his name in the credits. No one can argue the legacy of the original X-Men film.  Prior to it America had a very rocky relationship with comic book movies. Sure Blade was a hit but stinkers like Steel, Spawn and, of course, Batman & Robin had pretty much bred the idea that movies based on superhero comics were far more likely to be awful than decent.  I recall that in the months leading up to this film there was a lot of guessing where it would fall in terms of quality and faithfulness.  One thing that had a lot of people excited though was the inclusion of Sir Patrick Stewart, whom many of us nerds had been calling for years to portray Professor X in addition to him playing Mister Freeze but the joke ended up being on us, I guess).

But it’s eleven years later so we all know how this story ended: X-Men was a big hit and turned the tide of Hollywood’s ability to exploit use comic books as source material for their films. Spider-Man, Batman Begins, Iron Man; all blockbusters that followed in this film’s footsteps.  But the question is was it actually a good flick?  Fantastic Four, another film following in this one’s footsteps, was a huge piece of horse-plope yet it was successful enough to get a sequel. Just because it made history doesn’t mean it deserved to.

Full review after the jump.


Ah, true love
In the near future the world is being populated by a growing number of mutants; humans who have been born with strange powers, some of which are bizarre or even extremely dangerous. As the United States debates on what should be done about these people (Some calling for registration and worse) a young girl who calls herself “Rogue” (Anna “Vampires Are Just…Better” Paquin), a mutant, has just run away from home heading to Canada after she put her boyfriend in a coma just by touching him.  She soon meets another mutant, a seemingly unstoppable fighting machine armed with metal claws named Logan (Hugh Jackman), and the two end up together on the road.  The trip is soon canceled however as they are attacked by an agent of a mutant terrorist group but luckily the are rescued by a mysterious group with their own agenda.

I have to admit that even all these years later a lot of these special effects still hold up pretty well.  This may partly be because a lot of the powers were pretty subtle but even the more CG heavy stuff was looking pretty decent and the things that didn’t look so great still were above terrible. One thing I noticed was how much better I felt Wolverine’s claws looked compared to the obviously CG claws in X-Men Origin: Wolverine. Anyway as far as the powers went this movie worked really well and as a longtime X-Men fan it’s really cool to see them live and off the paper.

The story was also pretty well done. The pacing worked well as the mystery of "what exactly is Magneto’s plot" was suspenseful enough to carry the film.  I also loved the fact that his story was far from the typical super villain plot as he comes off more as a desperate person trying to save his people than a criminal with delusions of grandeur.  Made more interesting by the fact that unbeknownst to him his plan would surely end in unprecedented disaster.

Speaking of Magneto he’s played expertly here by Sir Ian McKellen who kills in this role, performing the complex character like it was a walk in the park.  Similarly Sir Patrick Stewart IS Professor X; he was born to play this role and if there was any justice in this world he would be captured and forced to continue to do so until he dies.  There are some X-Men related video games and cartoons that could use some classy British voice work. Anyway the Prof may have been a bit underused here but with a cast this huge I felt that what he did was enough and future characterization could be achieved in future sequels.  My hatred for Wolverine is well documented and burning ever still but it may surprise you that I actually sort of like the version of the character presented in the films.  A lot of this has to do with Hugh Jackman who in a serious way is to this movie as Johnny Depp is to Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl.  Unlike his comic book counterpart Jackman’s Wolverine comes off like a real person rather than a walking poster boy for misguided toughness/rebellion.  Plus he’s clearly not a berserker killing machine like the comic version.  Also he’s really good looking.  Of course that’s because Hugh Jackman is really, really, really, really handsome but also take in mind that in the comics Wolverine is very short, literally covered in unwanted hair and probably smells like dog while movie-Wolverine is tall and charming.

It’s this…

Hellooooooo, nurse!
 Compared to this.

"We musts has the precious!"
 The Brotherhood of Mutants don’t really get to do too much here aside from acting like typical villain lackeys which is a bit of a shame because what we do see of the is interesting. Sabertooth (Tyler Mane) clearly has something going on with Logan though we never learn what.  Ever.  (Oh don’t get me started on Wolverine’s prequel movie. I got plenty to say about Sabertooth here and Victor in that f**king film.  We’ll get to it soon enough).  But seeing as all he did was roar and looked perplexed I can’t say I care too much.  Toad, played by Ray “Snake Eyes” Park literally saved the character in the comic as his portrayal was about 900,000 times more dignified than anything in the source material up to that point.  Nowadays creators just rip off this version and call it good.  Sadly Park has some real charm and humor that I thought could have easily ensured his presence in future sequels.  WRONG AGAIN!  Mystique…well that’s a darn disappointment because in the comic Mystique is one of the cooler and more complex villains who usually isn’t even directly associated with Magneto.  She does a lot more than the other two and admittedly is more interesting but she’s limited by the fact that she’s played by model actress Rebecca Romijn-Stamos who (Surprise) hadn’t done much film acting before this.  Thanks for giving such a great character the utmost respect, Hollywood.  Since our villains are played by a pro wrestler, a stunt man (Though surprisingly good when he does get acting gigs) and a model totally an actress I can’t be too sore on them being underused since the acting caliber may not be at its highest.

There’s no excuse for the main X-Men cast though.

Just replace them with Nightcrawler and Pyslocke and it's the same movie
 Most superhero team books give everyone a little time to shine but in this case it’s all on Wolverine.  Jean Grey?  Famke Janssen barely does anything to warrant commentary, but I will mention that I’m unclear what she was supposed to be a doctor of (Medicine? Genetics seems more likely) or why they felt the need to even give her the title as she’s never been a doctor n the comics.  Storm?  She’s even more of a background character than Jean except that Halle Berry (Who is just awful, people!  I mean really, guys!  I don’t care how attractive you think she is) keeps trying, and clearly failing, to maintain a ridiculous and odd sounding accent that I guess is supposed to be of African origin.  It was just painful to listen to.  Cyclops?  The biggest victim in this.   Not only was he, like the others, regulated to supporting character but he was really, really made out to look like a giant doucebag.  It was almost like they filmmakers actually wanted a dude named “Chaz” with his shirt collars up ready to beat up some nerds like this was the 80s and Wolverine to be a plucky underdog.  Think I’m being unreasonable?  A deleted scene reveals that they edited the bedroom scene where Cyclops confronts Logan about the latter constantly hitting on Jean.  In the final version Scott is being a hostile, smart mouthed dick for no real reason.  In the original scene it’s more like Wolverine basically makes some threats and insultingly calls Scott a “boy” and the field leader’s shoots back with an appropriate “Aw Snap” response (“It must burn you up that a boy like me saved your life”).  But that scene makes Logan look like an asshole AND WE CAN’T HAVE THAT SO F**K CYCLOPS!

Again I have no comment on James Marsden as Cyclops because he doesn’t do enough.  He’s just kind of there like Jean and Storm.  There’s some semblance of interesting personalities for him and Janssen (Yet oddly no chemistry) but its few and far between making it the script’s fault not theirs.  The fact is though that the main cast of good guys, with the exception of Wolverine and Professor X, don’t feel integral to the plot of the film and could have been replaced with just about any other character.  That really sucks.   As for Anna Paquin?  I found Rogue to be pretty dull and kind of annoying and whiny much like Kitty Pryde in Pryde of the X-Men and Jubilee in X-Men: The Animated Series.  For the longest time I thought this was because Paquin is an overrated actress but since watching True Blood I’ve decided that she’s capable at least (But really, if you’re watching True Blood you are not watching for her acting ability).  She’s pretty flat as a character and upsettingly we focus on her a lot despite her blandness.  It’s too bad because Rogue had a very badass origin in the comic that for practical reason couldn’t be re-done in the movie, but as a long time comic reader its really bizarre to see both Rogue and Mystique in a movie and not have them be mother/daughter as theirs is one of the defining relationships in Marvel Comics.

Also while I don’t mind the various costume the Brotherhood wear (And I actually like Magneto’s outfit) I hate the uniforms the X-Men use.  The black leathers with minor variations?  It just seems so cold ad unfeeling to me.  Obviously they couldn’t bring in the spandex from the comics, and they even lampshade this in the film, but to compare I really like the was the uniforms look in the trailers for X-Men: First Class simply because they have a nice color scheme.  Forgive me for liking characters in a superhero movie to actually resemble superheroes.  Also the wig that Halle Berry wears is insanely ridiculous and distracting.  They decided to include the hair even though it makes her look really stupid but they couldn’t be bothered to keep her eyes blue.  Whatever, that's all just nitpicking.

Tough break, Scott.  But I'm sure you'll have a bigger role in X2
And I'm certain they won't just kill you off screen in the third one
 From a diehard fan’s perspective there is a lot to complain about but the bottom line is that this movie is really good, especially considering what we were dealing with beforehand.  It felt mature enough and certainly didn’t come off as cheesy or laughable (Mostly. See: Halle Berry).  The plot was pretty good and key roles, the ones we focus on, are all done really well and the three primary actors are all now and forever linked to their respective characters, especially Hugh Jackman who sounds as if he’d like to continue playing Wolverine forever.  The only real problem with this movie is that the rest of the supposed “protagonists” are really underused and we barely get to know them, and thus care about them, as most of the film is focusing on Wolverine adjusting to his new situation.  But even that is okay because the comics tend to focus on one person for a storyline or two.  Since we know this film is getting a sequel it’s likely another member of the ensemble will get center stage while Wolverine plays a supporting role (I say this like I don’t know how X2 turned out). The fact is that this movie was the best comic book movie since the 1989 Batman and indeed deserves everything ever said about it.

I give X-Men 4 Adorable Pandas out of 5.

Pros

-Sir Ian McKellen, Sir Patrick Stewart, and Sir Hugh Jackman are all very good in their roles

-The plot is very enjoyable and not (At the time) cliché

-The special effect have held well over time

Cons

-Halle Berry is in this movie

-All X-Men who are not Wolverine take a backseat to him

-Why is Cyclops such an asshole?

-The X-Men uniforms are bland and cold

2 comments:

  1. Beta,

    I enjoyed reading your thoughts about the original X-men movie. I think this movie, along with the 1989 Batman, is my favorite comic book film ever. Yes, there were some crappy things about the show - which you point out nicely in your post, but overall it was a great flick! As a big comic book fan I remember the swelling of pride in the comic reading community after this show came out and was such a huge hit. It was a cool story, and the 3 big characters really helped it along.

    About the actors: Any time I see Hugh Jackman now I mentally refer to him as "the guy who plays Wolverine" - to me he is defined by that role, and that is ok because I liked him for the part. Patrick Stewart was perfect as Professor X, and a great boost to fan-boys who had been salivating at the thought of him playing the part. Did you ever see the article in Wizard magazine where they picked him as their dream actor for Professor X - before it was ever announced that he would play the part? Awesome. And finally Ian McKellen was a great Magneto. I remember him getting tons of praise at the time for playing Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings - which was well deserved, but I liked his role in X-men even better.

    Anyway, a great movie which I still enjoy watching too. Hopefully the X-men movie coming out this summer will be half as good as this one.

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  2. I did totally read that article in Wizard years back (I probably still have that issue floating around somewhere), along with the one that said they thought he'd be a really good Mister Freeze. One out of two dream roles ain't bad, I guess.

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