ComicsAlliance Reviews ‘X-Men’ (2000), Part Two
In our latest series of super-hero movie reviews, Chris Sims and Matt Wilson take on the films chosen by you, the readers: X-Men!
Chris Sims: Welcome back to ComicsAlliance's review of X-Men! When we last left off, Senator Kelly had just been turned into a jellyfish-man with no butt-crack, and Magneto had kidnapped Rogue for use in his dastardly plan! Join us now for the second half, as things really stop making sense.
Matt Wilson: That's right! In an insane twist, this becomes a Talking Heads concert film. OK, maybe not.Chris: You know, we covered this a little bit last week, but I actually do like the way the twist plays out with Magneto's target turning out to be Rogue. As X-Men fans, we're kind of conditioned to expect everything to revolve around Wolverine, and I like that Singer and Hayter play off of that here. Even the characters are surprised when it's not about that dude for once.
Matt: Yeah Professor X seems to be apologizing to Wolverine that something was about someone other than him, like Wolverine signed a superstar contract or something.
Chris: It's been a while since I've read the original Claremont run, but I do think that was the deal they made to get him on the team back in Giant-Size #1. Regardless, Wolverine has reverted to his default state of "pissed off at the other X-Men," and decides to go out looking for Rogue by his lonesome. Storm tries to stop him, and, in case you missed the entire movie up to this point, Hugh Jackman actually says "You're a mutant! The whole world out there is full of people who hate and fear you!" out loud.
Matt: For arguably the most powerful X-Man, Storm sure gets a lot of not much to do in this movie. Hit some people with lightning and tell Wolverine, "At least I've already chosen a side." Just announcing, "I'm a character with no conflict! Nothing to see here!"
Chris: Yeah, Storm is... not a highlight of this movie. She's just sort of there, and Halle Berry's choice to give her an accent does not play to her strengths. I almost wondered if Berry was secretly trying to re-create Chris Claremont's cartoonish accents in the absence of any Irish, Scottish or - God forbid - Cajun characters, but then she dropped it in the second film and I think everyone was a lot happier.
Matt: Wolverine storms (see what I did there) out to look for Rogue, but he opens the door to find poor, butt-crack-less Senator Kelly, looking very much like a man desperate to poop.
Chris: So not only did Senator Kelly survive the drop from Magneto's Island Fortress (which we never go back to), and then swim to shore, he also straight up walked to Westchester. No wonder he collapses into Wolverine's ruggedly handsome arms.
Matt: I'd say it was less of a walk than a shamble or a roll. Anyway, Kelly tells Professor X and the assembled team he didn't go to the hospital because he was afraid they'd treat a water-man like he was weird or something, and Xavier digs into his brain to see what happened with Magneto post-coitus/magnet mutant machine operation.
Chris: It's worth noting that Senator Kelly's soggy arrival also completely derails Wolverine's plans to leave and look for Rogue, which he was pretty adamant about like ten seconds ago. Sorry, Rogue, but a rich white man is in trouble! X-MEN, ASSEMBLE!
Matt: I guess you could say Wolverine deduces that Kelly will lead them to Rogue, since she's with Magneto, but, again, we don't see that lair again. I guess he just can't pass up a mystery!
Chris: I guess Senator Kelly's kidnapping did make the news, so I suppose that's reason enough for Wolverine to stick around. When Xavier goes into Kelly's head, we see... well we see a bunch of stuff we've already seen, with the addition of Magneto telling him "welcome to the future, brother," with an intonation that's surprisingly reminiscent of Hulk Hogan.
Matt: We also discover that the whole mutant-making process nearly kills him, which leads the Professor and Wolverine to determine that he's going to transfer his power to Rogue so she can use it and bite it instead. The trouble with this plan, at least, as I see it, is that Rogue using her powers on you ALSO ALMOST KILLS YOU.
Chris: Yes, but only almost! He's still going to be alive after Rogue is burnt out from using the machine. That part makes sense. What I can't figure out is how he plans on getting her to actually use her magnetic powers to power up the machine. Does it just start draining magnetic powers of anyone who stands on it? And if so, how did Magneto turn it off after he used it to mutate Senator Kelly? Did Mystique just stroll over and kick the plug out of the wall?
Matt: He seemed to have the on/off switch built into himself. Maybe the power transfer also comes with an instruction manual for the powers? Maybe he showed Rogue some informational magnetic-power-use videos we never saw?
Chris: Clearly, the McGuffin Machine is a complex device. Once we're all hip to what's happening, we cut back to Senator Kelly, who talks to Halle Berry for a little bit and then dissolves into a puddle of goo.
Chris: I think we can all relate, right fellas?
Matt: She's had some tough dates. Can we talk about how gross this death scene is? That second or so where he's, like, really viscous man-water. Nauseating!
Chris: It's also one of the best special effects in the movie, which is so weird when you consider how cheap some of the stuff looks later. They do such a good job on the death of Senator Kelly, but then Storm is very clearly being toted around on wires with a box fan blowing her hair.
Matt: Bryan Singer priorities: Viscous water-man death: High; Flying and stuff: Low
Chris: At this point, it's time to enter the climax of the film. Despite the protestations of Cyclops and his turtleneck/button-down combo...
Chris: ...Professor X assigns Wolverine to the team and tells them to find him a suit. Which turns out to be pretty easy, since they have one in his size that just happens to have elements of his comic book costume involved. How convenient!
Matt: Oh, you didn't know costume designer Louise Mingenbach was a mutant herself, and a character in the movie? Her power is to create leather costumes for people the second anyone mentions them.
Chris: Right, right, I think that scene got cut from the theatrical release. It's on the Blu-Ray, though. And speaking of scenes that got cut, I don't think we mentioned Mystique sabotaging Cerebro at all last week, but it comes up here when Professor X tries to use it and gets knocked into a coma for his trouble. Don't worry, though; this has absolutely no bearing on the rest of the film.
Matt: It's lucky Mystique's sabotage is simple enough that Jean Grey can fix it by basically just turning a knob. For such a complex machine, repair is shockingly easy. "Hey, man, my Cerebro's busted!" "What color is the goop you got in there?" "It's dark." "Well, there's your problem."
Chris: After the setup earlier in the movie about how she can't use Cerebro because her telepathy's not strong enough, Jean uses Cerebro to take a peek at the script and find out that Magneto's going to attack the summit of world leaders that's getting together to talk about mutants. The only negative consequence of this - besides making the X-Men look like idiots for not realizing this an hour ago - is that she... kind of gets sleepy? Seriously, she looks like she'll be fine after a nap, and pretty much is.
Matt: If only some mutant out there had the power to make it so that machines weren't debilitatingly painful to use, a lot of the difficulties in this movie could be avoided.
Chris: The moviegoing public just wasn't ready for Forge. Meanwhile, the Brotherhood has hijacked a harbor patrol boat and silently taken over the Statue of Liberty, which has about four guards.
Matt: Pre-9/11, it was a different world. On the boat, Rogue asks Magneto if he's going to kill her, and he tells her he is, so that "Our gods will be theirs." That's...a weird line.
Chris: And yet, it sounds great coming out of Ian McKellen. He really does do a stellar job with the character, and I actually like that his plan here isn't to kill anyone (except Rogue). He just wants the world leaders to be mutants so they'll act out of rational self-interest to help his race. It's a solid plan, except for the part where the machine he's using makes no sense and everyone gets turned into blobs of man-water.
Matt: It's a really mixed-up plan, though. Clearly, Magneto thinks of mutants as kind of a secret club, with special "gods," and the comics version of the character thought humans should just get out of the way so homo superior could take over society. Adding more people to the club doesn't seem like it'd be his MO.
Chris: It is sort of spreading a gift to the unworthy, though, and I kind of like that it plays into Singer and Hayter's take on Magneto's messiah complex.
Matt: And maybe he knows his magnet-mutato-machine will eventually kill everyone, as soon as they pass Mutant Civil Rights Accords or whatever he's expecting.
Chris: Hilariously enough, the scene cuts right after Magneto's dramatic speech so that we don't have to see how the Brotherhood installed a gigantic Magnetic Genetic Rearrange-O-Tron into the torch of the Statue of Liberty without anyone noticing. Instead, the X-Men lay out their plan, suit up, and head out in the Blackbird.
Matt: He says, "I'll raise it," but, yes, it's better we don't see the process. The pinpoint impression toy thing the X-Men use to lay out their plans is pretty crazy, by the way. It's sort of a precursor to Tony Stark's floating-screen computer.
Chris: This scene also involves Cyclops declaring that the goofy leather motorcycle bondage suits the X-Men are wearing to be better than the "yellow spandex" of Wolverine's costume in the comics. It's weird how this movie walks the line of fully embracing all the comic book goofiness, but also kind of being ashamed of it. Smallville was the same way, putting Superman, Green Arrow, the Flash and Cyborg into those dumb jackets, but making Hawkman and Dr. Fate look like cosplayers at San Diego.
Matt: What's double weird is how the comics ultimately embraced the look of the movie, at least for a few years, and during that time, we got some of the best X-Men comics we've ever gotten, if not the best.
Chris: The Morrison/Quitely suits, you mean? I love those, man. This movie would be literally 100 times better if the cast was in puffy jackets and ribbed long-sleeve t-shirts.
Matt: Wolverine all shirtless under the jacket. I do think it's interesting that as a part of the more "realistic" suits, Emma Frost got an outfit that's basically impossible to wear.
Chris: While we've been talking fashion, the X-Men have flown their gigantic fighter jet into New York, using Storm to whip up a sudden fog so that nobody can see or hear them. It is a very quiet airplane.
Matt: Lucky no one who observes planes in the sky has radar or anything!
Chris: To be fair, Cyclops does make a crack about how advanced the Blackbird is and how no one will be able to detect it. Either way, they land on Liberty Island and start creeping through the museum, which looks a lot like a set from Batman '66 with all the giant faces and feet hanging around. Also, that scene where Wolverine walks through the metal detector is a pretty solid gag.
Matt: Followed by a flipping-off-with-a-claw gag that I thought was pretty terrific when I first saw this.
Chris: Yeah, that was definitely a pretty big highlight.
Matt: The X-Men examine the room, which is sadly not shot in oblique angles, and all of a sudden Wolverine's fighting himself. And that's pretty cool.
Chris: The fight between Wolverine and Mystique-As-Wolverine is pretty great, but there's a scene in here where he swipes at her with his claws, and she blocks with hers. Of course, Mystique's claws aren't Adamantium, and Wolverine's go right through her and she screams like he just cut her fingers off.
Chris: Really, now, what the hell did she expect was going to happen?
Matt: Makes you wonder what he actually cut off. It had to be something, right? Meanwhile, Singer counterbalances the cool fight by having the rest of the team fight Toad. Hey, remember when this came out, and how everyone was so excited that DARTH MAUL HIMSELF was going to be Toad?
Chris: This was still in that weird time where we were all excited about Darth Maul, right? I mean, when you get right down to it, Toad actually gets more to do than Darth Maul did, especially since he starts developing new super-powers at random about halfway through the fight.
Matt: He's a big puddle of goofy in a movie that largely tries to avoid it. "Mutants are real people who need to be understood, but sometimes they eat bugs and stuff, too, just FYI."
Chris: He looks legitimately terrible, too. Like, they just put some greenish facepaint on him and spray-painted his hair.
Matt: And, of course, Storm disposes of him with the most infamous Joss-Whedon-written line of all time.
Chris: I heard Whedon denied this one.
Matt: IMDb says it was him!
Chris: After floating to the balcony of the Statue of Liberty in a shot that looks super-terrible...
Chris: ...Storm taunts Toad, who is hanging by his tongue from the railing, with "Do you know what happens to a toad when it's struck by lightning? The same thing that happens to everything else."
Matt: And Toad flies off at a weird angle into the bay. You know, I'm not sure if it's the line itself or the delivery. Imagine if say, a Schwarzenegger belted that one out before chomping down on a cigar.
Chris: No way, man. I mean, look, we've both seen Commando. We've heard lines like "Don't disturb my friend. He's dead tired." But this line... there's not even a pun to it. It's like a placeholder that was put in the script so that they could come back and add something later, but they never got around to it.
Matt: Yeah, I mean, there's a rail and some stuff that get hit by lightning as Toad does, and they don't go flying off into the bay. I thought you were supposed to be a scientist, Storm!
Chris: Sadly, this went down as the single most memorable line of the entire movie - and one of, if not the worst in super-hero movie history -- which is a shame since the rest of it is relatively well-written. There's even good moments surrounding it, like Wolverine proving he's the real Wolverine to Cyclops by calling him a dick.
Matt: Which is apparently the only other Whedon line that made it into the final script. Can we backtrack a sec and discuss how unfazed Wolverine is to find out he's fighting a blue, naked, shapeshifting woman? He doesn't even flinch.
Chris: Dude has a weird life.
Matt: Mystique gets neutralized (read: stabbed in the stomach) after she fails to get one over on Wolverine by pretending to be Storm, the team regroups and they're off find the mutant maker.
Chris: They go up to the Statue of Liberty's head, and when Wolverine realizes that he can't move, that's Magneto's cue to step up and subject our heroes to some creative bondage.
Matt: It really is pretty creative. He points Wolverine's claws at his own chest, aims Cyclops' eyes at Jean Grey and removes his visor. The only one that doesn't work too well is Storm, who he sarcastically tells to go ahead and shoot lightning at a giant copper conductor, something she just did like a minute ago.
Chris: Ha! I was about to say that it's almost really clever, because really, the only ones that are actually put into an interesting trap are Cyclops and Jean, and even with them, it's all on him to not open his eyes. There's no reason for Jean to not be able to just telekinetically wrench the metal back to where it was after Magneto leaves, and I'm still not quite sure how Wolverine gets out of his trap. Do his claws push him away from the wall enough to jar the metal loose?
Matt: That seems to be what happens, but it isn't too clear.
Chris: Either way, Wolverine gets out and has a big fight with Sabretooth, compete with a mandatory post-Matrix scene where he spins around one of the tines on the Statue's crown, eventually teaming up with Jean to get Cyclops's visor in the right position to blast Sabretooth out out the bay. If there's one thing you have to say about this movie, it's that they really do try to combine the characters' powers to make things interesting.
Matt: All the while, Magneto's finally happy to touch someone, getting two handfuls of Rogue's head in a didn't-really-need-it-but-why-not origin story for her skunk stripe.
Chris: Once Sabretooth's taken care of and Rogue's in danger of accidentally mutating every world leader - think of all the presidential butt-cracks she'll be erasing! - we get the biggest team-up of all: Storm and Jean will lift Wolverine up to bust up the McGuffin Machine while Cyclops stands around waiting for the opportunity to shoot a 60 year-old Holocaust survivor in the back. Cyclops does not come out as very heroic in this plan.
Matt: And he could have been the guy Jean and Storm sent up there instead of, you know, the dude made of metal we've seen Magneto manipulate physically multiple times in the movie.
Chris: But because it's Wolverine, he's able to lend some Healing Factor to Rogue, right after he finally breaks the machine and stops the McGuffin Wave from reaching Ellis Island. The racial purity of our leaders has been saved!
Matt: The X-Men have kept your poops intact, leaders of the world, and you'll never even know!
Chris: With that in place, we get a few epilogues: Rogue goes back to the school, Wolverine gets a lead on his past that he can track down in the sequel, Mystique secretly takes over the identity of Senator Kelly and starts campaigning for mutant rights, and, in what might be the best scene of the entire movie, Professor X and Magneto play a game of chess in a plastic prison.
Matt: There's also a final Jean/Wolverine flirty flirt scene where both actors get a ton of mileage out of the word "hey." They nail that one. The plastic prison itself is just a great idea, and McKellen and Stewart are amazing as they act right at each other. The chess is a pretty obvious symbol, but it's a great scene.
Chris: It is! The idea of the good guy and bad guy playing chess is Symbolism 101, but it really works here. I love the focus on the board, as we see Magneto taking pawn after pawn of Xavier's, and it really works as a great metaphor. Even the heavy-handedness of Magneto actually quoting Malcolm X with "By any means necessary" is pulled off exceptionally well by these two actors.
Matt: This relationship is the thing you really have to get right to nail the X-Men, and Singer and crew really got it.
Chris: It's really effective, especially considering that McKellen and Stewart only have two scenes with each other. They bookend the movie.
Matt: Like we said before, the lack of any flashbacks, everything just being there between these two actors, it helps so much. The script could spend way more time on adventuring, because they hired two capital-A Actors for these roles.
Chris: And with that, we close out the film.
Matt: The cast in general. With a few exceptions--poor Halle Berry with her terrible dialogue, Ray Park, not-Kevin-Nash--everybody steps up.
Chris: We talked about McKellen and Stewart at length, but they are really perfect for their roles. They sell these characters in a way that works beautifully, and in Stewart's case, it's one of those rare examples of giving the fans exactly what they want and having it turn out great.
Chris: Really though, there are a lot of solid choices here. Jackman owns the role of Wolverine, Marsden is a great uptight stiff-shirt Cyclops, Paquin does a decent job as Rogue...
Matt: You know, McKellen wouldn't be someone I would have immediately thought of for Magneto. Magneto's usually been portrayed as a big guy, and McKellen isn't really physically imposing. But he didn't need to be.
Chris: It affects the way he plays the part, too. The way he has these small, subtle movements that just wreck Wolverine and tear up the steel in the Statue of Liberty are way more indicative of how powerful he is than having him be physically huge. McKellen pulls off the sneering superiority beautifully, and as we'll see next week, he does an even better job in the sequel.
Matt: He has so much fun in that one. But back to Jackman. I saw where some people were disappointed that he wasn't more of a berserker, but I just can't imagine how that wouldn't be laughable onscreen.
Chris: That's another thing that comes up in the sequel, when Wolverine really gets to cut loose a few times. I also really like how much of this movie isn't an origin. It certainly has those elements with Rogue and Wolverine, but I like that the X-Men and the Xavier School are already established, which presents a nice opportunity for background fanservice, something else this movie generally does well. Of course, this led to two other movies that were entirely about origins later, but that's their problem.
Matt: We kind of joked about the set design last week, but I really do like it, too. Professor X's brushed-metal basement is the perfect amount of sci-fi future.
Chris: There's a lot of solid stuff here. Unfortunately there's a lot of stuff that isn't, too.
Matt: Magneto's make-everyone-a-mutant plot is just ludicrous. You can rationalize it, you can contextualize it, but it's the most juvenile thing in a movie that strives to prove this is a genre for adults.
Chris: Toad and Sabretooth are basically vestigial. They contribute almost nothing to the plot, and Toad in particular is all over the map. We see him building the McGuffin Device, then he suddenly has the power to spit suffocating mucus at Jean Grey, but he also knows karate because they want to make it clear that he's the dude from Phantom Menace...
Matt: You could say that about all the fan-service. It's not overbearing, and it's to Singer's credit that he tried to stuff so many winks to fans and characters they wanted to see into the movie, but they occasionally get in the way of the film itself.
Chris: We talked about Storm being little more than set dressing, too. I realize that the focus is on Wolverine and Rogue for the most part, but Cyclops, Jean, and even Iceman get more to do here than Halle Berry does.
Matt: That's probably a result of this being a relatively short movie, at least compared to your average two-hour-plus superhero movie today. This clocks in at about 105 minutes, which means some character stuff had to go on the cutting room floor. Then again, I don't really need more of this. It's just enough.
Chris: There's some pretty awful dialogue in this movie, too. Toad vs. Lightning has been beaten to death, but let's not forget "Toad has a wicked tongue, senator!" There's a ton of stuff that's only not terrible because McKellen, Stewart and Jackman do a great job with it.
Matt: There's a ton of not-totally-necessary exposition in places, which really contrast with the scenes that pack lots of stuff in to some natural-sounding dialogue. This script is pretty clearly a Frankenstein monster.
Chris: The seams don't show as bad as they do in, say, Batman Returns, but yeah. You can tell what's been punched up, and what was meant to be punched up later that they never got around to.
Chris: Despite its flaws, X-Men is still a pretty solid movie. It really does feel like the prototype of the modern Marvel franchise movie that we're seeing now with Avengers. I think it holds up pretty well, and at the time, when the biggest super-hero movies in recent memory were Blade (which in many ways felt more like a horror-exploitation film than super-hero) and Batman & Robin, it felt like a huge step. Don't get me wrong, I might be one of the 14 people alive who actually really like Batman & Robin, but X-Men feels like it's from a completely different genre.
Matt: And as silly as some elements are, this is a different animal than even the Burton Batman movies, which were so, so stylized. For a movie about people with weather controlling powers and who die by turning into water, it makes every effort to play it straight and give a "real-world" take. I mean, before this, Singer was best known for The Usual Suspects, after all.
Chris: It's weird how much Singer did right in this movie that he ended up doing wrong in Superman, but you can really see why he'd be the guy they wanted. He took something that was a huge cross-media success and then brought it to films in a way that people really responded to. Then he did it again, but better.
Matt: You know, I was actually surprised at how well this movie holds up, considering how much of the bad was what stuck with me over the years. Like, the notion that maybe Magneto intended for Kelly to die (which he doesn't necessarily deny when Jean Grey confronts him about it) didn't even occur to me before. I wonder how X2, which I have nothing but good recollections of, will live up to my memory.
Chris: Probably better than X-Men 3, but I guess we'll find out! Join us next week as we continue taking on the franchise you requested as Matt and I delve into X-2: X-Men United!
ComicsAlliance Reviews the X-Men Films: