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The Marvel Movies: X-Men (2000)

by on June 4, 2011
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“Blade” may have been the first “modern” big-screen interpretation of a Marvel character (in cinematic terms anyway during the CG era of filmmaking), but “X-Men’s” 2000 release was the true litmus test for how Marvel superheroes would fare on the big screen.

The result was a resounding “yes” from the populace. The film itself had a few flaws, but the concept — mixing the fantastical with the real world and giving the characters weight and subtext — told us Marvel’s heroes were here to stay.

Director Bryan Singer, heretofore best known for the dynamic mystery flick “The Usual Suspects,” delivers flawed mutant heroes scarred by years of discrimination by a public who fears them — connecting the villain Magneto’s (Ian McKellan, as an adult) Holocaust experiences with hero Rogue’s (Anna Paquin) traumatic first kiss, then with Jean Grey’s (Famke Janssen) failure to sway legislators in the halls of Congress.

To be certain, using superpowers as a metaphor for the civil rights movement was the obvious move that had been explored fully in the comics, but Singer gave the arc full weight and made his characters the focal point rather than the cause.

Yes, the battle of ideology between old friends Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart. employing Martin Luther King Jr.’s peaceful co-existence) and Magneto (the Malcolm X “by any means necessary” stand-in) was the framework, but the art itself is in the relationships of their pupils; whether it’s the distrust among Xavier’s charges or a direct conflict between the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Mutants, it provides the soul of the film.

That Wolverine, the pivotal character on whom the film’s success or failure firmly rested, was fully realized by the tall Aussie unknown Hugh Jackman was a miracle in itself. Wolverine in the comics was a small, fierce creature, and audiences did more than accept Jackman’s tall, fierce creature; they embraced him, and he is arguably as important a cinematic face for the character as Christopher Reeve is to Superman.

There were missteps in makeup and costuming. Most notably, villains Sabretooth (Tyler Mane) and Toad (Ray Park) looked silly at times, Wolverine’s hair was never completely right throughout the series, at times it was a little too obvious that the actors were working on a soundstage and some of the fight sequences employ too-obvious wirework.

But overall, Singer did a fine job bringing the X-Men into the real world and would perfect the job in the movie’s sequel before moving on to let Brett Ratner and others drag the franchise into various levels of mediocrity.

Next time: The Daywalker returns!

Previous Marvel Movie Entries

Conan the Barbarian (1982)
Conan the Destroyer (1984)

Red Sonja (1985)
Howard the Duck (1986)
The Punisher (1989)
Captain America (1990)
The Fantastic Four (1994)
Blade (1998)

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