Monday, April 25, 2011

Year of the Superhero - X-Men Trilogy

Over the last couple weeks, I've rewatched the X-Men trilogy. Not the Wolverine movie, which I've heard is horrible and am therefore avoiding. I like Hugh Jackman, but I don't like him that much. All three movies have been fun and gave me lots of action scenes, mutant powers, and, erm, Hugh Jackman—but they're flawed, too, especially with regards to pacing. Like many adaptations with huge fan followings, the X-Men films try to stick as much canon, wow factor, and fan service into the story as possible, to the detriment of the plot. I don't mind too much because I don't watch summer blockbuster movies expecting Oscar-worthy performances and fabulous scripts. I expect Oscar-worthy special effects and sound editing, if anything, and X-Men does deliver that.

First of all, the superpowers. Might as well get that out of the way first, right? One of the things that draws me to the X-Men is the incredible range of powers that seem to be possible. As long as I don't think how they're possible in some cases, I'm good. (Perhaps it's like in Wild Cards, where the powers are psi-based?) The sheer range of powers intrigues me. There are people who can manipulate elements, people who can control objects, people who read minds, people whose appearances have changed, people who heal quickly or teleport, people who do combinations of all these things. It's easy to imagine yourself as a mutant. What power would you get?

Of course, there are downsides to mutation. There's the gay rights and anti-anti-Semitism parallels, of course, since mutants are feared, persecuted, and second-class citizens. They play up the anti-Semitic stuff in the movies, though I don't know if that's the same in the comics. Magneto's a Holocaust survivor regardless of medium, however. But the powers themselves can provide downsides, like with Cyclops, who can't open his eyes without blasting everything to pieces, unless he has his glasses. In other superhero canons, superpowers cause angst of the 'oh, if only I could tell my loved ones' variety, and the occasional accident. The powers in X-Men seem more realistic, or at least more thought-out, because they're so often a double-edged sword.

Quick aside: When I originally watched the first X-Men film, I didn't understand why it started in Auschwitz. I was even dense enough not to realize that the screaming Jewish boy was Ian McKellan. But now that I'm older and aware of the anti-anti-Semitic messages of X-Men, it makes sense. Starting in 1940s Poland sets the stage for not only the one movie, but the whole series.

Another thing that makes X-Men, or at least the films, feel more realistic to me is the exploration of the world. The first movie's about people trying to thwart a terrorist threat. The second's about the same people trying to stop a military operation to destroy mutantkind entirely. The third's about the fallout from a 'mutant cure' announcement. Whereas Batman Begins touched on issues of politics and policing, and the Spider-Man trilogy is about Peter Parker fighting bad guys with media persecution, X-Men actually goes for political plot lines and a more international scope. Notably, there are Canadians, Brits, and Germans as well as Americans in the X-Men team.

I noticed something else for the first time during this rewatch. One level the films are about mutants as a whole, illustrated by the ensemble cast and the 'few fighting for the rights of many' plots, true. But on another level, they're about Wolverine and his quest for identity. He's the rough, wild man who's brought to Xavier's school with no memories, and who's set on the path to find them. He falls in love. He saves Rogue at the end of the first movie. He finds out his origins in X2, and then refuses to learn details. He goes off alone to find Jean in the third film, wanting to save her. For someone who's verging on anti-hero at the start of the trilogy, he certainly ends up rescuing people and acting heroic a lot. And yes, I realize that the films have to have a more concrete protagonist even with an obviously ensemble cast and they picked Wolverine because hey, Hugh Jackman. I just find it interesting that he's got a trilogy-long arc, instead of being dropped after the first movie in favor of a different protagonist*.

I mentioned in my opening that the in-jokes and references to X-Men canon kind of detract from the plot. There wasn't much reason to insert Angel into the third film, for instance, and it kind of amused me that although Kitty Pride was in the other two films, she suddenly became a main character in X-Men: The Last Stand. But seeing those characters—and Beast, and Nightcrawler—was fun, and the scriptwriters did a good job of working the new characters and the fan service fighting into the plot without making the movie too clunky. Kudos to them for that. I also enjoyed seeing the Easter egg-type references, with Hank McCoy and Moira McTaggert appearing on TV screens, and birth names of mutants appearing on a government database. So really, not complaining too much. The fan service works for fans, because we kind of expect that it's going to be there (and Wolverine fighting people's fun). I can't comment on whether it works for non-fans.

You'll notice a trend as this series of posts continues. I'm much more a Marvel girl than I am a DC girl. I prefer Spider-Man, X-Men, Ironman, even the Fantastic Four to a degree, to Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Marvel's more grey and complex, I think, and as I've mentioned here and in the Spider-Man review, there's a greater air of realism. And, as with Spider-Man, I'm going to be tracking down X-Men comics at some point too. They look to be even more fun than the movies.

* As I would expect Hollywood to do.


Brooke Johnson said...

I'm a Marvel girl too. DCs heroes are too inaccessible.

Thanks for the good review. There is too much X-Men film hatred. X-Men is my favorite comic book franchise and I wish it had more media love.

Anassa said...

Oh good, someone who agrees about DC!

You're welcome for the review, lol. I honestly think that the X-Men films are no better or worse than other blockbusters (and should not be held to the same standards as the comics, etc. etc. as per my last post). I guess there are just enough hardcore X-Men fans slagging the films and bringing public perception down. :( Would love more media love too. Apparently they're doing an anime? O_o