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Rewatching X-Men (2000)

Illustration for article titled Rewatching X-Men (2000)

I enjoyed Days of Future Past so much that I was inspired to dig my old X-Men movie DVDs (all three of them) out of the back of the closet and watch them again for the first time in several years. Here are my thoughts on the first movie, in rough order:

  • The Holocaust prologue is very dark, and I'm always struck by how grim and realistic it is compared to the rest of the film, which deals mostly with people in goofy costumes punching and zapping each other. (I can see how some critics, like Roger Ebert, found its inclusion somewhat questionable.) It was a pretty ballsy move, and it established that X-Men would be a different kind of superhero film compared to the Superman and Batman movies, which were still the norm for the genre. This is probably the first example of a "grounded" superhero movie, in which the characters are bound up with real world places and events, both thematically and historically.
  • "The Not Too Distant Future." But is it Next Sunday, A.D.?
  • The "near future" setting (which was promptly dropped from all the sequels) is another reminder of how much the studio was trying to play up the SFnal elements over the comic book aspects — if it had been established that this was the present, it would mean that the characters were living in some kind of parallel universe — a universe of marvels, if you will — and that might have created some sort of cognitive dissonance with non-comics-reading audiences. But about the only sign that it's taking place in the present is that some of the TVs have rectangular screens.
  • Sookie! (One of the interesting I noticed this time about Paquin's performance is how frequently she slips out of her Deep South accent.)
  • I can't get over how much younger everybody looks here — not just Paquin and Jackman (who seems considerably less grizzled), but especially Stewart and McKellan, who was filming LotR around the same time. This movie was made a long time ago.
  • It just never ceases to amaze me how badly written Storm is in these movies. In the comics, she's a tough, cunning elemental warrior-goddess and a born leader — here, as played by Halle Berry, she acts like a very polite executive assistant who can shoot lightning bolts. Claremont really wanted Angela Bassett for the role, which at the very least would have been perfect casting.
  • Ugh, those costumes. I know they wanted to keep some comic book aspects intact, but they look pretty cheesy, especially Storm's cape. The X-suits make these guys look less like a group of global adventurers, and more like a yuppie motocross team.
  • Very small tangential link to the greater Marvel Universe here — Senator Kelly's aide is Henry Peter Gyrich, who was the White House's official liaison to the Avengers and kind of an all-around dickweed. (He was based on Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter, who was not altogether popular with his employees.) In the comics he was a thorn in the side of most super-powered folk (especially mutants), but here he's just a subordinate with virtually no dialogue and is probably already dead at the time of his first appearance, having been killed and impersonated by Mystique. I'm guessing this means that we won't be seeing Gyrich guest-starring on Agents of SHIELD anytime soon.
  • The stuff with Magneto's lair always verged on Batman TV show camp for me. He's got a little teensy island right off the Eastern Seaboard that nobody seems to have noticed, full of big, empty, vaguely Ken Adam-ish spaces that seem to serve no purpose whatsoever (and who carved out those rooms for him?). Apart from Mystique, his Brotherhood seems pretty worthless, though that's probably a reflection of the limited budget (more on that in a minute). How do they get off the island? Who has to buy groceries and supplies?
  • The stuff with the X-Mansion, on the other hand, is really well done. Although why does Wolverine get a nice big Marriott Residency suite while Rogue has to sleep in what looks like an Eastern European orphanage?
  • "This is certainly a big round room" is almost as bad a line as "Do you know what happens to a toad when it's hit by lightning?" but they both have a sort of winning dadaesque appeal.
  • Cyclops, the original Glasshole.
  • The battle at the train station is a classic Chris Claremont-era scene — X-Men go to a public place incognito, get into an epic fight with bad guys, frightened civilians run in terror from the mutant menace. It's short, but it's one of the scenes in the movie that really felt to me at the time like something out of an X-Men comic.
  • At the same time, other parts of this movie remind you just how low-budget and transitional it was. Magneto's showdown with the cops in particular is really underwhelming. There's not a whole lot of CGI, but what there is of it is mostly terrible in that bad 1990s way — closeups of Wolverine's claws popping out in slow motion, Toad's tongue (which may have evoked unpleasant memories of Ray Park's Phantom Menace costar Jar Jar), the weird ectoplasm that flows all over the place when Magneto tries to turn the world's elite into ugly bags of mostly water. There appears to be a ton of practical stuff and not a whole lot of greenscreen beyond the climax, but it all serves to remind you how much superhero movies need CGI to really, truly work.
  • The superhero fights themselves are not very spectacular. As the comedy writer/performer (and comics fan) Tom Scharpling once observed, this is a movie in which the big climactic battle takes place at the Statue of Liberty, but about 75% of the actual fight takes place in the Statue of Liberty's lobby and gift shop. Visually it's just not very exciting, though that's because the movie had a pretty modest budget, and also because filmmakers hadn't quite figured out how to translate the visual grammar of superhero action to film with much fidelity. Sam Raimi's Spider-Man, which was arguably the first movie to approach the visual freedom of comic book drawings, was still a couple of years away.
  • And wow, this movie is short. At 96 minutes (that's including the credits), it's roughly two-thirds the length of X2 or DOFP. That's another way in which genre films have really changed over time — where the approach used to be to make them short and sweet, now there's a lot more interest in building up franchises with extra characters, events, and plotlines to be developed into new sequels and spinoffs. I'm sure that if you'd told people fourteen years ago that they'd still be making X-Men sequels in 2014, and with a lot of the same cast, no one would have believed you.

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