X-Men is a good summer comic book movie. Its look — sets, costumes and special effects — is amazing. It delivers enough action to entertain the masses while offering a little substance for more thoughtful moviegoers.
Who Are the X-Men?
X-Men, for those of us not in the know, is based on a Marvel comic of the same name. The X-Men are a team of mutated humans, each with a special power. Wolverine, for example, heals at an accelerated rate. Cyclops shoots red energy from his eyes. Their leader, doctor Charles Xavier has telepathy and mind control powers.
The arch-enemies of the X-Men are The Brotherhood, a band of mutants with no regard for human life. Mystique is a blue-skinned shapeshifter. Sabertooth is a mutant whose name says it all. Their leader, Magneto, can push, pull, and bend metal with his mind.
A Simple Plan
Human politicians are debating whether mutants should be forced to register with a national database for the “protection” of innocent humans. (Senator Kelly, a young McCarthy for the new century, is a strong advocate of mandatory mutant registration — you can see his TV campaign commercial at apple.com.)
Magneto sets out to capture one of the X-Men in order to tap into a special mutant power, which, combined with his new machine, will make mutants of an entire United Nations conference. Magneto hopes to give the prejudiced human leaders a taste of their own medicine. What Magneto doesn’t realize (or doesn’t care about) is that his mutation machine could be deadly.
With such a long list of heroes and villains, it might seem like a chore to keep them all straight in your mind. But really, each character has enough personality that you’ll always be able to tell them apart. Hugh Jackman plays Wolverine with a dose of road house toughness, Halle Berry gives Storm a humorless, badass stare. Patrick Stewart, as Xavier, projects the seriousness and wisdom of his Star Trek character. I’d almost credit the actors with fine performances, but in this case, more important than acting is good, strong personality and screen presence
Academy Award winner Ian McKellen puts some soul, pathos, and even humanity into the villain Magneto. I find it so rare that a villain gets human traits, that it’s worth pointing out (often, a movie villain has no soul and no redeeming qualities). The first scene of the movie shows that Magneto grew up knowing evil and oppression first-hand. It’s ironic that a victim like him should become a villain himself, and yet there is some psychological truth to it.
Black and White
This movie acknowledges (to some degree) that victim and oppressor, good and evil, are not complete opposites. Both Xavier and Magneto are mutants. Both resent the fear and prejudice of humanity. In many ways they are the same. Yet one is a villain, the other a leader of heroes. Their similarity is expressed visually when the two play chess. Their chess board consists not of black and white, but of clear glass and frosted glass. These two mutants, like the chessmen, are more similar than different. They are made from the same material. Their only difference is in their exterior finish.
X-Men packs a lot into 90 minutes. The fantastic world of mutated humans is introduced. Each character is introduced. There is a thread of plot. And when the conflict is resolved, each character’s story line has to be wrapped up. X-Men handles it all surprisingly well.
For a summer comic book movie, X-Men really delivers. The action is energetic enough to please X-Men fans and “guy flick” aficionados. At the same time, the film has enough food for thought to pleasantly surprise those who get dragged to see it.