X-Men

After the dismal, bewilderingly popular Blade, it was going to take a lot to renew my faith in comic book adaptations. X-Men, an extraordinary sci-fi thriller from director Bryan Singer, has done it without breaking a sweat. It’s a fun adventure with serious allegorical undertones; in the end, its message is simple but powerful. The accomplishment is made all the more extraordinary, in my mind, by the fact that I have never in my life picked up an X-Men comic book.

The movie begins with a spooky narration by Patrick Stewart, briefly explaining the basic concept behind X-Men. It is this: evolution has taken gigantic leaps resulting in drastic genetic mutations among a certain percentage of the human population. These mutations give the people they affect a superhuman power. As often happens when people encounter something radically different from themselves, these mutants are feared and reviled by a good part of the rest of the world. It happens to be the time of the American Presidential Election and a candidate named Senator Kelly is running primarily on an anti-mutant platform, proclaiming them dangerous and promising that if he is elected, he will methodically weed them out of public sight.

While all this is going on, a certain group of mutants is planning a war. Led by Magneto (Ian McKellen), who exerts power over anything that is metal, they believe that the only way that mutants can avoid cruelty from the rest of humankind is force. Magneto is opposed by Dr. Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), a powerful telepathic, and his “X-Men” who, in turn, have faith in humanity and believe that a war can be averted.

A subplot follows a mutants Wolverine, who has massive regenerative powers and can make sharp metal talons come out of his knuckles, and young Rogue, who sucks out the life force of anyone she touches. They develop a unique, platonic relationship as they make their way to Xavier’s lair; neither of them, however, has yet fully made up his/her mind on which side of the fight to join.

Some mutants I haven’t mentioned assisting Xavier in fighting the good fight: Cyclops (James Marsden), who can make laser beams shoot out of his eyes; Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), a telepathic and Wolverine’s object of affection and Storm (Halle Barry), who can control the weather. On Magento’s side: the shape-shifting Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos); Toad (Ray “Darth Maul” Park), who, believe it or not, has a long sticky tongue and can jump real real high; and Sabretooth, whose only real power is his superhuman strength.

It all sounds a little bit silly, and on the surface it is. But it doesn’t matter. Underneath a gleefully farfetched exterior lie a few nuggets of real thought. Many have said that the film is an allegory for the gay rights movement, but I don’t see why it would necessarily have to be just that. X-Men rails against prejudice in general, insisting that if someone can ever make it go away it won’t be through violence (though the main conflict of the movie is still unresolved once the credits roll). Magneto, a sort of futuristic Machiavelli, is not actually an unsympathetic character — his motives are understandable. The problem is in his proposed solution. The ending, obviously intended to be left open for a sequel, doesn’t provide any sort of a conclusion. Instead, X-Men ends with a temporary truce, on a note that seems chilling at first, but on further thought is poignant in the perpetuity it so ominously implies. It’s an amazing achievement — satisfying the marketing requirements for the inevitable X-Men movie franchise while at the same time holding the allegory together.

Are the messages we can glean from all of this simple? Without a doubt. They’re not subtle either. But how good it is to see a summer action movie with a brain.

It seems kind of trivial to talk about this after a long paragraph on the film’s thematic merits (and I’m sure I’ll get e-mails telling me that I was reading way too much into it), but director Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, Apt Pupil) turns out (who knew?) to be an excellent stager of slam-bang action, rivaling Sam Raimi in his unintrusive, undistinctive and yet consistently effective camerawork. The 104 minutes jet by and I ended up feeling that the movie wasn’t long enough.

I don’t say this often, but bring on the sequel.

-- Eugene Novikov

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Screening Log

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Ric Roman Waugh, 2013

Score: C

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Score: C+

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Jamie Linden, 2012

Score: B-

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Derek Cianfrance, 2013

Score: B+

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Jonathan Levine, 2013

Score: C

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Richard LaGravanese, 2013

Score: B-

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Ted Tetzlaff, 1949

Score: B+

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Score: B

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Jack Hively, 1942

Score: C

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Im Sang-Soo, 2013

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