Review of X-Men


I recently watched the film X-Men (2000) about a team of mutants each of whom have specialized superpowers, such as the ability to create turbulent weather or magnetic fields or shift into other shapes, and so on. This was one of the films recommended to me by readers as one of the better examples of Hugh Jackman’s acting skills, whom I had never seen act in a film before.

While Jackman was good, the film as a whole didn’t quite grab me. I think the problem was that the central plotline was weak (it was never quite clear exactly what the evildoers wanted to accomplish and why it had to happen at the Statue of Liberty except that it made for nice action staging) and the film couldn’t seem to decide whether to focus on the battle of wits between the wily leaders of the two groups (played by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen) or on the romantic relationship between Jackman and Anna Pacquin.

As an ensemble superhero film, I felt that it was inferior to The Avengers. There the Hulk and Iron Man characters had some depth and the dialogue was witty. I found myself caring about them in a way that I did not about any of the characters here.

A few questions for aficionados of the film and comic books on which it is based.

  • Why are they called the X-Men when half of the team consists of women?

  • Of all the superpowers, the one possessed by Mystique, the ability to take on the shape of anyone or anything so as to be indistinguishable from the original, seems like the best and most powerful superpower of all. With that power alone it is easy to see how the evildoers could have accomplished anything they wanted to. So why was she basically a minor character, playing second fiddle to a somewhat dimwitted muscle-bound Sabretooth?
  • Why does Jane Grey not get a cool nickname?

My problem is that I tend to overthink things that should be just accepted uncritically.

Here’s the trailer.

And here’s a parody of X-Men which points out that Jackman’s Wolverine character has the least effective mutant power.

Comments

  1. screechymonkey says

    A couple of answers/comments:

    I don’t think there was any intended romantic subtext between Wolverine and Anna Paquin’s character Rogue. She may have had a bit of a crush on him, but his interest in her is more brotherly than anything. She’s just a teenager, while he’s a lot older, and his infatuation is with Jean Grey.

    As to why Jean Grey doesn’t have a cool nickname, this is probably because her original code name in the comics was “Marvel Girl,” which was tolerable in the original comics when she was a teenager, but hardly appropriate for a grown woman. Her later code name, Phoenix, gets used in the sequels, but, uh, some stuff has to happen first to set that up.

    As to why it’s X-Men as opposed to X-People or whatever — again, just comics history. The title started in the 60s with just one female member on a team of five, and publishers are loathe to change a successful brand name. As comics titles go, though, X-Men has probably been better than most on the gender equity front, as they’ve added more women as the years went on and had female leaders at times.

    Mystique’s shapeshifting power is great for espionage/stealth missions, and a lot of the villainous scheme is set up by her infiltration. But telepaths like Xavier and Grey can detect her (and possibly Wolverine, too, though I think this hasn’t been handled very consistently), and if it comes to a fight, she can take care of herself but isn’t a huge offensive threat.

    But yeah, she’s definitely more interesting and capable than Sabretooth, who really exists just to give Wolverine somebody to exchange snarls and bloody claws with.

  2. fentex says

    The first X-Men movie got off to a good start but as you noticed didn’t go anywhere interesting, for-going the interesting questions about acceptance, isolation and response to prejudice for simple minded super-villiany.

    The second of the X-Men movies is much, much better and I suspect you’d enjoy it considerably more – the third is horrendous.

    To answer your questions – they’re the X-Men because that’s what the were named in the 1960’s when created and it’s the name they continue to be successfully marketed under. I don’t think it would be a name chosen or as likely to succeed if invented today.

    Jean Grey was originally known as ‘Marvel Girl’ but you’ll never hear her called that today, and not just because ‘girl’ is outmoded but ‘Marvel’ as a much used moniker that would be a problematic name today in the context of the history of Marvel comics. She became known as the Phoenix and has since died, been reborn, cloned, reincarnated ad nauseam to return many times to the fertile well the Phoenix storylines proved to be.

    But really her primary role was, as might be expected, always as the love interest for others to squabble over. Such was the purpose of girls, er, women in those comics.

    I agree that Mystique is more interesting than suggested in the first movie, and if you watch the second (and fourth) you’ll see that was also obvious to the producers. Unfortunately her abysmal treatment is one of the reasons the third movie leaves a bad taste.

    But one shouldn’t look to logic in comparing the efficacy of different super-heroes abilities. I mean really, Black Widow and Hawkeye in the same fight as Thor, Ironman and the Hulk? There comes a time watching these things you have to let the essential goofiness wash over you and hope it’s done with the elan of The Avengers.

  3. says

    (it was never quite clear exactly what the evildoers wanted to accomplish and why it had to happen at the Statue of Liberty except that it made for nice action staging)

    Magneto’s plan was to use his nefarious device to create a wave of science fiction powered energy to sweep over Manhattan and New Jersey, turning all of the surrounding normals into mutants as he did with the Senator. This would strike a blow for mutant rights, as they would no longer be an invisible minority but there would be millions of them in one place. I’ll admit it’s not a great plan… but it’s a perfectly cromulent Comic Book Villain plan.

  4. screechymonkey says

    Magneto’s plan was to use his nefarious device to create a wave of science fiction powered energy to sweep over Manhattan and New Jersey, turning all of the surrounding normals into mutants as he did with the Senator. This would strike a blow for mutant rights, as they would no longer be an invisible minority but there would be millions of them in one place.

    And since this was being done during some big international conference, many of the new mutants would be powerful political figures from around the world. Of course, as we saw with Senator Kelly, not everyone gets cool new superpowers — the process would probably kill a lot of them.

    And Magneto’s device requires a massive electromagnetic dynamo such as he can generate with his powers, but the resulting explosion/feedback/whatever would likely kill him. So he wants to use Rogue to transfer his powers to her, hook her up to the device, and then get himself to a safe distance.

  5. Mano Singham says

    Thanks to all above for the clarifications. I knew that there would be people who would know this.

  6. Callinectes says

    Stan Lee originally called the team “The Mutants” but the publisher (Martin Goodman) rejected that on the grounds that no one would know what a mutant was. “X-Men” was a substitute he later came up with, the rather lame origin being that the X comes from their eXtra power. And “men” being the commonly accepted plural for people at the time, especially when there was only one girl. Lee has since commented that while readers may not have known what a mutant was, he still doesn’t understand why Goodman thought they might know what an X-Man was.

    In-universe they are named after the X-gene that grants them their powers through applied comic book science, however most people in-universe think they are named after Charles Xavier.

    There are lots of splinter and spin-off teams and organisations that lose the “Men” part but often keep the “X” part, like X-Force, Generation X, X-Factor, Excalibur and the New Mutants. The Xavier institute has been destroyed and rebuilt countless times, last I heard the majority were now living on an artificial island off the coast of San Francisco built from the crashed remains of an asteroid once inhabited by Magneto (and currently inhabited by him again, having decided that Cyclops makes a much better leader for mutantkind than he ever did) while Wolverine has yet again had a big falling out with Cyclops and so rebuilt the old Westchester school in New York State, where he is the current scary headmaster and a bit of a daddy-bear.

    These days all the classic members are long since graduated and occasionally acting as teachers, and there’s always a new crop of exotic mutant students endangering themselves by associating with people who can’t help but attract the worst sort of bigoted thugs, murderous mutants, genocidal aliens, omnicidal robots, pan-dimensional megalomaniacs, and the occasional sapient planet with a major personality disorder.

  7. Mano Singham says

    Thanks for the background. Your description of the Xavier Institute reminds me somewhat of the Harry Potter saga.

  8. invivoMark says

    I was a much bigger fan of the most recent X-Men movie (First Class) than of that trilogy. It’s full of camp, so it won’t be for everyone, but the plot and character arcs were much better in my opinion. Plus, who doesn’t like a good Cold War setting for a movie about superheroes?

  9. Kimpatsu says

    I love 1st Class but for a much different reason.
    My cousin is in it… for all of about 10 seconds.

  10. NitricAcid says

    As someone raised in Alberta, the scenes set in said province blew my suspension of disbelief out of the water. I can accept mutants with absolute control over magnetism, or ones with retractable claws or adamantine skeletons, but bars-with-cage-fights in my homeland? Not a freaking chance.

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