Sunday, March 21, 2021

Comics Watch: X-Men (2000)

Watched:  03/20/2021
Format:  Disney+
Viewing:  Unknown
Decade:  2000's
Director:  (ahem) Bryan Singer

Arguably *the* game changer for the entire comic book movie and TV genre - from goofy b-movies with occasional hits to the world we're in today with Justice Leagues, WandaVisions and  whatnot everywhere you look, X-Men (2000) arrived on the scene to an excited fanbase who saw a trailer that kinda/ sorta looked like an X-Men comics and seemed to treat the concept of X-Men with some faint degree of dignity.  

Now, many will argue that Blade was the kickstarter, and they're right!  But the thing about Blade was that it operated way more like a horror movie/ action adventure and less like a superhero flick - and there were maybe a couple thousand people walking around in 1998 who knew anything about Blade.  To this day, I have no idea if Blade has any real relation to the comics (and don't care.  Blade kicks ass.).  

From the late 1970's to the late 1990's, X-Men was a powerhouse franchise all its own, even within the Marvel line of comics.  It was more or less like the Game of Thrones of comics - even if you didn't read it, you knew about it, and the gravity well of the comic was massive.  In the mid-90's, I guess it was outperforming literally every other thing Marvel comics put out, so they rebooted their entire universe for about - I dunno - 6 months? minus X-Men.  Because X-Men was too big, baby!

I, myself, read Uncanny X-Men from issues 170 to 350 or so.  Plus affiliated titles like New Mutants, X-Factor, and more.  X-Men was what got me hardcore into comics when I was 12, got me to buy back-issues (I'd started closer to issue 209 and worked my way back), and I had a lot of affection for the characters.  Really, to the deteriment of me paying attention to the rest of Marvel (minus Spidey and some Punisher).  

It wasn't just me - A LOT of people read X-Men, so the risk here is that you're gonna piss off the fans.  But the fans were used to going to see Judge Dredd, who never talks and never removes his helmet, and getting a 2 hour movie that was 75% a helmet-free Dredd talking to fucking Rob Schneider (my friend Richard loved it, btw).  Or, like, Steel starring Shaq.  Anyway - expectations were so low, you had to dig to find them.

It's been easily a decade since I watched all of X-Men, and I was pretty sure it wouldn't hold up, but it's... fine.  Pretty good, actually!  It doesn't hurt that a then-mostly-unknown Ian McKellan was playing a particular kind of villain with a sense for exactly how campy and melodramatic his situation was, even as he knew the stakes were also life and death.  For his part - Patrick Stewart (everyone's dream-casting of Xavier since "Encounter at Farpoint") managed to make Charles Xavier his own with utter sincerity and determination in the face of.. a lot.

This viewing I was very aware of how *few* characters there are, relatively, in X-Men.  The standing squad at Xaviers is just Cyclops, Storm and Jean "Don't Say Marvel Girl" Grey.  We get hints of other X-Men with Bobby Drake, and of course Rogue as a supporting character, but... 3 X-Men?  Usually there's, like, 20.  And of course our Brotherhood is widdled down to Magneto, Mystique, Toad and Sabretooth when there's dozens of possible contenders.  

But, man, the heavy lifting to just get the idea across of all the perspectives on Mutants, what is a mutant, who are these people in general, what would a plan of an evil mutant even look like..?  Bryan Singer had a lot more of an argument for a 4 hour cut of this movie than "there's Darkseid, who is bad.  Let's stop him".  And, arguably, X-Men feels more like the first act of something than it feels like a full movie.    Subplots are started with no resolution.  Villains are left running around.  And Wolverine barely gets to stab anyone.

Fox DID manage to squeeze so many X-movies out of this that I lost track and haven't seen a few of them (and several of them I regret seeing).  So, yeah, Fox was acting like a comics company and squeezing and overexposing characters before Disney ever thought about buying Marvel.  And, of course, maybe going for some more recent stuff from X-Men where the comics themselves went right up their own ass as source for movie material wasn't great, either.  

Aside from Magneto, Xavier and Logan, due to that limited timeline and all the business, we don't really get to know the characters very well.  I always liked Cyclops in the comics, and here he's pitted against our hero, Wolverine, and the audience is - I guess - cheering for Wolverine to break up a couple because he likes... her hair?  I don't know.  They don't have much in the way of conversations.  And if being a looker is important, HALLE BERRY IS STANDING RIGHT THERE.

It's all a little graceless and had people who never heard of an X-Man before 2000 saying "I hate that Cyclops guy" - but, friends, Cyclops is right about everything in this movie.  He's just stuck in the awkward position of being the X-Men's middle-manager, and everyone hates a middle-manager.  

But we get to see cool secret bases, cool jets, neat super-fights and Cerebro!  I mean, I wasn't that much older than my 14 year old self when I saw this movie, and I couldn't believe they'd just gone for it.  The budget clearly wasn't... massive, but it was impressive!  They'd put more money into actors who could do it than they did sets or big set-pieces.  And the script worked! (credit David Hayter).  

Anyway, there's still nods to the fans all over, some is fan service, some is "see, we're making a big boy movie" gags like "what, we should wear yellow spandex?" type stuff that needs a sad trombone after it.  But... I mean, we're only a few years out from slamming evil with The Phantom here.  And - the movie actually is *fun*, despite the kind of freaky implications of mutants and world-shaking stuff at hand.  I mean, even under all that blue bodypaint, Romijn looks like she's having a good time kicking people in the face.

It's a far cry from Avengers: Endgame, but it's also a couple of summers before Raimi supercharged superheroes with Spider-Man, and Iron Man is still 8 years later (and a huge financial gamble by Marvel).  But by just letting the movie take as much as possible from what worked in the comics - including the soap opera aspects - and go ahead and just do it earnestly, the audience went along.  Fan boys were dazzled they'd seen a real Jean Grey on screen, let alone a Cerebro.  Normals showed up to see this sci-fi adventure with a analogy baked in that they could understand.

And because this DID do well, eventually I got Colossus on the big screen.  As a big, goofy straightman to Deadpool, but I got him.

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