Danny Fingeroth reviews the latest X-film, X-Men United, and wishes the team of outcasts got treated a little better.
X2: X-Men United is a fun ride. If only it was morewhats the word Im looking for? Oh, yes. United! The movie has so many terrific elements, I just wish theyd been able to put the parts together better at the storys end.
Some Great Stuff
X2, of course, is the sequel to the hugely popular X-Men, and both chronicle the philosophical and physical battles between Marvel Comics two extreme camps of superhuman mutants, with plain ol mankind caught less and less passively in between. While X2 isnt as novel as X-Men, as moving as Spider-Man (or as flawed as Daredevil), it has more than its fair share of cool stuff. For example:
- A knock-your-socks off, howd-they-do-that opening introducing Nightcrawler;
- A great raid-on-the-X-Mansion scene, where Wolverine shows just how unique his powers are and just how savage he can be;
- An even better suburban siege where the heroes actually have to face off against a world that hates and fears them and where Pyro, Rogue, and, of course, Wolverine, show how dangerous it can be to be a mutant and a mutant hater;
- A Magneto escape scene which, alone, is worth the price of admission (Sorry if I ruined it for you. He escapes. Get over it.);
- The nifty cameos by characters only diehard X-Fans would know, as well as script references for the same aficionados;
- The do-or-die climax wherein a major character undergoes a significant change. It was dramatic and exciting and pretty much defined the cant/must choices that superheroes always have to make. (I cant do that but I must do that! What do I do?)
So why didnt the sum add up to as much as or, even better, more than its parts?
Well, for starters, theres the teams leader, Professor X actually played even better this time around by the man who really was born to play the role, Patrick Stewart. But, despite being the worlds most powerful telepath, Xavier is played as a passive, ineffectual figure. One can understand that, as founder of and literally the mind behind the X-Men, he would be a vulnerable target and the one the bad guys would focus on. That he would spend so much of the movie as a victim, and not even be allowed to contribute much to his own rescue or the events that follow, is a letdown.
Then, equally well-cast and well-played, Ian McKellens Magneto is also relegated to a sort of auto-pilot villainous role, betraying little of the complex motivation he was allowed in the first X-film. McKellen, too, is given precious little screen time, and little chance to have much real interplay with Stewart.
Hugh Jackman as Wolverine is, again, the real star of the movie. Jackman and writers Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, as well as director Bryan Singer indeed brings a lot to a role that could be just another killing machine type. But I wonder how the slowly unreeling mystery behind his origins will sustain itself over the course of several movies. Its not like a weekly TV series where the pieces add up to something by the end of a few months, and you have the full story within a reasonable time frame.
Endings Are Always Toughest
The biggest problem with the movie, for me, and it seems to happen with a lot of action films, is when the filmmakers try to bring all the elements together for a rousing ending. Theres something about a team of anything football players, dancers, horses that makes you want to see them act together at the climax of a story. Sure, one or two of them will stand out, and maybe many of them will be reduced to looking on and acting impressed. But, much as you may love Derek Jeter, its the New York Yankees the team! you want to see win, even if Derek gets to be the hero of the game. And you want to see him win as part of the group. In basketball or football, this need is even more clearly expressed and satisfied. The quarterback throws the ball and the receiver catches it and makes the touchdown. But the rest of the team is out there making sure no one gets in their way. They dont just watch and grit their teeth.
So, without giving away the ending and believe me, the end has a lot of great stuff, some of which blows up real nice Ill just say that the X-team members battle separately but, dramatically speaking, less effectively than one wishes they would. While the way that the crises and complications in the climax keep escalating is impressive, they ultimately seem to have less dramatic effect than their potential promises. Each crisis feels of equal weight to the one before, as in each, a specific team member gets to take center stage. Again, this is a tried and true building block in action team stories. But in this one, you never get the sense the whole team is racing down court to win the game.
Dont get me wrong. X2 is great fun, and reasonably true to the characters. (Topics such as whether or how much and when Wolverine kills his foes has been a topic of geek discourse since the 1970s, after all. The X-films stir that sort of debate up all over again.) You certainly do feel like youre in the X-Mens world from beginning to end. You get the feeling that youve been told a good story, yet one thats just part of a larger tapestry, one that makes you want to be sure to see the next one.
I just never got the feeling the X-Men were united. And thats too bad because, yknow, theyre a team of outcasts, fighting to protect a world that hates and fears them. People that selfless deserve to have a better choreographed ending then these folks get.
So go see the movie. You might want to read Chris Claremont and Brent Andersons God Loves, Man Kills X-Men graphic novel before and/or after you see it. A lot of the films story was inspired by that. The X-Men franchise was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, with significant parts of the mythos added to by Len Wein, Claremont, Dave Cockrum, John Byrne, Neal Adams and Roy Thomas, among others.
Talk about great teams
Danny Fingeroth, veteran Marvel Comics writer and editor, led the company's Spider-Man line, as group editor, during its highest-selling years. Way back when he was assistant editor on the X-Men, including God Loves, Man Kills. Danny has also created, developed and written comics and animation for AOL-Time Warner, ShowTime Online, Visionary Media, Brilliant Digital Entertainment and Byron Press Multimedia. Currently, he is the creator and editor of Danny Fingeroths Write Now! magazine, published by TwoMorrows, a highly acclaimed publication about writing comics, animation and science fiction. Dannys Behind the Scenes at an Animated Series, from Scholastic, is now on sale. He is also at work on Superman on the Couch: What Super Heroes Really Tell Us About Ourselves and Our Society, to be published in 2004 by Continuum. The Animated Century, a documentary feature film about the history of animation, which Danny co-wrote, will appear on Bravo later this year. And theres still time to sign up for his May 14th Learning Annex NY comics writing class, as well as his NYU comics writing course, coming in the fall.