Monday, August 5, 2013

X-Men: Starting the Film Franchise On the Right Foot

Superhero movies are incredibly popular, and incredibly common because of their popularity. These days, it's almost impossible for a summer blockbuster season to go by without there being a movie about super-powered individuals fighting for justice; this summer there were three. This wasn't always the case, however.
Turn the clock backwards 13 years to the start of the new millennium (gosh, that makes me feel old). The only big superhero movie successes were the Superman series from the late '70s and '80s and the Batman series from the late '80s and '90s (and we all know how that one turned out), both of which from DC Comics. Marvel Comics had very little presence on the big screen at this point in time (other than Blade).
Also known as the bio-pic Wesley Snipes: Vampire Slayer.
This all changed when 20th Century Fox got the go ahead to make an X-Men movie in 2000 with director Bryan Singer leading the way.
The movie starts out with a girl named Marie who upon kissing a boy for the first time discovers she has mutant abilities that suck the life and energy out of anyone she touches. She practically kills the guy. Terrified of touching anyone ever again, she runs away from home heading north and eventually finds herself in Canada where she runs into another mutant: everyone's favorite Canuck, Logan (aka Wolverine). The two go driving and get ambushed by a mutant who work for the evil Magneto. Another two mutants show up and beat up the bad mutant using laser eye beams and weather power. These two save Marie, now calling herself "Rogue," and Logan, and take them to Westchester, New York.
Rogue and Wolverine are introduced to Prof. Xavier, a kind old man in a wheelchair who teaches and protects teenage mutants at his institute for gifted youngsters. The Prof. believes that Magneto wants to capture Logan, because his skeleton is coated in a strong metal, adamantium.
As the story unfolds it becomes clear that Magneto actually wants Rogue so he can transfer his powers to her and force her to use a machine to evolve all of mankind (well, all of New York really), changing all of us knuckle dragging Homo sapiens into highly advanced Homo superiors (or mutants) in the process.
Kind of like this ... but not really.
Of course, Wolverine and the X-Men (Cyclops, Storm, Jean Grey, etc.) stop Magneto from fulfilling his plans. After a fight on top of the Statue of Liberty the heroic mutants save Rogue, lock the magnetic mutant up in a plastic prison, and return to Prof. Xavier's mansion to live happily ever after.
Or at least until the sequel three years later.
Right away the movie does a good job of something that is difficult to do: introducing all of the characters. There are a lot of them. A lot. Prof. Xavier (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Sir Ian McKellen), Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), and Rogue (Anna Paquin) are just the most important characters. And that's not even mentioning the handful of other important mutants in the film.
And the casting is really well done. Stewart and McKellen make fantastic rivals as Xavier and Magneto (respectively). While the two aren't showcased much in this first film of the franchise, their roles become much more influential as the series progresses providing ample time to show off their acting chops. And 13 years later, Jackman is still playing the role of the man who is the best there is at what he does (Wolverine for those of you non-comic book fans out there).
X-Men isn't a bad movie, but it isn't a fantastic movie. It was, however, a start in the right direction for the mutant movie franchise, leading the way for two sequels, two prequels, a third sequel (The Wolverine), and an upcoming fourth sequel scheduled for next summer.
The movie also helped launch superhero movies into the mainstream because after its success Marvel made deals with 20th Century Fox to make Daredevil, and Fantastic Four movies, and with Sony Pictures to make Spider-man movies. While these movies ultimately weren't good (except for Spider-man and Spider-man 2), their failures and mistakes resulted in Marvel Comics buying their own production studio, Marvel Studios, which brought us the incredibly successful Marvel cinematic universe. None of this would've been possible without Bryan Singer's X-Men.

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