As we all undoubtedly know, X-Men: Apocalypse comes out on May 27th, which is just four short weeks away. In the time leading up to this premier, I will be re-watching and writing about each X-Men movie made so far.
I’m the perfect candidate for this mission as I am just knowledgable and pedantic enough to want to watch and write at length about each X-Men movie, but not so far up my own butt-tube that I can’t relax and have fun while doing it. Also I literally own every single X-Men movie on Blu Ray. Yes, even that X-Men movie. We’ve got seven of these babies to get into. Eight if you count Deadpool which I don’t think I’m going to, but I reserve the right to change my mind about this at any moment. Anyway, without further ado, let’s dive into the very first X-Men movie, the aptly titled X-Men.
It’s crazy to think that this movie premiered to an audience that knew so little about the X-Men. There is so much about the X-universe and the struggles the mutants face that is just common knowledge at this point, but guys… There was a time when we didn’t know about things like the Mutant Registration Act or the fact that Charles Xavier is the most powerful telepath on the planet. (Unless you were a fucking nerd, that is, you fucking nerd.) How young and ignorant we once were. This movie has so much background and exposition to set up that I totally had taken for granted in the present day. X-Men came out sixteen years ago. SIXTEEN YEARS AGO. It’s amazing to me how far we have come since. The mind boggles. Well, my mind boggles, anyway.
The movie opens with a fragment of the backstory of Erik Lehnsherr aka Magneto. Magneto is one of the most complicated and compelling villains in comics history because this backstory is so effective. The atrocities committed against him and his family during the Holocaust inform his attitude toward the humanity vs. mutantkind conflict in a way that is absolutely understandable. You always understand and identify with where Magneto is coming from, and it was absolutely crucial that the movies set this up as early on as possible. The real draw of the X-universe is the relevance of their struggles to our real life society’s, and right out of the gate the movie nails this concept. Nice.
Rogue (first name Marie, last name ???) shows up immediately after as our entry point into the world of mutants, played by Anna Paquin and her bizarre attempt at a southern accent. This movie really assumes nothing of the audience’s X-Men knowledge and lays it all out for us through the eyes of a mutant just discovering her power. Her fear and confusion are so important to lead with because this is what sets the X-Men apart from other superhero teams. It isn’t all awesome powers and kicking bad guy ass. Each of the mutants deals with a deep internal struggle. Spiderman (Spider-Man?) discovers his powers and goes on a skateboard lark around the city or some shit. Rogue discovers her powers and nearly kills her boyfriend, then runs away from home with a certain future of PTSD.
And yes, the metaphor of the mutants for real-world ostracized groups is heavy-handed at times, but honestly Senator Kelly’s campaign against mutants isn’t really any more outlandish than, say, the American right wing’s campaign against trans people. As they say, truth is equally as cartoonish as fiction.
And so with the world-building exposition stuff out of the way, we meet perhaps the most iconic X-Men character of all time. Old Man Logan himself, more commonly known as Wolverine. The man so exhaustingly ubiquitous they named a trope after him. I’m going to be honest, I don’t really understand how Wolverine got to be the most popular X-Man of all history. Yes he’s badass and powerful, has a tragic backstory, and contains hidden depths, but so do so many other, frankly more interesting characters. Regardless, Hugh Jackman is inarguably perfect in that role. Remember sixteen years ago when he was a relative unknown? As I attempt to imagine such a world, my mind boggles once again. That’s twice now, if you’re keeping track for Boggle Bingo.
Side Note: Before Hugh Jackman, Wolverine was never hot in the comics. He was this squat little hairy stink-man in the classic Uncanny X-Men run. But hey, this is Hollywood, baby. Everyone’s gotta be hot, I guess.
Logan and Rogue meet up and develop a rapport early on, thus continuing the storied X-Men tradition of Logan mentoring young mutant women and somehow never coming off as creepy. Just off the top of my head, in various media, he has served as a mentor to Kitty Pryde, Jubilee, Rogue, Yukio and Laura Kinney (X-23), among others. It’s a repetitive theme in the X-universe, but it makes sense. Working with young women brings out a softness in Logan that adds depth to his aloof grizzly-dude persona, and being trained by the Wolverine helps these young women develop unparalleled toughness. There is a long and deeply upsetting history in comics of sexualizing very young women, but Logan manages to avoid this trap and remain a (mostly) appropriate father figure.
In addition to the Wolverine/young female charge dynamic, this first X-Men movie centers around most of the other classic X-Men relationships. They may seem overplayed at this point, but in the context of the time X-Men came out, it makes total sense. The respectful, yet fundamental opposition between Xavier and Magneto, the dedicated, serious partnership of Jean Grey and Scott Summers (aka Cyclops), the broad conflict between the human government and the mutant refugees, etc. You have to draw the unfamiliar audience with your biggest names and most familiar themes, and you have to set that very basic groundwork to expand on in future movies.
Let’s talk about Magneto’s Team of Bad Guys for a minute. We’ve got the iconic Mystique who is constantly naked for god knows what reason. She was hot enough in the comics with her clothes on, but okay. There’s Sabretooth who is not played by Liev Schreiber here, but don’t worry! He still manages to be utterly laughable. And finally, we have… Toad? Seriously? You made such a point of casting all the biggest names in the X-Men world to carry the franchise into the mainstream. You could have picked any X-Men villains. You could have picked Mastermind or Stryker. You could have kept it in the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and picked Quicksilver or Scarlet Witch. But you picked… Toad?!?
Another Side Note: Some characters have been served better than others by this film franchise, and I think Mystique has been handled very well. Even here in her relatively one-note first appearance (which takes place on the timeline after her heel turn), I feel like I’m watching the same character from First Class.
One thing about this movie that I hate with a burning passion deep inside my soul is this ham-fisted Logan/Jean/Scott love triangle. Logan decides two seconds in that he’s in love with Jean and then he and Scott are dicks to each other about it. In the early Uncanny X-days, Logan had a crush on Jean. I keep thinking of this scene in Uncanny issue 101 where Jean is in the hospital right after getting Phoenix-possessed and Logan buys her flowers. He then shows up to her room to see Scott at her side and all of Jean’s closest friends gathered in her room. He discreetly tosses the flowers away. Logan’s a good dude and he ultimately respects Jean’s relationship with Scott.
There are moments throughout the vast X-comics canon where Jean and Logan share a mutual attraction, but it’s really not a huge part of either character’s history or personality, in my opinion. You will definitely meet X-fans who feel differently, however, one thing we can all agree on is that the movie trilogy’s take on this relationship is boring, uncomfortable and ineffective.
Another thing that irks me about this movie is the character of Ororo Munroe aka Storm. Ororo is such an important part of comics history. She was the first black female to be featured as a comics hero back in the classic Claremont run on Uncanny X-Men in the 70’s. She has remained prominent and iconic throughout X-history. She is so important, and she deserved better. Halle Berry was egregiously miscast, and I’ll bet you anything it’s because the producers could only think of one black actress and couldn’t be bothered to research any others. Halle Berry is distant and dare I say lazy in this part. And I have no idea what she was trying to do with that spotty accent. Ororo deserved to be played by someone who loves and values her. Ororo deserved a bigger part and better material. Ororo deserved a wig that didn’t come from a strip club dumpster. Give me X-Men Origins: Storm, honestly. Now that’s a movie that, done right, could be massively important.
A few quick notes on other characters in the movie:
Charles Xavier is better in the movies than in the comics. Fight me. Comics Xavier is a creepy asshole. Movie Xavier is actually a wise leader and caretaker. Also he’s Patrick Stewart. Scott Summers is pretty much always boring, but I guess you need that sort of archetypical Classic Hero type around? And finally, I always thought I hated Jean Grey until I got real into the X-comics because of how flat and uncompelling she is in these movies. She’s much more interesting in other X-media. The Dark Phoenix Saga is absolutely historic.
The plot of the movie is honestly not that exciting or memorable. Magneto tries to fuck up some regular humans. The X-Men stop him. Tale as old as time. But the plot isn’t what matters here, really. The job of this movie was to set up the characters and the world of the X-Men so that we could get into the crazy stuff in the future. Mission accomplished.
The movie closes with Xavier and Magneto playing chess and civilly discussing their differing philosophies which is the most Xavier/Magneto situation that could ever possibly exist. I literally laughed out loud at the chess metaphor, but you know what? The X-Men are nothing if not dedicated to symbolism, so I’ll allow it.
Meet me here in a few days when we will discuss X2: X-Men United, widely regarded as one of the greatest X-films ever made. In the meantime, please do comment with all your X-thoughts on this X-film or any other X-related X-issue, my dear X-friends. I’d love to X-talk with you! X-bye!