Friday, 11 December 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 86 - X marks the spot

462 - X2 - 4 stars
Screw Avatar! If you want a movie with blue people in it, chose X2 with Nightcrawler and the incredibly hot Mystique (is that wrong? I don't think so).
I had recently compiled a list of the top 5 comic book movies, putting this at number 4. Having rewatched X2 tonight, I would like to raise its position to number 2 and drop Sin City to 4.
This film was the best comic book film until Christopher Nolan rebooted the Batman saga, because Bryan Singer created a movie that works as blockbuster that appealed to the mass market yet had a huge amount to say about discrimination in society (more on that below).
Having established the characters in the first film, this movie allows the story to be the focus, as the opposing mutants are forced to team up against William Striker, a Mengele-style general, who wants to rid the world of the mutant "curse", played with relish by Scotland's hardest working actor Brian Cox.
It fleshed out existing characters, clearly realising that Jackman's Wolverine was the real star, whilst hinting and teasing new ones (Colossus, Kitty Pride, etc). It also cleverly set up the Dark Phoenix storyline, that was rushed and poorly executed in the third film,
It is really frustrating that Singer left the franchise to make the disappointing and pointless Superman Returns, leaving us with Brett Ratner to deliver an all-action/no substance sequel.
Also having rewatched this film, I can't help thinking that the Wolverine spin-off made even less sense with bigger plot holes than I remember, might have to rewatch that (if I have time!).

Below are extracts from a course I gave on Comic Book Movies and my thoughts on the X-Men trilogy as a look at discrimination within modern society:

Part of X-MEN's success was that it wasn't just a comic book movie. X-MEN posed interesting questions and theories on the issues of discrimination and tolerance in modern day society. When Bryan Singer took on the project, he said that he didn't want to make a comic book movie, he wanted to make a science fiction film, set in the real world and grounded in reality.
This reality is apparent from the opening scene which takes place in Poland, 1944 where a young Jewish boy Eric Lensher is separated from his parents in a Nazi concentration camp. This is where Lensher's powers to control metal manifest for the first time, planting the seed for him to become Magneto.
In a nice touch, the mutants' powers normally occur and manifest during times of great emotional stress and intensity, their bodies going through strange changes – essentially an extreme version of puberty. Something all children have to deal with what can be a difficult and confusing time, witness Rogue's first kiss for example.
Singer invested in the themes that haunt every alienated person, from suffering schoolchild to anguished adult: “Am I alone in the world? Why am I different? To what lengths will I go to fit in?”
X-MEN is a parallel for every type of 'ism' or bigotry out there – whether that be racism, sexism, religion, sexuality, etc. Look at the current situation in America following 9/11, where a Muslim or person of Arab descent cann be victimised or persecuted due to the race and religion of the terrorists.
According to Ian McKellen, Marvel said that the majority demographic for the X-Men comics is black, gay and Jewis young men, “They're the people who, in our society, feel most disaffected. They are made to feel as if they are mutants. So I feel I'm sticking up for the minorities, of which I am a member”.
“Bryan pitched the films to me as a parable for the gay dilemma. What do you do once you realise you're gay and you're different? Do you try and fit in and play down the differences... or follow the Magneto road and say we're so different that we're superior?” - Ian McKellen
There is a lovely scene in X2, co-written by McKellen, where Bobby “Iceman” Drake 'comes out' to his family as being a mutant. He is met with fear by his brother, who calls the police, and bemusement by his mother and father:
“We though Bobby was going to a school for the gifted”, “He is gifted”
“Have you ever tried not being a mutant?”
Bryan Singer chose to focus the story on the differing attitudes of Charles Xavier, leader of the X-Men, and Eric Lensher aka Magneto, the leader of the Brotherhood of Mutants. Singer described them as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, two people with differing methods on how to achieve a common goal. Magneto has seen in the past how minorities have been singled out and murdered, his family was killed and he still harbours that fear and resentment.
People fear what they don't understand.
“Mutation. It is the key to our evolution. It has enabled us to evolve from a single cell organism into the dominant species on the planet. This process normally takes thousands and thousands of years, but every few hundred millenia, evolution leaps forward.”
What's interesting about the X-Men is that each of them has a different ability that can be both a blessing and a curse. For example Cyclops has this incredible energy in his eyes but he can never really look at another human being.
The various ways in which the humans attempt to deal with the mutant phenomenon are very relevant to today's society.
In the first film the main opposition to mutants is Senator Kelly, who is attempting to pass a Mutant Registration Act. In a scene reminiscent of the McCarthy era, in which mutants would be named and shamed. Kelly's claim that he possesses “a list of names of identified mutants living right here in the United States” is based on Senator McCarthy's almost identical claim about Communists working in the US State Department. It was subsequently proven to be rhetoric, McCarthy was in possession of no such list.
“I think the American people have a right to decide whether they want their children to be at a school with mutants, to be taught by mutants. Ladies and gentlemen, the truth is mutants are very real and they are among us. We must know who they are, and above all we must know what they can do.”
“Senator, it is a fact that mutants who have come forward and revealed themselves publicly have been met with fear, hostility, even violence. It is because of that ever present hostility that I urge the Senate to vote against Mutant Registration.”
In X2, an assassination attempt on The President by a mutant starts the first steps of a war between humans and mutants. It is later revealed to have been engineered by a bitter war veteran who has experimented on mutants (furthering the links to Nazi Germany), now seen by some as a shot at the Bush administration's war on Iraq, using an attack by a minority as an excuse to go to war.
In X-MEN 3: THE LAST STAND, scientists develop “The Final Solution”, vaccine designed to eradicate the mutant gene from the system, essentially a cure to mutation, something that does not sit well with Magneto;
“They wish to cure us but I say that we are the cure.”

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