Welcome back. After my odd introduction to this mess, I wasn't sure you'd show up. Perhaps you came here accidentally. Perhaps you are interested. Perhaps....more realistically, you are up at 4 am, and you have run out of things to read on the internet. ( Really? REALLY? You aren't trying hard enough. )
This is the start of a series of articles attempting to rationalize, justify, or explain where we are now in the comic cinematic universe. I think I said it rather well when I said....
"Even your most hated comic book films get some things right. It's crazy, I know, but it's true. Even your favorite films get some things horribly wrong. It is what it is.....but never forget.....you are seeing your heroes on screen. Almost 20 years ago....that was impossible....and the notion of creating a comic-to-film translation is a daunting task. Between the history and the fans.....it can often be overwhelming."
So here we are. The beginning of this massive undertaking. I said I would start with the X-Men franchise, and here we are. Let's go!
A lot of fans think the advent of comic book movies came from X-men. It didn't. It came from another comic property.
Yep. Blade kinda started this whirlwind of comic geekery. Blade came out in 1998, and it did well enough,with a smallish budget, to make studios believe that other comic properties could make a dent in the cinematic landscape. HA! If only they had known.
In 2000, we got this thing......
Imagine for a moment.....the time before the nerd-owned cinematic landscape that is now. This was long before the film-pumping machine that is Marvel today. This was all uncharted territory, in more ways than one. Right at this very moment, the X-men : Apocalypse is about a year or so from being released, and you all get daily glimpses of the set, the props, the costumes designs.......
This was NOT the case in 1999. I remember quite vividly trying to find info on the film way back in the day. I remember telling my father, the man that introduced me to comics, that an X-Men film was being produced. He didn't believe me. Or he didn't care. Or he did......I dunno. That man is hard to read, sometimes. Christmas of 1999 was me spent in a corner of a very nice vacationer's log cabin, pouring over any details I could find pertaining to the film. This was a big deal. Sure, Batman was a thing.... But anything outside of that arena was unheard of......and there it was......after months of following the project.....something to show my father....
This really doesn't do my discovery justice. When I saw this Visor, it was a simple pic of the prop on a work table.....but there it was. I saw it. This was enough. God Dammit. There was an X-men film being produced, and by golly, I knew it was coming.
Just a quick word here......there was no talk of a cinematic universe. We weren't there yet. The world was lucky enough just to get a single X-men film. I want you to think about that. Unlike the Marvel film franchise.....Thor......Captain America.....Iron Man..........Fox was dealing with a property that they didn't know could stand the test of time.
Yes. The X-Men franchise has some issues....BUT.... Fox invented the comic film universe franchise concept before Marvel Studios even got it's feet wet, and they did it without even meaning to.
So....the movie comes out. I might have been sixteen or seventeen at the time.....I saw the film with my family. My mother and my father are comic fans, and we left the theater thinking heavily. I couldn't tell you what my dad thought. But I will say this......I remember talking to my mom about the flick.....
She said...... " I think I liked it.....but it was so depressing.......... " I want to remind you at this moment......my parent's were fans. I know who Dazzler is because of my mom, and the constant barrage of coloring books associated with the character. Do YOU know who dazzler is?
That kind of nails it for me. No. Not Dazzler. Don't be stupid. Really? Jesus.....
The thing to take away from this is that by this point.....Batman and Robin had already been released. That film was hammy and full of shlock. Long forgotten were the days of Tim Burton and the idea of taking comics seriously. X-Men was a dangerous studio experiment, and my mother left the theater thinking it was depressing.
That is the most positive praise I can think of. That's X-Men in a nutshell.
By that point, the largest comic figurehead we had had become a series of bad one-liners, rubber nipples, and some bright lighting ( thank you, Joel Schumacher ). X-Men turned the notion of comic book movies on it's head. No longer did we have the stigma that plagued us, the campiness that kept us in our bedrooms, afraid to admit our love of these characters to the public. No. Instead, we had a film that was heavy with the weight of something yet unexplored. The first film was far from perfect, but at least it treated our love with a seriousness not yet shown by Hollywood.
My mother thought the film was depressing. Of course it was. As much as people like to rip on the X-men franchise as being "The Wolverine Show", The first film was very much Magneto's flick. It was his agenda. His history. His plan. Wolverine just reacted to it....and without the proper direction,the story could have gone a much different way. We saw the film through his eyes, ( well....his and Rogue's) but the film very much belonged to Magneto.........so we owe Ian Mckellen a huge debt of gratitude.....not to slight Patrick Stewart......but Magneto is the reason for the season in the film....despite it not being the best plan he's ever had. But seriously.....the film opens with a holocaust scene......if you can't empathize with the villain to some degree......well.......I don't know what to tell you. Depressing indeed.
All this being said........without the initial X-Men movie, we would not have the comic films we have now. This is a certainty.
What they got right.
- Wolverine: They did a fairly good job of introducing him. The banter between he and Rogue at the beginning of the film is priceless and character-perfect. For a first shot out of the gate,time has proven,Hugh Jackman is a great Wolverine, and anyone that attempts to play the character in the future has got his work cut out for him. Of course, he should have been shorter, but......
- Professor Xavier and Magneto: In the few scenes they had together, we were totally sold on the two characters being life-long friends and rivals.
-The ensemble X-Men cast - Yes. Cyclops was a dick. Jean wasn't overly powerful and the flirtation between she and Logan didn't seem forced. Storm had an accent! While the team didn't get enough screen time, they felt established. Not bad for a film that was pretty much the first of it's kind.
-The government. The impression that there was genuine debate on what to do with the mutant issue was indeed felt.
-The Brotherhood of Mutants : Finally, Toad was a threat and not a joke-character! This version of Mystique was the best we'd had yet. Sabretooth had subtle nuances that indicated whom his character really was in reference to Wolverine.
The school : Xavier's school for the gifted was the first Hogwarts. We could see ourselves there.....outcast...misunderstood......difference was celebrated. To this day, whenever I see someone with odd contacts or crazy hair, I think "mutant"...and that isn't a knock on them.....it's more of a badge of honor.
Costume Design : No nipples! But seriously.......for what it's worth....we weren't sure in the year 2000 that the X-men comic book costumes would translate well. Even batman, a well established film character, has been a departure from the comics in terms of costume. There were subtle nuances included that hearkened back to the comics ( mainly color accents ), but it was believable, which Bryan Singe should be given some credit for. The aesthetic worked so well, in fact, that the costumes were mirrored in later X-men comics. The update for magneto's costume was well done to boot, and Mystique's design was fairly inspired.
Easter Eggs : Did you catch Beast in human form on the TV in the Canadian bar? What about Iceman, Jubilee, Kitty, and Pyro in the mansion? Even colossus was hinted at in some of the montage scenes. All of these little nods hinted at a larger world we were not sure we would get to explore at the time. Such was the fact of comic book movies in 2000....we did not know if we would get another X-men film. There were signs of a larger universe.....and later films would expand on the tid-bits left around the edges.
What they got wrong:
Magneto's plan: While it was vaguely reminiscent of his very first attack against the X-Men ( in comics ) , the overall scheme seemed somewhat lacking....shortsighted....there were too many unknowns, and it wasn't far reaching enough for where he stood as a Villain. This was a plan that a much younger Magneto would have concocted.
Sabretooth and Mystique: They were not characterized as well as they could have been. The hints of Wolverine and Sabretooth's history are there, but it's terribly vague. It's a shame considering Fox had no way of knowing if there was going to be a sequel. Mystique had some really great design work done, and her fight scenes worked to elevate her from her comic counterpart....but we never really got to know her.
Rogue: I find it hard to rip on the character at this point, as she was at her infancy in terms of power and lore....but we all wanted more. It made sense that she couldn't fly, or that she did not have super strength....but still.....Anna Paquine was not the southern belle we expected. She wasn't bad, she was reimagined for this film universe...but we were unsure of the payoff. She essentially played as Wolverine's kid buddy, Jubilee, which begs the question.....why wasn't Jubilee written here as a full character and not a cameo?
Society- We didn't get enough of a glimpse of how much mutants were feared by the human population. There are a few shots of angry mobs, but we don't get the impression of persecution that should permeate the film to justify the issues Magneto has against humanity.
Running time: The film could have been thirty minutes longer, just to explain the relationships and depth of characters. Many of the negatives addressed thus far could have been alleviated had the film been longer and had taken more time to linger on characterization.
Next up.......X-men 2.