Monday 30 May 2011

From the archive: "X-Men"

X-Men may be a putative summer blockbuster, but - as directed by indie-tyro-turned-studio-whizzkid Bryan Singer - it bears the stamp of an auteur-outsider, developing the themes brought up by the preacher in Singer's Public Access, the crippled criminal Verbal in The Usual Suspects, and by Denker, the Nazi war criminal hiding out in American suburbia in Apt Pupil. After a brief prologue in a concentration camp, X-Men focuses upon another teen surprised, like Denker's young nemesis, by her sudden adolescent power. Rogue (Anna Paquin) absorbs the life force of all those she touches, hardly the most helpful quality when setting about making out with one's contemporaries.

Banished to the snowy Canadian wilderness, this little green riding hood takes up with the big, bad Wolverine, played by the impressively feral Hugh Jackman, sniffing and twitching and looking like a young Clint Eastwood, with the tiniest genetic splice of late Alvin Stardust. Wolverine is a cage fighter the first time we see him, and all the mutants we are henceforth introduced to are, in some way, trapped by their powers: Rogue and Wolverine are assimilated into a New York finishing school run by the wheelchair-bound Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart).

Xavier is here pronounced "ex-avier", and not "zavvier", as one might expect, but just one of the wonders of X-Men is the very American pronunciation of its central characters' names: Xavier has a rival in Magneto (Ian McKellen), and the latter syllables of his surname are not spoken as "netto" but "neato", which is about as Californian as it gets. Mag-neato has his own stable of mutants who are mostly crap in comparison: the magnificently useless Mane, for example, manages to achieve not one of his alloted tasks in the entire movie.

There's some thematic depth in the discussion of difference in contemporary America, and a little too much emphasis on story and characterisation - how often does one get to complain about that? - for X-Men to be truly exciting; it's also still a little too lightweight to qualify for serious analysis as an outsider film, concluding with one of the most pleadingly obvious set-ups for a sequel ever filmed. Still, it's fun and watchable, and among an unusual blockbuster cast, you get some very good actors having fun: Stewart, McKellen, and Bruce Davison as a shape-shifting senator.

(August 2000)

X-Men screens on Film4 this Friday at 9pm.

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