May 6, 2003

May not be a comic book, but X2 will still kick your ass

X2: X-Men United was released this past Friday. The Maroon sent two of its very own X-Men fanatics to scope it out and then fight about it, for your reading pleasure.

Garth: X2: X-Men United is an entertaining blur of a movie filled with hollow characters, empty cliffhangers, and dull stereotypes. Over the course of the movie, a lot of really important, "world hanging in the balance" kind of stuff happens. There are good guys, bad guys, and maybe-bad guys. One good guy has long claws that come out of his hands. He's angry about things and smokes cigars. There's a bad chick with fingernails that turn into metal knives. She's all about the servile Asian stereotype. Some people die, but maybe they don't. At one point it looks like Captain Picard is going to make out with the guy with ugly shades and big cheekbones. But then they don't. Academy Award winners Halle Barry and Anna Paquin wear their hair in interesting ways. Not one, but two people with blue skin frequently appear and disappear. Gandalf is really campy in this one, but I think I still like the big stick more then the purple helmet. And in the end, we all learned an important message about tolerance. Or did we? Only X3 will tell.

Chris: Whether or not X2 is entertaining is the key issue here. I suppose that question can only be answered by the individual viewer, but personally I think it'd take an awfully hard-hearted or needlessly demanding fan to come away from the film disappointed. Bryan Singer and company obviously wanted to make a larger, more aggressive, and more ambitious sequel to their initial foray into the world of mutants and those who hate and fear them. The story picks up right where X-Men left off, introduces some new characters (and yes, there are more than a few to keep track of), and then lets those characters fight over the fate of humanity. The direction and storytelling are taut and competent (not unimpressive given the 130-minute running time), Hugh Jackman's charisma as Wolverine remains impressive, and Patrick Stewart (Professor X) and Ian McKellen (Magneto) practically ooze dignity. But you're right, any messages of tolerance are entirely secondary to staging a series of action set pieces ranging from brilliant to brutal. In short, it's everything I want from an X-Men movie.

G: Hey! Check it out! Teenage romance with no possibility of sex! Awesome!

C: Yep, angst-y teenage relationships are a cornerstone of the X-Men. The comic did this for decades, so I'm certainly not going to begrudge Bryan Singer a few scenes of longing between Anna Paquin's Rogue and Shawn Ashmore's Iceman.

G: Sorry, I got distracted. Remember when you were a kid and you used to read the comic book? Or watch the cartoon? Maybe you just collected the trading cards. Anyway, that character you really liked? The one who had that special power? They might be in this movie somewhere. But they might not be, because X2 is a movie that tries to give something to everybody. Like it's predecessor, it tries to have it every way by filling the screen with little things to keep the fan boys happy, a tidy moral to please the thought police, and simplified plots to sedate the mainstream audience. And that's fine. The movies that get produced are just fine. But it's just a shame how much fun gets lost in the transition from comic book soap opera to leather-fetishist action flick.

C: Yeah, I had those trading cards too. And the cartoon was pretty awesome in my 10-year-old mind. Getting to see Colossus throw commandos through a wall made my day, so what? About half the sold-out audience I was with went nuts when this happened (the half that knows and loves X-Men). Personally, the mutant name-dropping works for my inner X-Men fanboy and keeps the film itself from being bogged down with way too many characters. Was X2 great cinema? Nope, but I also felt it was a movie that knows exactly what it is--an adaptation of a superhero comic book--and uses that premise to make one hell of a movie.

G: Yes, it's a movie that knows what it is, but what exactly is that? Beyond the names and character descriptions? Where is the fun? What happened to the personal demons, the familial bickering, the Mohawks, the generational tension, the crazy powers, the forbidden lusts, the human clones, the religious imagery, the alternate dimensions, the long-lost parents from outer space, the intergalactic love affairs, the bodices, the mind games, the ideological disputes, the underground people, the giant mutant-seeking robots, and all that not-so-witty banter that made The Uncanny X-Men, under Chris Claremont, one of the greatest comics of all time? What happened to the comic book that told you it was OK to be different and in fact, look what an epic time you can have when you are?

C: OK, first of all, nobody wants Mohawks. Secondly, this is a movie, and not the comic book. Some stuff gets lost in translation, which I think only made for a stronger movie. I was not sad to see the silliness (long-lost parents who are space pirates) and soap operatics give way to a fresh perspective. It's not the comic book, but, again, it doesn't want to be. Personally, I'd rather have a good movie to go along with my classic comic stories. Neither detracts from the other, and so long as good stories about the X-Men get told, I'm more than happy.

G: Leaving the Mohawk discussion for another day, let's talk about what the movie does provide. In it, we get a crazy guy with different colored eyes who pretends he's a little girl in other peoples heads; a blue chick who can change shape (like a witch!); a bad guy with a beard who works for the government; a big fight inside of a dam; a blue, German, religious, circus freak with horns who cuts himself; an airplane fight with cheap-looking tornadoes; a lot of government agents being slaughtered by the angry guy with the cigar (don't worry though, they were bad people who had no souls); the unnecessary destruction of a church in Boston; a girl who can walk through walls; a really nice boy coming out to his parents after stealing his grandmother's gloves for his girlfriend (Academy Award winner Anna Paquin); a blatantly bad seed named Pyro exploding some police cars with policemen inside (don't worry, it looked like they lived, and they also had no souls to begin with); a Russian guy who turns into metal; and just to keep everything good and multi-culti, the aforementioned servile Asian chick, who will do what you tell her if you pour some liquid on her neck. And in case that stereotype is too constricting for your tastes, the movie also has a silent girl they keep calling Jubilee, and she looks Asian.

C: Sure, X2 has all these things, and they're all good. (Those government agents, by the way, should have known damn well they were going to get some sweet Wolverine-style slaughtering when they attempted to abduct a school full of sleeping children.) The bottom line for me is this: X-Men United is a solid film that is superior to the original in every way. More mutants, more story, and a whole lot of action--something the first film sorely lacked. X-fans will, I think, find a whole lot to get excited about, and those who don't know the first thing about Professor X's merry team of outcasts will, at least, find a high-quality action movie, even if they're a bit confused why others in the audience are screaming about a cameo appearance by a really big guy who can turn into metal. Is it Hollywood popcorn fodder? Sure. But it uses its original source material well enough that it rises above the generic, banal fare that usually fills the cineplexes during summer.