(2000, Action-Superheroes, color)
Mike Nelson and Bill Corbett
Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled mutants yearning to breath fire...
In a nutshell:
A whole mess o’ superheroes save the world from a whole mess o’ supervillains.
In World War II-era Poland, a boy is taken aside by Nazi soldiers while his family is led into the concentration camp. He tries to reach them, discovering his power to bend metal fences with his mind. The Nazis conk him on the head until he stops.
In “The Not-Too-Distant Future” a teenage girl named Marie (Anna Paquin) flirts with a nameless boy in her room. They kiss. She accidentally absorbs his life force. He turns gray and faints. She screams. Her parents call for an ambulance.
In the United States Senate, a psychic named Jean Grey (Famke Jannsen) gives a presentation about mutants, i.e. people with superpowers that pop out when they’re in their early teens. The speech devolves into political bickering when Senator Kelly starts ranting about how much he hates mutants and how they should be rounded up and locked away.
Up in the balconies, two more mutants watch. Wheelchair-bound psychic Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) follows magnetic mutant Eric, a.k.a. Magneto (Ian McKellan). Their oblique discussion hints at Magneto’s diabolical plot, which Xavier will probably try and stop. They part ways.
Meanwhile, Marie has taken to calling herself Rogue. She hitchhikes to the furthest reaches of northern Canada, and wanders into some kind of cage fighting bar establishment. The featured fighter is a hairy, muttonchopped man named Logan, a.k.a. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), whose fists make clanking noises on impact. After the fight, his opponent tries to get revenge by stabbing him in the back at the bar. Rogue warns Logan just in time. Logan pops metal claws out of his fists to slice through the bar owner’s shotgun and threaten his would be attacker. He takes his winnings and leaves.
A few miles down the road, Logan hears something moving in his trailer. He gets out and finds Rogue hiding under a tarp. He almost leaves her behind, but invites her into the cab instead. There’s some growly, tentative banter, and then they run into a fallen tree. Logan goes flying through the windshield, but he’s okay after a just a few seconds. (He has a superhuman ability to heal himself.) Rogue was wearing a seatbelt, which is now stuck—not a good thing, considering the propane tanks, oily rags, and sparks flying in the back of the camper.
Before Logan can come to help, however, a huge hairy man named Sabertooth tackles Logan from behind. They jump around, stab each other, and whack each other with trees until Logan finally falls unconscious on the hood of his own vehicle. Sabertooth advances on his fallen foe, but is blinded by a very localized blizzard. Two more mutants appear—the woman is Storm (Halle Berry), who’s controlling the snow. The man is Cyclops (James Marsden), who shoots lasers from his eyes. A warning shot sends Sabertooth scampering for safety. Cyclops and Storm rescue Rogue and Logan from the camper just before it explodes.
Sabertooth returns to his rocky metal hideout. He ignores the taunts of a fellow evil mutant (the long-tongued Toad) to report his failure to his boss, Magneto.
Meanwhile, Jean Grey uses her telekinetic powers to prod an unconscious Logan with various medical paraphernalia in her underground hospital/laboratory. He wakes up, half-chokes her, and escapes into the shiny tunnel system. Strange voices guide him upstairs into a classroom full of teenagers taught by Professor Xavier. He introduces the rest of the cast and recites the plot to this point: basically, Magneto has a fiendish plan of some kind, and probably needs Logan to help him bring it to pass. Xavier promises to help Logan regain some lost memories if he’ll stay with the X-Men (the mutant superhero team he created) until they can figure out what Magneto wants with him.
Also meanwhile, Senator Kelly preens for an enthusiastic crowd of anti-mutant extremists before taking off in his private helicopter. It does not go in the required direction however, as the pilot has been replaced with Toad and Kelly’s aide has been replaced with a shapely blue metamorph name Mystique. They kidnap him to Magneto’s secret island.
Also, also meanwhile, Logan has a nightmare about having metal claws implanted. Rogue hears him crying out in his sleep, and creeps into his room to wake him. He stabs her with his claws before his eyes are fully open. She puts her hands on his face and absorbs his healing powers to close the wounds.
Also, also, also meanwhile, Magneto greets Senator Kelly with a standard Mad Villain speech, climbs into a metal gyroscope machine, and engulfs them all in a huge blob of light.
Also, also, also, also meanwhile, Mystique breaks into X-Men headquarters, takes the shape of one of Rogue’s friends, and convinces her to run away. Her absence is discovered, so Xavier uses his big round psychic amplifier room (called Cerebro) to locate her. He dispatches Storm and Cyclops to collect her from the train station. Logan is forbidden to leave the mansion, but goes after them anyway.
Logan finds Rogue first and talks her into going back. By that time, however, Magneto has found them. Logan asks why Magneto is hunting him. Magneto replies that he is not. He tosses Logan aside with his magnetic powers and takes Rogue instead. Storm and Cyclops, in the meantime, have been routed by Sabertooth and Toad. There’s a showdown in front of the station with Xavier and a lot of policemen, but Magneto forces them to back down. He leaves with Rogue and his henchmen.
While they regroup at the mansion, Senator Kelly arrives. Magneto’s big blob of light has turned him into a mutant. He was able to use his wiggly jello-ish powers to escape his island prison, but now he doesn’t feel so good. Xavier enters Kelly’s mind for the flashback: The blob of light machine can only be used by Magneto, and it can only be used a little at a time, or else it will kill its operator. This allows them to figure out the rest of Magneto’s scheme. He will give his powers to Rogue and make her spread a blob of mutating light all over the city. Everyone it touches will turn into a mutant, including all the world leaders who just happen to be visiting. This will kill Rogue, but then the newly mutant leaders will hopefully go on to enact pro-mutant government policies. An examination of Senator Kelly, however, reveals that the forced mutation is flawed, in that it kills its human subjects soon after.
Xavier tries to use Cerebro to find where they’ve gone, but Mystique sabotaged it during her last visit. Jean Grey tucks him into a hospital gurney, fixes the Cerebro machinery, and tries to use it herself. She finds Magneto, Rogue, et alia at the Statue of Liberty, so she and her X-Men cohorts fly off to stop him. There’s a big fight in the statue with lots of tongue, lightning, claws, etc. and eventually they win. Logan destroys the machine before the killer mutating blob of light can swallow New York. Rogue is seemingly dead, but Logan gives her his healing powers to bring her to life again.
There’s some false tension to imply Logan’s self-sacrificing death, but eventually all the injured mutants recover. Even Magneto, who is locked away in a prison that looks like a cellophane digestive tract. There’s a hint or two about sequels, and then we’re done.
Here’s a comic book story that shouldn’t have survived its translation to the big screen. There are enough X-Men characters to fill a five-volume reference work with origin stories, with an only slightly slimmer sixth volume to hold the index. Even when you pare the list down to three (the minimum number of people in a superhero team) that’s still too many when you consider you’ve got to spend time on the villains and anti-heroes as well. Not to mention the fact that many of their powers are out of proportion with one another, not visually oriented, and/or extremely silly. Nevertheless, director Bryan Singer uses some of the skills he cultivated while making his cheesy gangster masterpiece The Usual Suspects by weaving all the characters and powers into a delicately balanced story that keeps us interested with one tidbit of sinister plot after the other. Granted, it’s not the epitome of cinematic superheroism, but with all of the above against it, it’s a wonder it turned out watchable at all.
Former Crow Bill Corbett joins Mike Nelson on the commentary track. They start off excited about all the ridiculousness inherent in a comic book setting, but are soon derailed by the opening World War II scenes. Most of the commentary for this sequence focuses on Bill berating Mike for inviting him to make fun of a movie about the holocaust. “The Sorrow and the Pity would be more fun than this,” he says. When the movie abruptly shifts from war-torn Poland to modern teenage flirting, Mike says, “From Schindler’s List to The O.C., just like that?” Later, when Rogue goes to the cage fighting establishment, Bill notes the rustic décor by saying, “She wandered into the Prancing Pony,” and then makes an obligatory joke about the Thunderdome. As the movie progresses, they confess their own mutant powers. Mike can always tell which toothpick a restaurant patron will choose from the dispenser. “Toothpick-O,” he calls himself. Bill can watch episodes of Mad About You in his mind, but chooses not to exercise that power. It’s a decent movie but it has a ridiculous premise, and the commentary makes it that much more fun to watch.
(2000, Action-Superheroes, color)