When I saw the first trailer to X-Men, a few months back, I thought of the word "God" immediately followed by the word "No." It looked horrid. It looked cheesy, lame, not good. We're talking Batman & Robin not good. Ludicrous. Silly. "God, no," I thought.
A few weeks ago, I saw a second trailer for X-Men. It had less action, more dialogue, more focus on characters. My thoughts were, "That doesn't look so bad now. Maybe I will see it after all."
And saw it I did. Three times this past opening weekend. I kept hanging out with different friends who wanted to see it and so I went each time, once Friday night, once Saturday night, and once Sunday night. I didn't mind a bit. It's a pretty damn good movie. Here's why:
- Treats subject matter right - I've never collected comics. I've read a few. Never the X-Men. But I could tell from the film that director Bryan Singer treated these characters and their stories with respect and care. The film takes itself very seriously, never straying into camp, never resorting to cheesy dialogue, silly villains, over-acting. Some comic fans have said it's not completely faithful to the back stories of some of the characters. But the spirit and themes of the comic and its characters have been retained. It works.
- Characters & story above action - There is so much exposition and character-driven dialogue and story in X-Men and so few action sequences. Good. Successful action films are only successful if you care about the characters. By now, we've seen it all when it comes to action: explosions, fist fights, gun fights, etc. There's only so much you can do. But when you spend time introducing the audience to your characters, letting them get to know and understand and care about them, when they get into a fight, the audience is involved, they worry, they cheer, they gasp. It works.
- Rogue & Wolverine - This film is ultimately their story. Again, some comic fans get a little ruffled about this. The movie is called "X-Men", not "Wolverine, Rogue, and the X-Men." It should be equally about all of them, right? No. Not yet. The vast majority of the world has not read an X-Men comic, and doesn't know these characters. With a world of mutants and superheroes and the like, there is a risk of the audience thinking how inherently silly these ideas are. You absolutely need to have a character the audience can identify with, a skeptic, someone who questions and points out how silly these things are. Hence, Wolverine and Rogue. These two characters come to the X-Men as outsiders, and Wolverine is especially aware of how preposterous it is to dress up in costumes and call yourselves by nicknames like "Cyclone" and "Storm." The relationship between Wolverine and Rogue is the core of the film, and it works.
- Patrick Stewart & Ian McKellen - these two outstanding actors and their characters' relationship with one another add so much class and elegance to this film, it could not be nearly as good without them. Stewart is the thoughtful, intelligent, hopeful Charles Xavier to McKellen's equally intelligent, yet not-so-hopeful Magneto. And the idea of the first five minutes of the film--starting out with Magneto's back story--is ingenious. We understand and can even sympathize with his lack of faith in humanity, and even the drastic actions he takes. It works.
There you have it. This movie could have sucked. It could have been a Batman & Robin or a Superman III or IV. But it isn't. It's classy, it's serious, it's fun. It's the first hour of Superman, minus the superb John Williams score.