X-Men and Superhero Prejudice

In June this year, X-Men: Dark Phoenix will mark the end of 20th Century Fox’s X-Men film series (not including any spin-offs) after 19 years. So now is as good a time as any to go back to the film that started it off in the year 2000.

Based on the Marvel comic-book series, it follows several groups of subspecies of humans known as Mutants, each of whom are born with a unique powers.

This is the very first superhero team film that I’d watched, and I fell in love with it from the first viewing, but it wasn’t until my later years that I realised why. Sure, it had a lot of cool things to enjoy: cool superpowers; jets; fight scenes. But what made me love it was its themes of prejudice and the superheroes to represent it and having characters with conflicts right or wrong that are morally complex.

The film has a pretty gritty opening, set in 1944 in Poland as we see a young Magneto being separated from his parents in a Nazi concentration camp. Desperately trying to reach them, he discovers his ability to control metal. Jump to ‘The Not Too Distant Future’, Senator Kelly wants to pass a register act to force mutants to reveal their identities, no different from tattooing inmates at the concentration camps.

Instantly this film is showing its audience how a past prejudice is no different to what will happen in the future. In between this, we are introduced to teenage girl Rogue sharing her first kiss with a boy. Here she discovers she absorbs life-force through touch, putting her boyfriend in a coma and forcing her become a runaway.

So within the first 10 minutes we see the prejudice mutants are being subjected to, yet we are given two examples that show Senator Kelly could have a valid point, as we have an innocent and vulnerable girl with a deadly power and a young boy who would eventually use his power for evil.

We are soon introduced to the elderly Magneto as he’s confronted by his old friend/rival Professor X, wheelchair-bound and with the ability read and control minds. The two characters are often compared to Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jnr for their extreme conflicting methods against the same prejudice they’re subjected to. Patrick Stewart and Ian Mckellen are a great contrast and are convincing of two characters with a long history.

Finally we get one of the best character introductions ever: Wolverine, who is first seen in a cage match winning every fight and is hated by the spectators. With his metal skeleton and claws along with the ability to heal rapidly and no memory of his past, he is the character that pretty owned this series appearing in every instalment until his swan song Logan. After meeting Rogue and being hunted down by Magneto’s henchmen, Professor X’s team rescue them and take them ‘Xavier’s School For The Gifted’.

Hugh Jackman is undeniably fantastic; he’s a definition of an action star. With a hardened personality with subtle humour, he makes a character you’d normally hate if you met in person incredibly likeable.

Anna Paquin is wonderful as Rogue, playing the tragedy of character beautifully with all the mental pain she has to carry. The guilt she has for the people she hurts with her power but being deprived from any human physical contact. You would have to have a heart of stone not to feel sympathy for her.

I particularly love the relationship between Wolverine and Rogue, as two very different people who are lonely souls find solace with each other. The chemistry between Jackman and Paquin and the way they interact feels incredibly natural, a father/daughter like friendship that I feel was the heart of this film.

Members of the X-team include: Cyclops, who has laser-eyes; Jean Grey, who works with telekinesis and telepathy; and Storm, who can control weather. They each get their moments to shine in the action, particularly in the climax, however in terms of character they don’t get as much depth as Wolverine and Rogue.

James Marsden is kind of unlikeable as Cyclops, but that’s pretty fitting for the character who’s the team leader, and his banter with Wolverine at times was pretty entertaining. He’s also very good at doing facial expressions, considering he had his eyes covered throughout.

Jean Grey could’ve just come across as just a bland pretty woman, however Famke Janssen is pretty good at grabbing your attention and giving the character some personality even when she’s not doing much. Now that’s talent! This is certainly worth it when we get to see Jean’s role expanded in the sequels.

Halle Berry is sadly the weak-link in this film as Storm, she seems quite uncomfortable in her role and line delivery is pretty one-note with an odd accent. In her defence, she does get better with every sequel where she’s given more to work with.

Rebecca Romijn is quite a scene-stealer as Mystique; with only one line and heavy blue-scale prosthetics she’s absolutely fascinating to watch every time she’s on screen with the way she manoeuvres her body is almost reptilian. She and Jackman have the coolest one-on-one fight scene.

Magneto’s ultimate plan helps tie a lot of the themes and grey areas together, as he’s built a radiation machine that will mutate humans too. It demonstrates that he wants humans to have the same fates as mutants and make things politically correct. Yet it becomes all the more evil when it’s revealed that humans will die shortly after being mutated, but it’s unknown if he actually knows if that happens. As well as using as attempting to use Rogue to power the machine in his place because it would kill him also, which demonstrates him as a coward and a hypocrite.

For a first instalment of long-running franchise I feel it holds up quite well, despite being surpassed in quality and popularity by several of its sequels and some of the special effects are a bit out-dated. It’s still a wonderful superhero team film, that is fun and has mature themes that get you thinking.

Written by Jack Parish

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