For the sake of convenience, I am referring to the movies as “X1″, X2”, and “X3”.
X1 was released in the year 2000, at a time where the superhero movie genre was stagnant . Somehow it rejuvenated the superhero movie and things like Spider-Man followed soon enough. Most people will not think too much into this, but “X-Men” actually contains provocative themes that you might not expect to find in a superhero film.
The strongest subtext found in “X-Men” is the discrimination against minority groups. The minority group in these films are the mutants who possess special powers. The first film dives straight into the problems of mutantkind’s existence. People fear the mutants and they do not feel safe when the mutants are living among them. The mutants themselves are having internal conflicts. Patrick Steward plays Professor X, the founder of the X-Men. He believes mutantkind and mankind should live in peace. Ian McKellen, who plays Magneto, does not agree. He believes mutants are a superior race and should dominate mankind.
The above conflicts are mostly explored in X1, where Magneto invents a device that is able to turn humans into mutants. The idea may sound ridiculous or childish at first, but the fact that high profile actors such as Patrick Steward and Ian McKellen signed on to this tells you that this movie is no joke. In fact, X1 seems to be the most mature film of the series, and may even contain scenes that are disturbing to younger viewers. Even though director Bryan Singer directed both X1 and X2, you can tell that X2 has a much brighter tone and a more adventurous plot.
Hugh Jackman plays Wolverine, who is probably the most likable and heroic character in the X-Men films. Wolverine in the comic books has always had a huge fan base, so it is no wonder why all the X-Men films so far have put him in the spotlight. In X2, he travels to a secret base at Alkali Lake and finds out terrifying secrets about his past. Hugh Jackman portrays a very kind-hearted yet troubled character, and you genuinely feel sorry for him. There is also a love triangle involving Cyclops and Jean Grey that creates more dama in X2. This makes our heroes feel like real people with real emotions rather than infallible beings, which is another reason why I love the X-Men.
You don’t need to be familiar with the comic books or the cartoons to enjoy the X-Men movies. Rather than a single superhero like in Superman, the X-Men movies feature a wide variety of mutants with many unique powers. There’s a character called Rogue (Anna Paquin), who absorbs other people’s energy when she touches them. Alan Cumming plays Nightcrawler, a blue coloured mutant who looks like a demon. He turns out to be religious, and has the ability to teleport. Rebecca Romijn is Mystique, another blue coloured mutant with the power to shape-shift. With so many characters, chances are you will relate to at least one of them. The X-Men teaming up with Magneto in X2 also adds a layer of complexity to the films and blurs the line between good and evil.
Production of the third X-Men film was rather troubled. Bryan Singer declined to direct X3 because of other plans. (Anyone remember Superman Returns?) So here comes Brett Ratner to helm X3, and I did not like this film as much as the previous two. The “Phoenix” storyline which involves Jean Grey’s resurrection is an intriguing concept, but the Phoenix character itself is never really explored. It is not clear exactly where the Phoenix comes from, what powers it has or even what it is doing in this movie in the first place (other than to bring Jean Grey back to life and to kill people.)
Then comes the “mutant cure” story, which is done slightly better than the one mentioned above. There is some explanation to what this ‘cure’ can do, and the film manages to create a chaotic atmosphere that arises from the mutants who want to be cured. However, when mixed carelessly with the Phoenix plot and with a lot of miscellaneous characters thrown in for no reason, the resulting story is neither engaging nor compelling in the least. There is a character called Angel who is seen cutting off his own wings at the beginning of the film. Blink and you will miss him when he appears again. People were hoping for more mutants and more special effects, but sometimes less is more, and I would take quality over quantity.
With a stellar cast and unique ideas, the first two X-Men films are contenders for the best superhero film of all time. But with a change of direction and events only for the sake of shock value, the third film is a total mess. However, looking at the trilogy as a whole, it is nice to see the relationship of Professor X and Magneto being developed throughout all three movies. Definitely check out the first two X-Men films, and approach the third with caution.
X2: X-Men United
X-Men: The Last Stand