Pals, popcorn & X-Men
Every film reviewer should see a film with a paying audience.
That's the conclusion I came to after watching X-Men at Bombay's New Empire theatre. The hall was packed with kids, coeds and a few 30-plus old fogeys like me. I doubt that any of the audience had ever read the X-Men comicbooks. Most of them certainly weren't born when Marvel began publishing the series some 20-odd years ago.
But they were agog with anticipation before the film started. When a lengthy documentary finally ended, the hall rocked with cheers and applause. It set the mood for what was to be one of the most fun viewing experiences I have had this year. And the fun was in the viewing, not necessarily in what was being viewed.
Because this is the thing about Bryan Singer's X-Men. The movie is no great shakes. Having been weaned on a steady diet of the original comicbooks ever since they were first published, I came out of the theatre saying. "The comicbook was better."
But since the audience hadn't read the comicbook, they obviously couldn't have agreed with me.
First of all, the film should have been called Wolverine. Because it is really his story. The ex-army vet, whose body is infused with a supporting structure of indestructible adamantine metal, giving him superhuman strength and lupine abilities, is the whole picture. Every moment he is on screen is worth paying for.
But for a movie called X-Men, this one is a disappointment.
Sure, the characters are cool, the sets are super, the effects are great. But there is absolutely nothing here that you have not seen in a dozen other terrific sci-fi flicks.
This is not The Matrix, which pushes the envelope of special effects while also delivering a mind-blowing premise and story.
In fact, the plot of X-Men is the weakest part of the movie. Okay, so a world populated with good and bad mutants is a fab idea. A brewing war between the two groups is even fabber. And all that build-up towards the big battle is also exciting. By the time the movie is half over, you are set to watch some terrific stunts, action set pieces, fx, etc.
But it never happens.
Instead, the movie ends with a promise that 'the war is yet to come', and with an anticlimactic parting of the characters with a clear message that they will return in a sequel. In short, after having intro'd all the characters, set them up in simplistic relationships with one another, the director just pulls the plug and walks away, saying, "To be continued..."
Now, that's unfair, yaar. You can't just give us so much build-up and not deliver.
It is not as if there is that much action in this one either. The showdown at the Statue of Liberty between the two groups of mutants is great stuff. But it just fizzles out without even the requisite Hollywood bang. Just when you’re expecting the film to deliver a big climax, it cops out.
That is sad because there is so many good things here. As I said, Wolverine is the coolest thing you have seen onscreen since Christopher Reeve donned the Superman costume. Hugh Jackman, the newcomer cast in the role, is a superb physical actor and perfectly chosen.
Anna Paquin, who became the youngest actor to win an Oscar for The Piano, is all grown up and still a wonderful actress, as her turn as Rogue proves.
But the other characters -- Dr Jean Gray, Cyclops, Storm, even the leader of the group, Professor Xavier -- just aren't given enough screen time and script. Storm, in particular, does nothing throughout the film except appear briefly to call down lightning to strike a villain or two.
The only character interaction with some zing is the little sexual jealousy between Cyclops and Wolverine when they squabble over Dr Jean Gray's attentions. Even that is due to Wolverine's charismatic performance and ability to carry off the most deadpan lines like "You're a dick" in a style that brings the house down.
As I said, they might as well have called the film Wolverine – he steals the whole show anyway!
But I also have to say this: The film has its moments. The villains are stunningly created.
You'll freak on Toad, even if he disgusts you at times. And Mystique is ooh-la-la! If you go without any expectations, and carry a lot of popcorn and a big bunch of friends, you will find lots to enjoy in this imaginative and stylish action-adventure. If you have read the comicbook, put it aside while you watch the film on its own merits.
And most of all, look out for the inevitable sequel. If they can really deliver on this terrific build-up, I think it will be ten times the entertainment value of this 'intro' film!
The comicbook-turned-heroes slide show!