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Rumblings from the Boudoir: Alexandra DuPont Levels a Gimlet Eye, Maybe Two Gimlet Eyes, at X-MEN

Published at: July 11, 2000, 11:48 p.m. CST by staff

Father Geek just got back from his second screening of X-Men, I sat between an adult, school teacher (art) who has read EVERY issue of the comics and their various spinoffs... and an unrelated nine year old kid who had a stack of CABLE comics in his lap. I loved the 2nd viewing even better than my 1st! And more important the viewers on either side of me were raving about its greatness afterward. People were standing around in front of the theater talking about how much they liked it for 30 minutes after the screening. Another note of interest: My first viewing of X-MEN was at a PRESS SCREENING a couple of days ago. At todays public preview screening I saw nearly all the pros of the press back to see it again. This seldom happens! They must have seen something they really enjoyed? Now here's the view of our respected commentator, Alexandra DuPont...

(Apologies in advance to Moriarty....)

Rumblings from the Boudoir: Alexandra DuPont Levels a Gimlet Eye, Maybe Two Gimlet Eyes, at "X-Men"

I know, I know: You loyal AICNers need another "X-Men" review like you need shingles. But nevertheless.

Many of the advance reviews I've read of "X-Men" thus far (the non-bogus ones, at any rate) seem upbeat, but tinged with a certain ... ambivalence. When I kept reading variants on "It's a damn fine film," I started to worry, quite frankly; "damn fine" sounds like it should star Susan Sarandon and/or Sam Shepard, be directed by Stanley Kramer and feature a divorcee contracting an illness while discussing Important Issues.

So but anyway, I finally caught a screening of "X-Men" -- and now I think I understand where that perceived ambivalence was coming from. Because the best way I can sum up this particular Marvel adaptation is to write the following: If this film had been a TV-movie pilot launching an "X-Men" television series, it would be one of the greatest TV-movie pilots ever produced.

I mean that as a compliment. Really.

Allow me to explain. The best television makes up for its (relatively) skimpy budget with solid writing and characterization. "X-Men" the movie does the same, albeit on a more epic scale. Director Bryan Singer does extremely solid work with his team -- pulling a character-driven, occasionally moody film out of his hat where other filmmakers might have pulled out something deeply, thoroughly silly.

However, the television analogy ALSO holds in the sense that there's no truly relentless Woo-Ping-choreographed blockbuster of a fight sequence that laser-etches itself onto your retinas -- which, I must admit, we've been conditioned to expect these days. (GAD, we are spoiled little consumers. "Entertain me! Top the last movie I saw! Blow my mind! WAAAH!") There are fight scenes, to be sure, and they are perfectly well-done and easy to follow, but they are not relentless Woo-Ping-choreographed blockbusters, and they do not appear in the first half-hour-plus of this film.

I fear younger audience members in this post-"Matrix" era will slag "X-Men" due to this absence of "mind-boggling" action, which is a real shame -- because in every other sense, this is the comic-book adaptation that highly vocal sectors of the geek community have been clamoring for: the first flick since "Superman: The Movie" to take the notion of super-powers (and the responsibility they entail) really, really seriously.

What struck me most about the first third of the movie was its almost weighty sense of loneliness. (Try to remember that shot of Bill Bixby wandering down the highway with his rucksack during the opening credits of "The Incredible Hulk," and you're starting to get an idea of the vibe I'm talking about.) A lot of that has to do with color, I think. Key introductory and meeting scenes are shot in somber, wintry tones; for a good minute, I honestly thought the prologue, set during the Holocaust, was filmed in black-and-white.

This prevailing tone is aided by the actors, who almost uniformly underplay their roles as if they were on a mission from God (or, at any rate, a mission from Bryan Singer) to prove that comic-book adaptations don't have to feature comic-book acting. Of course, when you have Royal Shakespeare Company vet Patrick Stewart calmly strapping on a silly-looking headset to monitor all mutant activity on Earth, underplaying is perhaps a moot point. But still. Nothing and no one in this film insulted me, and in today's summer-blockbuster climate, that's saying something.

The major characters, and the performances of the actors playing them, have already been reviewed in some detail at this site, and I generally agree with the assessments. A few additional notes:

(1) I have a memo for the naughty-minded Talk Backer "Lickerish": You'll be delighted to read that Mssr. Jackman makes for an extremely charismatic, hairy-chested Wolverine. Jackman speaks for the audience (or, rather, for whom the audience wishes it could be when it's having a bad day at the office), making fun of the code names and the uniforms and pretty much every other superhero trope even as he quietly relishes the fantasy heroism. It's a star turn, methinks; the first time Logan's claws shoot through the skin of his knuckles, it packs a thrill akin to one's first viewing of the T-1000 morphing his hand into a blade.

(2) Also: You fellows raging over the merits of Halle Berry's wig and accent need to take a peek at the forest. The famously ungrateful-in-print Ms. Berry has one line in the first 45 minutes of the film.

(3) I have to hand it to Ray Park: He made "tongue-fu" look pretty dynamic. And I am now struck by the overwhelming knowledge that I will never write the preceding sentence again in my entire life.

THINGS I LIKED ABOUT "X-MEN":

(1) Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart lending, as if from on high, gravity and class and intelligence to the scenes they shared.

(2) The fact that cliched right-wing boogeyman Senator Kelly (Bruce Davison) gets a chance to make his case -- and to grow during the course of the film.

(3) Also, the ultimate fate of Senator Kelly.

(4) Logan getting a tour of the school with Prof. Xavier. Watch the students at play.

(5) The interplay between Logan, Cyclops (James Mardsen) and Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). A romantic triangle, just like in the comics -- only without the I-speak-in-pseudo-erudite-paragraphs-even-as-I'm-flying-across-the-room-to-hit-you stylings of writer Chris Clairemont.

(Parenthetical remark w/r/t geek purists and C. Clairemont defenders: I'll try to resist a profound urge to swing a Fungo bat at anyone who tells me that Magneto's mutant-conversion-machine in this movie is dumber than anything in the comics. I read me some "Classic X-Men" comics in preparation for this film, and in one of them, our heroes found themselves aided by leprechauns. That's right, leprechauns.)

(6) The prevailing sense of sadness in the first third of the film.

(7) The bit where Magneto says "by any means necessary" -- making subtext text with regards to the movie's groovy (if simplistic) Malcolm X vs. MLK Jr. social commentary. (Granted, this social commentary is seriously clouded by the fact that people on the MLK Jr. side are fairly hell-bent on maiming people on the Malcolm X side, but you've got to admire the filmmakers for trying.)

(8) Wolverine vs. the blue-skinned shape-shifter Mystique (Mrs. John Stamos); Wolverine vs. Sabretooth (Tyler Mane); Wolverine vs. anybody, really.

THINGS I DIDN'T LIKE SO MUCH ABOUT "X-MEN":

(1) Patrick Stewart strapping on a silly-looking headset while underplaying.

(2) Michael Kamen's score -- a veritable cornucopia of tuneless white noise. The release Tuesday of the "Jaws Anniversary Collector's Edition" soundtrack CD only served, by comparison, to make Kamen's hurried effort sound even more pathetic. Head Geek Mr. Knowles is right: With a truly grand score, this film might have soared higher.

(3) The absence of a 10-minute, Woo-Ping-choreographed blockbuster of a fight sequence that laser-etches itself onto your retinas. Entertain me! Top the last movie I saw! Blow my mind! WAAAH!

CONCLUSION: The good seriously outweighs the not-so-good here -- though some may mark the absence of a certain "oomph," a certain adrenaline rush, from the proceedings. Still, this is (ahem) a damn fine comic-book movie. Bryan Singer has crafted something with well-sketched characters, a watertight plotline and genuine thematic weight; if the lack of a truly wicked fight scene keeps you out of the theater, wouldn't that be terrible?

Alexandra DuPont

dupont@dvdjournal.com

P.S. Should there be a sequel, and should Bryan Singer direct it, the notion of Benicio Del Toro as Nightcrawler sort of boggles the mind.

Readers Talkback

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  • July 12, 2000, 12:02 a.m. CST

    If the message order continues to screw up..

    by dys-

    I'M LAST! dys-

  • July 12, 2000, 12:04 a.m. CST

    Could it be true?

    by Egg

    IM FIRST!

  • July 12, 2000, 12:08 a.m. CST

    sounds kick ass to me

    by pogo on my own

    I imagine if you go into this movie without expectations you will leave the theater pleased.

  • July 12, 2000, 12:10 a.m. CST

    Yeah what he said....

    by Genova

  • July 12, 2000, 12:11 a.m. CST

    I saw Anna Paquin....

    by Egg

    (or however her name is spelled) on the Daily Show and she is a cutie! I think she makes a beautiful Rogue.

  • July 12, 2000, 1:01 a.m. CST

    delighted indeed

    by lickerish

    I caught an Xmen screening on Monday, and had quite a time. Hugh Jackmon was, well Perfect. In Every way. If you're indifferent to comics or Singer, or hate the whole concept....watch this film for Wolverine. Then try and not like it... you'll see, I think it brings out any intrinsic honesty from the viewer. The lonliness and tone of the first half that Alexandra refers to is so pervasive, so intense, as to induce pain, and surrender. It's a wild film. Very strange, and the first of it's kind. Though yes, too short

  • July 12, 2000, 1:13 a.m. CST

    Benicio Del Toro *IS* Nightcrawler

    by Peyton Westlake

    I can read the tagline already: "He'll flip ya. He'll flip ya for real."

  • July 12, 2000, 1:16 a.m. CST

    And, having caught that same advance screening...

    by Dave_F

    ...let me say that Alexandra DuPont is very on-target, though I'd ditch the backhanded compliment about "X-Men" being a great superhero TV movie. For me, "X-Men" was a great superhero movie, PERIOD. Not to create unreal hopes for fans (you never know what little scene will make them go, "aw, that ruined the whole movie for me"), but I'm placing this flick second only to "Superman" in the pantheon of superhero movies. "X-Men" plays it smart and straight-as-hell all the way through, without an ounce of campiness or embarrassment about its subject. As I predicted, the costumes (which I initially disliked) ended up working just fine for the realistic tone of the movie. Even slight reinterpretations of characters like Jean Grey bothered me not one bit. As with the Batman cartoon, changes aren't arbitrary and capricious - they're more a matter of trimming the fat and streamlining the story. Introducing so many characters without trivializing them or resorting to cliched flashbacks of Xavier recruiting...pretty goddamn cool! Since Wolverine serves as the entry point for the viewer, we skip the long-winded origins for every mutant and their brother and get right to the heart of the plot. Definitely a great call. As for the action, Alexandra's correct - there's no one total blowout action setpiece - but who cares when everything else is so good? In a way, I even thought the downplayed action was appropriate considering that the X-Men are a somewhat covert superhero team. Anyway, it's not quite a perfect movie, though the only real criticism I can muster is a vague "some scenes could've used a little more 'oomph'". It's probably the score, as many have noted, that failed to bolster the movie to perfection. Kamen's score ain't bad at all, but he doesn't craft any definitive themes as John Williams so brilliantly did with "Superman". Sidebar: though I've probably seen the "X-Men" cartoon maybe three times in my life, I could swear I caught elements of its theme music in Kamen's score. Some cartoon fan listen for it and let me know. Anyway, there're all kinds of specifics I'm dying to discuss about this movie, but I'd rather keep my comments general until more folks have seen it. In short, this flick made me very, very happy. Strong story, excellent acting, and real superhero team action for the first time ever on the big screen. Damn right. I think there's a very good chance that X-fans and superhero fans will take to it. General audiences? Can't predict - it may not be as potent without at least *some* familiarity with the comic. It'd be a shame if it doesn't do some serious business, though, 'cause "X-Men" is indeed the superhero flick we've been waiting for. Looking forward to discussing it in detail with you Talkbackers on Friday. Well, after I see it a second time...

  • whats a shingle?

  • July 12, 2000, 2:43 a.m. CST

    Reviews reviews and more reviews

    by Pippin's Diamond

    And most if not all of them positive. I just returned from reading the user reviews at imdb.com, and they all praise the movie too. I still haven't seen it so I don't have an opinion yet, but I think X-Men will actually live up to expectations, and in so doing, it will prove that too much hype is not an excuse for a film to suck. BTW, I thought the FOX X-Men special was very cool and it did a pretty good job explaining the basics to the people who don't have a clue about the X-Men. I mention that because a while back people were saying that the "normals" would not get the film. So I guess that's settled. Well, I can't wait to see X-Men!! Sadly, I don't even have a release date for where I live. It could be months from now for all I know. Pity me!

  • July 12, 2000, 3:08 a.m. CST

    Well. . . this one convinced me. . .

    by Narcoleptic

    Of course I was going to see it even if Wolverine was played by Corey Feldman and went around calling Cyclops a dickhead (which actually happened in a very early script I was told about by a friend at USC . . .) . . . but the movie sounds great. A thoughtful well-executed treatment of the X-men is about all I could ask for. . . I love Claremont (or at least, I did as a kid) but you definitely hit the nail on the head about the goofiness that pops up in his stories. . . I like the one where Nightcrawler's stepmother Margali Szaros decides that he needs to be punished so in order to do this she creates an EXACT DUPLICATE of Dante's Inferno complete with tormented souls and Gothic architecture. . . I don't know it just seems a little . . . inefficient. . .

  • July 12, 2000, 8:28 a.m. CST

    Silliness in superhero movies

    by Jobriga2

    Batman - the Joker floats huge poison balloons over the city; Batman uses scissors on the Batplane to cut them off. Superman - California falls into the ocean, so Superman reverses time by reversing the earth's rotation. X-Men - a giant machine can turn ordinary humans into monsters. Do I buy it? Sure; the rest of the movie more than makes up for it. Can't wait to see it on Friday.

  • July 12, 2000, 8:54 a.m. CST

    Well done!

    by mifan

    Props to you, Ms. DuPont, for another thoughtful epistle. As many other talkbackers have noted on this site, your contributions to it are noteworthy and always worth the time to read. I was going to see this movie no matter what kind of pre-release notice it received, but thanks to your review I will watch it with a more critical yet kinder eye. Have you discussed any profit-sharing deals with Harry, by the way? Keep up the good work.

  • July 12, 2000, 9:12 a.m. CST

    Sweet Sweetback's Badassssssss Review

    by Anton_Sirius

    Dammit, girl, quit making the rest of us look bad! But I think I've finally got X-Men figured out- Singer made a comic book movie, NOT AN ACTION MOVIE. And praise Goddess (no, that's not you, Ms. DuPont) for it.

  • July 12, 2000, 9:42 a.m. CST

    This review

    by rossimus

    I really don't care what any of the reviewers say, it won't keep me from seeing a movie I want to see.That being said, this is the best review I've seen on this site for a long time, there was no"and if you don't think so you can....."so I would like to say thank you to the reviewer.Now it's pretty obvious that the reviewer isn't a huge X-fan, but she is right about the leprachauns, actually,a form of the mutant machine appears in the whole Zaladine\Savage Land storyline.As far as the funny looking headgear, that is probably the only thing that looks almost exactly like it does in the comics, so silly or not I think iot kicks ass.One thing bothers me though, I understand they want star power and big names, but if Halle Berry only has 1 line in 45 mins.,why bother.Nothing against Ms.Berry, but I could do that(except I'm a guy, and white, oh well maybe I couldn't, but someone else could)I know I hate long posts too--sorry

  • July 12, 2000, 10:01 a.m. CST

    Nightcrawler.

    by Willy_Wonka

  • July 12, 2000, 10:03 a.m. CST

    Nightcrawler.

    by Willy_Wonka

    I think the actor from "Dark City" would make a kick ass nightcrawler. I'm not definite on his name but I think it was Rufus Sewell(sp) or soemthing. He seems to have the right look to pull the character off.. but thats my opinion.

  • July 12, 2000, 10:54 a.m. CST

    Sam Shepard, X-Men

    by Lazarus Long

    Alexandra, I don't know if Shepard was the best example of "decent" film work. The man's only one of the most groundbreaking playwrights of the second half of the 20th Century, but he's been in a slew of fairly off-beat or art-house projects. Even "Snow Falling on Cedars" was off the beaten track for a studio Book-of-the-Month adaption. The film Voyager (dir. Volker Schlorndorff? Ulu Grosbard?) w/ Julie Delpy was an original and thought-provoking piece of cinema. And let's not forget his iconic performance as Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff. I could even make a case for Susan Sarandon, but her tripe does balance the scales against her...Filet Mingon. As for X-Men, it may be a very adequate and well-crafted film, but the lack of "Oomph" that you were looking for is what may ultimately relegate this to the video store rack. I highly doubt this will look impressive when watched alongside Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, or a full year after the wonders of The Matrix and Episode I. Singer may have taken an admirable approach in showing is the human side of this story, but notice how Burton's first Batman gave the audience the goods, and saved the soul searching mostly for the second installment. By doing it this way, Singer might not get an opportunity to show the rest of the story, or another one, for that matter.

  • July 12, 2000, 11:02 a.m. CST

    Why waste your time here Alexandra?

    by KingMenthol

    Your writing is just too good for AICN. It's entertaining, enlightening, and a breath of fresh air with the staleness of most reviewers. I'm not too excited, however, to see X-Men now, though. These tempered reviews seem to be assisting me in setting myself up to be disappointed. The running time, Halle's poor performance (the wig doesn't bother me, though), the lack of the one-on-one for the ages, the score, etc. Everyone's saying "good movie", but I've seen SHAFT, and that's a fucking movie. I just hate being disappointed. Which I wasn't when I saw CROUPIER last night. How about a review of CROUPIER, Alexandra? A DAMN FINE FILM.

  • July 12, 2000, 1:25 p.m. CST

    Willy_Wonka, yes!

    by superninja

    Rufus would make a GREAT Nightcrawler. I only hope they keep the German accent, religious conviction (THAT is a nice touch) and his swashbuckling/adventurer heart.

  • July 12, 2000, 2:28 p.m. CST

    nightcrawler

    by nokturnal

    am i the only one who thinks that john leguizamo (toned down at least a little, of course, and with a german accent) would make a PERFECT nightcrawler? with some blue makeup, he'd certainly look the part...he gets my vote to play my favortie x-man...

  • July 12, 2000, 3:46 p.m. CST

    Seems to me the guy who plays Nightcrawler

    by KingMenthol

    should be able to believably put down a Germanic accent, no? "Mein Gott!" anyone?

  • July 12, 2000, 5:26 p.m. CST

    Xmen vs MI2

    by superduperman

    "well sketched characters, watertight plotline, and genuine thematic wheight." Wow. Can you say the same thing about MI2 without falling into a fit of laughter? How much did that piece of shit movie make? 200million? Yet, we have a film here that was actually given the effort by very talented people to create a something with a little meat in it instead of just light popcorn. If Xmen doesn't do as good or better than MI2 then...hell, it just wouldn't make any sense.

  • I think DuPont's review is the best review I've read yet: articulate and incisive, and doesn't sound like she's trying to talk herself into anything. And Cormorant, for your little post, you weren't so bad yourself (go figure). Ok, enough ass-kissing. There's a fairly interesting, albeit not breathtaking original piece at Salon regarding the X-Men as a metaphor for homosexuality. Not bad, some of you may dig it. Meanwhile, like I said, I'll see the sucker this weekend, and then waste bandwidth with my earnest yet nauseating opinion.

  • July 13, 2000, 12:20 a.m. CST

    Thanks for damning me with faint praise Zeno.

    by Dave_F

    Man, don't you know I busted my ass to be simultaneously long-winded AND completely vague about "X-Men"? Ah well, I can still take pleasure in being one of the elite few who lucked into an advance screening. You can recognize elitists such as myself by our top hats, monocles, and propensity for lighting Havana cigars with copies of "Action Comics" #1.

  • July 13, 2000, 2:01 a.m. CST

    Anyone have the website to that Salon article?

    by Narcoleptic

    sounds interesting. . .

  • July 13, 2000, 9:47 a.m. CST

    It's Claremont, Not Clairemont But I Have To Agree About His Dia

    by Buzz Maverik

    ...the guy's writing got worse the longer he worked on the series. He was okay at the straight action stuff ("Something set the deer off and my instincts tell me it wasn't me." "Recognize me, little man. James McDonald Hudson. These days I'm called Weapon Alpha.") But for the supposed introspective stuff, if I read one more out of place "Them's the breaks, kiddo. You take what life hands you and move on. You don't wallow in self-pity" arrgh! And this was, like Ms. Dupont said, while leaping across the room to kick Sabretooth in the nuts or something. I'd rather the characters had wallowed in self-pity. It would have been more fun. Stuff like mutant making machines and talking leaprachans I can dig because this is fantasy, comics and crap. You want reality, you shouldn't even be here or there. When Claremont wrote real character stuff like the death of Phoenix, Marvel negated it and trivialized it and undid the best comic writing of all time. (Since this is make believe, I make believe that Phoenix is still dead and Elektra is still dead and Elvis is still dead but Jim Morrison is alive and so is Nick Fury and Aunt May). Also, not every character can be in this movie to wear black vinyl, so there's the answer to those who you who ask Where's Bluetail Fly or Mist Kat? Incidentally, how about Dustin Hoffman for Nightcrawler and Meryl Streep for Kitty Pryde?

  • Nov. 22, 2009, 6:19 p.m. CST

    Over 9 years later...

    by DarthCorleone

    I am here.

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