Wednesday, May 7, 2003

Mutants unite!

The action comic sequel boasts a wild and wicked band of outsiders.

Posted By and on Wed, May 7, 2003 at 12:00 AM

Geezer 3 stars
Weezer 4 stars

X2, the leadoff hit of the summer lineup, is one of the most anticipated comic-to-movie transformations ever. Marvel Comics fans old and new have been flocking to theaters since last Friday, some taking in multiple screenings per day.

Directed by Bryan Singer (whose second effort, The Usual Suspects, was an instant smash — and who also directed the franchise’s first episode, X-Men), this carnival of mutant souls and superheroes holds up the mirror of “difference” to an uncomfortably multicultural America. As we rejoin the saga of our queerly endowed collective, the rift between compassionate genius Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and the megalomaniacal Magneto (Ian McKellen) is further complicated by Gen. William Stryker (Brian Cox), a militarist hell-bent on a final solution to the “mutant problem.”

Weezer: This is the best comic-book movie yet. I’ve seen X2 twice and it tops Superman, Batman, Blade I and II, Spiderman, Daredevil and the first X-Men. It accurately shows the cohesiveness of the X-Men as a team and displays their powers beautifully on-screen, with a pretty good comic-booky plot, villain, etc. I’m glad to see my favorite comic book didn’t choke like Daredevil and Spiderman.

Geezer: Though I’m not familiar with the comic, I liked the way the first episode introduced the school for the gifted as actually a school for mutant kids, which is a fascinating spin on giftedness. It’s interesting to me as a non-fan that the film is really about “otherness.”

Weezer: In the comic book, the X-Men go out and save the world, but they’re also teachers. Professor Xavier founded the school and teaches the kids math, reading, writing and art, but also how to not blow up the school, how to control their powers and use them effectively. According to the X-Men universe, you usually start seeing signs of your mutation around puberty. So that gives the story another level. It’s like, “Hey, I’m 13 years old and not only do I start feeling different because I’m growing up, but now I have a tail or I can shoot fire out of my eyes.”

The way they treat mutation in this film, it’s very much like homosexuality. Bobby Drake, the Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), convinces his parents to send him to the X-Men boarding school for gifted kids, without them knowing that he has the ability to control and create ice. But when he “comes out” to them, they have no idea how to respond. It’s as if he’s telling them he’s gay. And they say, “We still love you anyway. Despite all of that, we still love you.” It’s so hollow that he ends up turning his back on them, saying, “The X-Men are my family now — they understand.”

Geezer: I really dug the way each superhero’s individuality is explored in very visual ways — in particular, Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming), Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), Storm (Halle Berry), Rogue (Anna Paquin) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) — though much too quickly for Colossus (Daniel Cudmore) who could have been a really cool character.

Weezer: Yeah, the writers and execs down at Marvel knew people like me were going to really get off on seeing Colossus on-screen. But that was just a big tease.

Geezer: Yet the film’s unwilling to go further with those characterizations and explore them as part of the way its climax occurs. X2 climaxes just the way James Bond movies do, the way any action movie does — like, “Will they make it in time to save humanity?” — and I know that’s a comic-book kind of theme …

Weezer: Saving the world …

Geezer: But at its three-quarter point, X2 bogs down in that stuff.

Weezer: After they leave Bobby’s parents’ house, it’s just taking a breather. The set-up is just there to display the characters who’re going to shine in any environment. Whether there’s an awesome resolution or not doesn’t mean that much to me. So it could be like Bond at the end, but at that point I’m so engaged with the characters that I don’t mind.

Geezer: Action movies all feel obliged to arrive at an apocalyptic moment, as if the audience won’t be satisfied unless that occurs. It’s sort of like the cum shot in a porn flick.

Weezer: But the tensest scene of X2 isn’t about saving the world — it’s when the X-Men’s lives are in danger and you feel for these characters as individuals. You want them to prevail.

Geezer: The really interesting part is how the mutants are a parallel society alongside a humanity that’s estranged from them and would even like to destroy them, without realizing that the mutants have the power all along to completely annihilate “normal” humans.

Weezer: Just Xavier by himself could kill everyone on the planet. At literally the drop of a hat, this mutant fighting force can be inside the White House, surrounding the President, whenever they want … and they’re the good guys.

Geezer: X2 is extremely cynical about the police, but it’s obviously not expressing anything new about them to its audience.

Weezer: That’s why you have no problem seeing Wolverine kill 20 Special Forces agents — he goes berserk, screaming and slashing, when they invade the school. He’s payback. In other stories, superheroes, because of their morals, don’t kill the bad guys. In this setting, Wolverine takes revenge on all the trigger-happy goons and you’re happy to see them go. He’s got a leather jacket, rides a Harley, smokes big cigars and is even almost outside the X-Men, like a god of vengeance. He crosses the line, but he’s defending the kids. And Jackman is a perfect Wolverine.

Geezer: He’s Superman combined with Johnny Rotten. That’s what I mean about making thematic use of the power of a particular hero … to put him in a situation where you need him to do what he does.

Weezer: The story is typical comic-book, but it’s a great trip with awesome special effects and characters. I want more, so Singer, get to work on X3.

George Tysh (Geezer) is the Metro Times arts editor. Bruno Tysh (Weezer) is a high school senior. E-mail them at gtysh@metrotimes.com.

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