Now we’re into the big finish of Brian Singer’s 2000 adaptation of X-Men, although the term “big” may not apply so much. When we left off, Rogue had been kidnapped by Magneto’s Brotherhood of Mutants, and Professor Ex-Javier had been rendered comatose trying to track her down via a sabotaged Cerebro. But Jean figures out where they’re going.
Which turns out to be the Statue of Liberty. We’ve seen Toad working on some big apparatus he was painting light green, and now we see it peeking out from under a tarp on a boat Mystique is piloting to Liberty Island as Toad and Sabretooth clear the island of guards.
Cyclops explains the set-up to the climax via this neat 3-D tactical display that’s like an animated pinboard.
The diplomats of the U.N. Summit are meeting on Ellis Island. Magneto will set up his mutation machine on nearby Liberty Island and activate it, sending a wave of ultimately lethal mutation energy toward the diplomats. In the process, he will also catch much of Manhattan Island in the radius, killing millions. Stakes and geography explained, let’s get to the fighting.
The X-Men take off in their special stealth jet. Wolverine has been issued a special leather X-suit like the others, which he’s uncomfortable with, leading Cyclops to joke about yellow spandex just to troll the die-hard fanboys. They fly the jet in low and Storm rolls in a fogbank to disguise their final approach. Cyclops figures out that the mutation machine is hidden in a replacement torch (his first clue is probably the original torch sitting on the ground near where they disembark). One wonders how Magneto got it up there without anyone noticing.
The Mutastic Four (and seriously, why only four? I’m guessing budget, but still…) enter the lobby at the statue’s base, and there’s a brief gag with Wolverine setting off the metal detector, then giving Cyclops the middle claw.
One thing to notice here: Wolverine’s outfit has gold piping, which is missing from the others. Is this just to let everybody know who the real star is, or what?
Moments later, Wolverine smells trouble and heads off to find it. When he returns, another Wolverine attacks him, and the battle is on! One of the Wolverines is obviously Mystique in disguise, who learns the hard way that Wolverine’s claws can cut through anything, including cheap imitation claws.
They dub Mystique’s voice in for that shriek. It’s awesome and disturbing. Mystique manages to close off a heavy metal door, isolating her with Wolverine (she obviously still doesn’t realize just how dangerous he is). Meanwhile, before Jean, Cyclops and Storm can pursue, Toad attacks them.
A word about Toad: he was the most useless frickin’ villain in the history of comics. Seriously, he was so obviously comic relief and nothing but, he even dressed like a jester.
But the Toad in this movie is actually pretty awesome, managing to single-handedly take down Cyclops, Jean and Storm, at least temporarily. He kicks Cyclops into another room, then slams the door shut with his tongue, spits a glob of fast-hardening mucus onto Jean’s face, smothering her, and kicks Storm down an open elevator shaft. Then he strikes a cocky martial arts pose with this metal pole…
just to remind the audience that he was also this guy.
Which just goes to show you how times have changed. They purposely associated their movie with The Phantom Menace as a way to seem cooler. Seriously.
Even worse, as Cyclops blasts his way back into the lobby and saves Jean, Storm manages to waste this moment of complete awesome, including a really cool way to make the Cockrum blank eyes from the comics work in live action…
with the weakest line of dialogue in the entire movie (even including the most cringeworthy lines from Professor Ex-position).
Meanwhile, Mystique is kicking all kinds of Wolverine ass. She’s incredibly skilled and nimble, and just plain ruthless. It’s actually pretty awesome how completely she outclasses him. She totally deserves to win this fight. It’s just her bad luck that Wolverine is A) pretty much completely indestructible (not just because of his powers, but by fan fiat), and 2) able to recognize her scent even when she’s disguised. Wolverine stabs her through the gut and rejoins the group.
They make it to the top of the statue when Wolverine remembers that his metal skeleton makes him worse than helpless against a magnetic guy. Next thing you know, all four have been rendered helpless by Magneto’s awesome powers. After a last plea from the X-Men that he not go through with his plan, Magneto leaves Sabretooth to watch them and rises regally into the air for the culmination of his scheme.
Singer and McKellen do just about everything right with Magneto. McKellen’s performance is wonderful, mouthing pious justifications for his every evil action, while you can see on his face that he is really acting out of a long-standing and bitter grudge. And he knows it.
Meanwhile, as Sargon mentioned in comments a couple of weeks ago, Singer’s handling of Magneto’s powers, using them in completely natural and low-key ways, makes him that much more impressive a villain. He doesn’t have to huff and puff; he flicks a finger, and houses fall down.
As Magneto prepares to activate the machine, Wolverine breaks free by stabbing his claws through his own body and has a big battle atop the Statue of Liberty with Sabretooth. The fight is actually a little disappointing. Compared to the mostly awesome fight with Mystique, the battle with Sabretooth is perfunctory and clumsy, existing mainly for one eye-kick shot featuring a kind of bullet-time effect that has not aged gracefully.
Wolverine manages to defeat Sabretooth with the help of the others as Magneto is activating the machine. The final confrontation is set up so that all four X-Men are required to save Rogue and defeat Magneto. But not before the stresses of the machine put a certain iconic white streak in Rogue’s hair, so that she will more closely resemble her comic book counterpart.
When all is done, Rogue is not breathing, so Wolverine touches her face with his bare hand. Nothing happens at first, and he is sure that she is dead. But then his wounds, both the self-inflicted ones and the ones from Sabretooth’s claws, open up, and Wolverine collapses as Rogue is coming to.
And now there’s nothing left but setting up the sequel. Professor X tells Wolverine about an abandoned military base in Canada that might hold clues to his origin. Wolverine steals Cyclops’s motorcycle again when he leaves. And Xavier next visits Magneto, where he is being held in a plastic prison, which Magneto vows will not hold him for long.
Will it? We’ll see next week.
Looking at the movie as a whole, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, it was great to see these characters and their powers played straight in a (mostly) serious and adult fashion, with obvious respect for the source material. It worked for the most part, and ushered in a wave of superhero movies with big budgets and impressive action. Jackman and McKellen get real star-making turns here, and the superpowers are handled with real aplomb.
And the villainous plot, to turn the visiting world leaders into mutants, giving them a vested interest in the fair treatment of mutants worldwide, is brilliant. The old adage that the villain actually believes he’s the hero of the story is almost perfectly realized here.
On the minus side, some of the scripting and performances don’t measure up as well. The computer animated effects don’t always work well. But most of all, I think what disappoints me is the lack of scope. Magneto’s plot has scope, but the action set-pieces, from the perfunctory fight in the snow to the brief battle at the train station, to the final encounter at the Statue of Liberty, feel small and constrained. I’m sure they were facing a tight budget, but there are movies that manage to feel bigger than their budget, which this one doesn’t, at least for me.
But come back next week for the sequel, and we’ll see if the problems get rectified.