Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Opposing Characters: X-Men

Considering the number of X-Men films currently released (nine in total) and being made such as Logan (and others in development including possible adaptations of X-Force, The Dark Phoenix, and The New Mutants), one would think that Bryan Singer's original X-Men (2000) was a massive success. However, this first X-Men adaptationreceived very mixed reviews during its release. In fact, the most successful X-Men films were spin offs such as The Wolverine and Deadpool instead of other films under the specific 'X-Men' title.

This is interesting because the release of the X-Men comics were also met with criticism and was cancelled (later to be revived). This could be because, "when Marvel Comics mastermind Stan Lee (co-creator of Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Incredible Hulk, etc.) first cooked up the 'X-Men' series in 1963, its mutant vs. normal conflict was a provocative, usually serious-minded commentary of concurrent civil rights struggles," (Harvey, 2000). Both X-Men (2000) and X2 (2003) received criticism over its pessimistic views of discrimination. It is admittedly pessimistic and dark in terms of society's intolerance for people who are different but that is unfortunately representative of our society even today.

Fig 1. X-Men (2000)

At the same time, many met the first X-Men film with enthusiasm. It is often praised for its special effects such as the makeup/appearance of the evil shapeshifter Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) and the computer effects used as she changes her appearance. It is also very interesting to see the different powers that the mutants are born with such as telekinesis, telepathy, the power to control weather, and many more. It is often said by critics that the film spent too much time cramming in as many different characters as possible. This was always going to cause issues with this film considering there are several main characters, some being Rogue (Anna Paquin), Cyclops (James Marsden), Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Storm (Halle Berry). There are also many other minor characters throughout the film, and quite a few characters that were originally in the comics that do not make an appearance such as Gambit and Scarlet Witch.

Despite the criticism of there being too many characters but not enough depth to these characters, there was significant development for the characters Magneto (Ian Mckellen) and Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Hugh Jackman's performance as Wolverine/Logan was also met with praise, so much so that he has reprised the role in (so far) every X-Men related film that features his character. Hugh Jackman's portrayal of Wolverine put him among the better performances along with Ian Mckellen's Magneto and Patrick Stewart's Professor Xavier, "The two-fisted Wolverine, well played by Mr. Jackman, is perhaps the only other semi-rounded character who animates the picture besides Xavier and Magneto," (Mitchell, 2000).

The flatness of the other characters seems to emphasize the relationship between the opposing forces of Magneto and Xavier. It refocuses the audience to remember that the main antagonist is Magneto and the protagonist is Xavier despite their relative lack of physical conflict compared to the other super-powered battles between their minions/allies. These are two older men with two opposing views of the world. Xavier is optimistic that humans will come to accept mutants and there will be no more discrimination or violence. Magneto, on the other hand, has a much more pessimistic view and believes that they cannot co-exist- it is kill or be killed.

Fig 2. Erik Lehnsherr (young Magneto) During The Holocaust

While Magneto is the antagonist of the story and causes harm to innocent people, it is hard to blame him for doing these things. In the beginning of the film we are given a portion of Magneto's personal history, we learn that he is not only a mutant but a Holocaust survivor. With Professor Xavier we only get hints of his history through pieces of dialogue, the most important being he and Magneto were once friends, they helped each other build Cerebro (a machine that boosts Xavier's telepathy), and Xavier was unable to change Magneto's opinion about non-mutants. There is no question that due to their differing personal world views, Magneto has experienced how prejudice can lead to violence, death and suffering. Xavier has experienced much more kindness, compassion, and acceptance during his life in comparison. "They aren't enemies so much as ideological opposite. Magneto, having seen the Holocaust, has a deep pessimism about human nature. Xavier, who runs a school for mutants in Westchester County... hopes these new powers can be used for good," (Ebert, 2000).

Unfortunately, their inherited world is still saturated with intolerance, only this time the target is mutants instead of Jews. This makes the world of X-Men a combination of Real and Magic because it focuses on problems occurring in reality but mixes in some science fiction by making the targets mutants instead of focusing on something like race, sexuality, or gender. This is interesting because it allows the audience to better relate and understand to Magneto's distrust of the non-mutants. Because of this, his goal is to turn normal people into mutants because he needs to keep his kind (mutants) safe from violence like the Holocaust. This differs from Xavier, whose goal is to educate mutants to develop and control their powers so they can be used for the good of society. This is because he also needs to protect mutants, although he hopes to convince non-mutants to accept them.

Both Magneto and Xavier share similar external traits, they both appear to be wise and intelligent. However, they do not appear as capable of physical combat as the other characters... Professor Xavier being wheelchair bound and Magneto needing assistance walking after using his machine that turns non-mutants into mutants. However, the way they interact through dialogue reveals their internal traits such as power, passion, and intensity for their views, "listening to them trill their vowels at each other is one of the movies few pleasures, since the parallels to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Xavier) and Malcolm X (Magneto) are made wincingly plain...when they go golden throat to golden throat, it is like watching members of another species in action," (Mitchell, 2000).

Despite their wiseness, both characters have their flaws. Some of Magneto's flaws includes his age (not as physically capable), his ruthlessness (he hurts anyone who gets in his way, even mutants who he is claiming he is protecting), and his blind hate which turns him into the very think he resents (intolerant/judgemental of those different to him). His major flaw is his power's limitations which not only causes him to kidnap Rogue to power his machine instead of doing it himself, but also makes him incapable of escaping his plastic prison cell. Xavier's flaws include his inability to walk (mobility is limited, relies on others), his inability to use his powers on Magneto because of Magneto's helmet, and his vulnerability while using Cerebro (which is exploited by Mystique).

Fig 3. Xavier and Magneto Playing Chess in Prison Cell

Due to the number of different characters and the open ending of X-Men, it is difficult to determine the overall story arch for the characters. There are obvious emotional changes in characters such as Wolverine and Rogue. Wolverine went from emotionally cold and distant to being more open and caring (specifically towards Rogue) while Rogue went from fearful and isolated to more hopeful and confident. Magneto remains stubborn with his views about non-mutants, but perhaps Xavier has emotionally changed to pity Magneto while also trusting his X-Men more than he did before (he was in a coma while the rest of the team defeated Magneto and his team).

Overall, the main conflict of X-Men is not 'Magneto vs. Xavier' but Magneto's views of the world vs. Xavier's views of the world. This is interesting because it is easy to side with either character, not just 'the good guys'. Even though Magneto is the 'bad guy', one can understand why he feels the way that he does considering his experience in the Holocaust and the current intolerance of mutants. Even though the X-Men adaptation was not met with initial enthusiasm, it cannot be argued that it represents a very serious problem that people in real life face every day. Perhaps this is part of why not everyone enjoyed it, because it focused on a very touchy and uncomfortable theme but that is what makes the X-Men films and comics important - to teach people it is normal to be different.

Ebert, R. (2000) X-Men At: Accessed on: 25/10/2016
Harvey, D. (2000) Review: 'X-Men' At: Accessed on: 25/10/2016
Kennedy, C. (2000) X-Men Review At: Accessed on 25/10/2016
Mitchell, E. (2000)Film Review; Pow! Misftit Heroes To The Rescue! Zap! At: Accessed on: 25/10/2016

Illustration List:
Figure 1. X-Men [Poster] At: Accessed on: 25/10/2016
Figure 2. Erik Lehnsherr (young Magneto) During The Holocaust [Film Still] At: Accessed on: 25/10/2016
Figure 3. Xavier and Magneto Playing Chess in Prison Cell [Film Still] At: Accessed on: 25/10/2016

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