Nothing But Memory

Marvel Movies Project: X-Men

In my first Marvel Movies Project post about Blade, I noted that it was partly Blade the character’s relative obscurity that made Blade the film’s success such a positive step for Marvel on film: if even Blade, 1970s Vampire Hunter, could sell tickets, surely some of Marvel’s really popular characters would do even better.

Enter the X-Men, dominant characters in the world of comics — according to Marvel, they were selling about 30 million X-Men-related comics every year by the time the first film based on the characters was being produced — and beyond: a very popular animated series based on the X-Men comics ran on Fox Kids from 1992 to 1997. According to Wikipedia, it was at least in part the success of the cartoon that inspired 20th Century Fox to buy the film rights to the characters in 1993.

X-Men (2000)

The resulting film was released in 2000. And Fox definitely got the bang they expected from their buck: the world’s most beloved team of mutants’ first foray onto the big screen grossed $54 million on its opening weekend, making poor old Blade‘s previously impressive $70 million total US box office look like a pittance. Ultimately, X-Men brought in about $296 million worldwide, which, okay, doesn’t even put it in the top 10 Marvel movies anymore. But at the time, it was a big deal.

The movie, directed by Bryan Singer, presents the ideological conflict between two mutant leaders who are also old friends: Magneto (the awesome Ian McKellen) and Professor Charles Xavier (the also awesome Patrick Stewart). Magneto, much like Deacon Frost in Blade, wants to see humans subjugated to a superior race — in this case, mutants. He believes regular humans will never accept mutants, so mutants must claim their rightful place in the world by force. Professor Xavier, meanwhile, remains hopeful that someday mutants and humans can coexist in peace and wants to to work with human leaders to achieve that goal. Professor X runs a school for “gifted” (mutant) children, where the teachers include X-Men team members Scott “Cyclops” Summers, Jean Grey, and Ororo “Storm” Munroe. Wolverine and Rogue come to the school after the X-Men rescue them from an attack by Magneto’s crew. Eventually, the team realizes that Magneto has a plan to turn many world leaders into mutants — and that Rogue is the key piece in his plan.

I re-watched X-Men last week for this project, but — unlike Blade, which I hadn’t watched since it first came out — I’ve seen the movie several times. In fact, X-Men was one of the DVDs I bought on the day I bought my first DVD player (along with The Matrix and season one of Buffy), which is to say that I really like this film. I think it does a great job of introducing the viewer to the world of mutants by showing Magneto and Rogue’s frightening origin stories. The furtive look that passes between Rogue and Wolverine at the bar in Alberta when the story about mutants is on TV also tells us a lot about the kind of secrecy and shame mutants have to deal with. I like the relationship between Rogue and Wolverine as it’s portrayed in the movie. Anna Paquin and Hugh Jackman have good chemistry and both do some nice work with their characters.

Speaking of Hugh Jackman: he has to be considered one of the best Marvel movie actors. I can’t prove this, but I’m going to go ahead and say everyone loves Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Why? Because despite being a full foot taller than Wolverine, and despite doing a lot of musical theatre, which I can’t help feeling Wolverine would disapprove of (I, on the other hand, can’t wait to see Les Mis), and despite not actually being Canadian (a serious flaw) — despite having all those obstacles to overcome … he’s bloody fantastic. Plus, he’s played the role five times so far (including his best-part-of-the-movie two-second cameo in X-Men: First Class) with two more projects in development, according to IMDb (The Wolverine, which is in production now, and the First Class sequel X-Men: Days of Future Past). That, my friends — that is dedication.

Thumbs up for Hugh Jackman.

One of the truly interesting pieces of X-Men movie trivia is how close we came to being deprived of this extended run of cinematic excellence. Russell Crowe, soon to be seen as Jackman’s nemesis in Les Misérables, was originally offered the role of Wolverine, but he wanted too much money so they went with Dougray Scott. From Entertainment Weekly:

Singer […] was set to roll last summer [1999]. Then came the monkey wrenches. First there was Fox’s decision to move X-Men from Xmas 2000 up to July 14, putting pressure on Singer to get the film into postproduction as quickly as possible, since it required more than 500 special effects. Complicating matters was actor Dougray Scott, originally cast as Wolverine, whose availability became increasingly doubtful as shooting on M:I-2 ran long. Singer was forced to start filming in September without him, and ultimately Scott had to drop out. It wasn’t until late October that Singer got Scott’s replacement: Hugh Jackman, a charismatic Aussie coming off Trevor Nunn’s acclaimed London stage production of Oklahoma!

There is probably some horrific, Fringe-like alternative timeline in which Fox never moved up the release date and now Dougray Scott is playing Jean Valjean.

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