Needing a break and looking to tear myself away from my usual routine, I went to the movies last night and watched the latest installment of the X-Men franchise. It was okay. Here are eleven thoughts I had at or that were stimulated by the film.
- I’m not wild about the secret or alternate history genre in movies (more so than books) because it is often done in a ham-handed way by going to the largest or most notable events in the past and attributing them to the central conceit of the story. It might appeal to some people, but I find it simultaneously dull and pandering.
- The longer a franchise runs and the more any of the movies nod toward true ensemble casts, the more likely that later installments devolve into a string of cameo appearance.
- I really like Peter Dinklage’s voice.
- Eric Lehnsherr (Magneto) is a brilliant character, and I like how Michael Fassbender/Ian McKellen play him. He is a powerful character, but beyond his manipulation of magnetism, he is a Holocaust survivor with incredible charisma and will power, one who melds both the outcast ideology of Zionism with the Nazi ideology of racial supremacy, a revolutionary and a terrorist, but one with a (e)utopian vision, a man who has a God-complex, but who is also a good friend. These combine to make him really compelling to watch.
- One set of cameos was mutants serving in the army in Vietnam. They are about to be taken away experimented on when they are rescued. It was early enough in the film that I assumed that this would be some sort of Chekhov’s Gun. In a way, it was, but the men being rescued only served as bit-pieces for a cheap tug on the heart-strings. Again, a ham-handed effort to show depth to the world of the story, but comes across poorly because clumsy sleight of hand reveals exactly how deep the story is rather than creating the illusion that this is just the beginning.
- I cannot think of a dramatic portrayal of Nixon that I have ever found compelling.
- There were some pretty special-effects in X-Men and between some good acting, interesting characters, and the effects, there were the makings of a good story. It made sense in the past-present are brought together for the time-travel portion of the plot, but the transitions between the two timelines were often nearly symmetrical, a feature that I found oddly jarring.
- The “present” timeline really only served to heighten dramatic tension to the movie, which was a waste, given the actors whose role was to sit around and act concerned…or over-used since its main point was to remind everyone that they were on a deadline that would inevitably expire just as the “past” timeline reached its resolution.
- The frequent glossing between “mind,” “brain,” “psychic energy” and the like bothers me. I realize that this is super-hero/comic book neuroscience, but I’m waiting for the Marvel documentary that explains “the science” at work here. In the meantime, this strikes me as a verbal dodge of the sort found in bad science fiction. I can suspend disbelief to a point, but when you start pulling obvious word-game mumbo-jumbo it is a bridge too far.
- I am a sap when it comes to the obligatory motivational speech about humanity with the proper musical accompaniment, but while there was the occasional excellent line in this film, the writing was not transcendent or even consistently clever and interesting. Good writing punches up good characters, and it is unfortunate when characters cannot constantly present themselves as interesting/intelligent/charismatic as they are supposed to be because the writing doesn’t allow it. But this may be a topic for consideration on its own.
- The central plot of X-Men is that they go back in time to rescue a defense contractor in order to save the future. It is a nice message that you shouldn’t kill people and the contractor doesn’t entirely get away, though only through his own hubris, not his experiments on people or the central project he worked on. But saving the future by saving a large defense contract is a fairly depressing conceit to hang your plot on. At least in the animated series they had to rescue the President.
There are eleven thoughts. The movie, with its 8.4/10 ranking on IMDB was solidly okay 7 or 7.5/10, plus or minus a bit depending on what you care most about in a movie. I had hoped to go somewhere where I could not multitask and didn’t have a dozen other things to do as a means of hopefully recharging my spent fuel cells. Sometimes the movie theater experience can re-focus me. I did not achieve the ideal outcome, but, in X-Men’s defense, it is entirely possible that I was unable to get that immersive experience because I have several dozen other things on my mind.