As usual I’m late to the party when it comes to seeing the Big Release films. No, I’m not about to talk about The Matrix but the latest XMen movie, X2, which we watched yesterday. Since the movie has been out for weeks I’ll be quite happy to issue a singleSpoiler Alert
and get on with things.
I’d been hyped-up by many emails, bearing titles like “X2 Rocks!!!” and so forth. I have quite a few friends and acquaintances who have worked on the show, from the VisFX supe on down. So many people, in fact, that even as the film was rolling through the second act I was keenly aware that there were simply too many hands on this thing. By the time the end credits appeared, it was spelled plainly — the credites were long, drawn-out, as numbing as the Vietnam Memorial in scope, and just when you thought they had ended, then the visual effects credits begin to roll, one company after another, each house providing a little smoke here, a colored eyeball there, and none of them with enough stake to ever really grandstand and amaze the audience. With so many voices at play, none of them really get heard; one is only aware of the dull roar from their presence.
My typical response to this sort of filmmaking has been protective — it’s hard not to imagine that producers prefer to contract-out many small bits to effects houses, because it keeps any one house from being powerful. It keeps the market ghettoized through excess competition, and crushes the aspirations of all. Effects and animation may be crucial for a film’s success, but producers want to ensure that effects are just a commodity item — they could really care less whether they are suppiled by Cinesite or Peter Kuran or Pixibox, as long as the schedule is met and the bids are low. Even if spectacular animation and imagery were the only reason for an audience to see a film (and on occasion, this is quite true), the producers still see animation as a “below the line” cost — one that has little impact of the Real Business of Hollywood, the great celebrity mechanism of movie stars and licensed properties.
But in X2, even those qualities are buried. The mechanically-predictable story lacks any sort of inner life, its surprises are only surprising because they are preposterous. While actors’ names may appear on the marquee, there are no leads in X2 — with the possible exception of Hugh Jackman no actor seems to have more screen time than they might have gotten from shooting a half-dozen TV spots.
The first movie had exactly these worthy qualities. Wolverine hurled out the truck window — brilliant, personal. But in this lumbering bus of a movie we get Alan Cumming’s ridiculous attempts to look devout and a Jean Grey who needs to be carried to the airplane, yet a moment later sprints out of it to her nonsensical doom.
Professor X asks in the film’s introductory narration if mutants are step in humanity’s evolutionary chain or a whole new species. Hello? Isn’t evolution the creation of new species? Did you consider that maybe when Darwin wrote Origin of the Species that maybe the two ideas had some connection? Is this the theme of the movie, or is it what the movie’s about?
There are a lot of dead bodies left in the wake of X2’s plot. We see a number of small children witness Wolverine methodically murdering members of the SWAT team. Policemen are incinerated, guards shredded, soldiers detonated, pulversized, and drowned (their bodies and body parts are conveniently missing when the X-Men return to the same parts of the set a few moments later). Eventually, Professor X is duped into using a secret military copy of the Cerebro computer to launch a mental attack on every non-mutant on the planet. We see footage of them screaming, holding their heads, lying on the floor foaming. Fortunately, of course, the attack is halted at the last second. The X-Men escape before the whole place is swept away beneath a bursting dam.
The first of two epilogues caps the insults to credibility. The President of the United States, who has already been nearly assasinated by a mind-controlled Nightcrawler, is about to go live on the air with a speech in response to the global attack on people everywhere (oddly, the introductory shots, of the President walking through halls and having a conversation constantly peppered with distracting “good morning” greetings, is one of the better moments in the show, interesting and credible). He sits down in the oval office, surrounded by media and stage lighting, his speech already prepared and loaded into the teleprompter. He will announce, one assumes, the re-introduction of the Mutant Registration Act, or perhaps something even more severe.
At this moment, the X-Men arrive, and through Professor X’s trickery they freeze the lights, the camera, the action. The throng around the President are as still and unconscious as statues. Only the President himslef sees the X-Men, and they give him paperwork revealing that Stryker and his military minions are to blame for both the assassination attempt and the subsequent worldwide “event.” The President glances at the papers — Professor X tells the President that “we will be watching” and advises him to do the right thing. The X-Men leave, the lights come back on, the people are re-animated, and the shaken President resumes his speech while fingering the documents. Everything will be All Better, so the X-Men go home to tell the (gee, not traumatized at all!) children fairy tales.
Okay, now if you, like us, have already been squeezed for $15 on this picture, stop your thoughts right here and place youself in the President’s chair.
- Every non-mutant in the world has fallen over in screaming pain for a few minutes, just hours earlier. Hospitals are overloaded, cars and airplanes have crashed, construction has halted, surgical patients and the infirm have died, swimmers have drowned, this is a catastrophe like the world has never seen.
- One assumes that they have noticed that mutants were unaffected, or at the very least have connected the notions that fantastical, physics-defying stuff like this is associated with mutants. After all, mutant Public Enemy #1 is a known escapee, and two F16's have already been lost, in domestic airspace, attempting to defend the United States against some unknown adversary. The number of persons injured on the ground is perhaps unknown.
- The one unit of the government responsible for the handling of mutants like Enemy #1 is missing or known to have been slaughtered in the disaster at Alkali Lake Dam.
- The "incident" was caused by a machine supposedly built by taxpayer money, now submerged beneath the suddenly much-larger Alkali Lake. However, a superior version of this supposed machine is known to exist beneath Xavier's mansion. In fact it has already been examined by military operatives.
- You have the original documents showing all this, right in your hand.
So in other words, the President is left with two public scenarios:
Sorry about that, I authorized a lot of secret military projects, as did my predecessors, and one of them got a little out of control and nearly killed everyone on the planet. Gee, guess I should look at those papers a little more closely when I’m signing ‘em, huh? Anyway, no problem, don’t worry about it, nothing a few million gallons of water can’t fix. Carry on. Hey, it was just an innocent little boo-boo, put down those bombs painted “Death to America,” we are so on top of this thing!
Mutants committed this terrible evil, and we must band together to ensure that this sort of terrorism never occurs again. We must not live in fear of the random annihilation of our families, loved ones, and way of life. We will institute a police state to ensure that everyone feels safer from this hard-to-identify threat, even as we accumulate more and more power. We know the mechanism used to perpetrate this heinous act, and we are working quickly to seize this terrifying weapon (strictly for humanitarian purposes, of course).
Gee, as if there was any doubt about that one. Sorry, Charlie.
The second epilogue is just pure marketing pitch masquerading as mystical profundity, the camera traveling over the now-still waters of Alkali Lake under a narration voiced by… Jean Grey? And in the rippling reflections we can see the faint outline of a Dark Phoenix logo. Oh joy, a sequel.