A Magnificent Moment From The First X-Men Movie

The original X-Men movie, released in the year 2000, is a flawed, but highly enjoyable movie.  This movie helped to set the stage for the insanely prosperous series of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies.  X-Men was a successful movie that did some things right and some things not so right.  The casting was a strong point of the movie.  Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart were born to portray the characters of Wolverine and Professor Xavier.  However, the very likable  Anna Paquin  was miscast as Rouge.  Overall the casting of Halle Berry, James Marsden, Famke Jannsen, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Ian McKellen, Tyler Mane, Shawn Ashmore and Ray Park  works well. Another strong point of the movie is the focus on character first, action second.  There are a few fantastic action sequences in the movie. Overall as an action movie X-Men is far from the best example in superhero movie genre.  However, it is as a character driven superhero movie where X-Men succeeds and excels. 

It is often said that a movie is only as good as its villain.  In Ian McKellen the X-Men has a phenomenal villain.  McKellen’s portrayal of Magneto, the X-Men’s most famous antagonist, is spectacular.  Much credit must be given to those responsible for his casting.  McKellen has an incredible screen presence and he brings a great deal of weight to the role.  His incredible acting skills enabled him to overcome the shortcomings of a portion of the character’s costume.  The bulk of Magneto’s costume works quite well, from the padded chest to the long, flowing cape.  The costume designers wisely did not dress him in spandex.  The well made and elegant cloth costume stays true to the comic book versions.  The issue is the helmet.  In the X-Men comic books the helmet is a vital, visual aspect of Magneto’s costume.  As many superhero movies and television shows have proven, what works on the comic book page does not always work on the screen.  A great costume design on the page does not always translate to the practical on the screen.  For the big screen the design of Magneto’s helmet is slight modified.  The writers were able to work in a practical purpose for the character to wear the helmet. Truth be told the character would have been fine without it. 

Considering McKellen’s superior acting abilities it is no surprise that he is a part of many of the movie’s best moments.  One of those moments is a brief, but highly impactful, sequence on a train.  The characters of Wolverine and Rogue are traveling by train,  returning to Xavier’s School For Gifted Youngsters.  The train is abruptly halted and the train car is mysteriously torn open.  The metal splits apart effortlessly, as if it were made of aluminum foil. There is a brief pause before the source of the destruction is revealed.  Magneto suddenly appears in full costume, in an impressive display of his mutant abilities.  This sequence is not the first time that Magneto is shown utilizing his powers in the movie.  It is the first time that we see a fuller picture of his vast abilities. 

The execution of the scene, thus far, is superb.  In a movie filled with CGI, good and bad, the bulk of the special effects in the train sequence are practical effects.  The scene makes great use of wirework, sets, lighting, music, sound effects and smoke. None of the effects would have worked without the exceptional acting of McKellen and  Jackman. 

Wolverine immediately stands to ascertain the chaotic situation.  As Magnetic slowly and calmly floats through the air we immediately identify with Wolverine.  The sense of astonishment and wonder on his face is the same feeling that we share watching the scene unfold.  The occupants of the train car react to the events with fear and panic.  Magneto calmly sets foot into the train car.  As he slowly approaches his targets, Magneto already seems confident that the encounter will end in his favor.    The brilliance of this brief sequence featuring Magneto’s entrance is a combination of well executed editing and acting.    Wolverine immediately jumps into fray. His actions displaying a reflection of  the heroic nature of his character. Too this point in the story Wolverine came across as a self centered loner. Unbeknownst to Wolverine, his biggest asset will be his greatest liable against Magneto.  Magneto confidently and decisively immobilizes Wolverine.  To this point it is thought that Magneto is in pursuit of Wolverine.  Magneto quickly dismisses Wolverine’s assumption and reveals that his target is actually Rogue.  In a great bit of acting from Jackman, Wolverine’s realization of Magneto’s true intentions and his own helplessness to stop him flash across his face without dialogue.  Magneto, with the causal wave of a finger, swiftly and violently defeats Wolverine.  He is then able to obtain his quarry without effort.  His previous attempt to obtain Rouge failed.  He sent Sabretooth, one of his underlings,  who failed as he faced unexpected resistance from Storm and Cyclops.  Sometimes if you want something done right you have to do it yourself.

There are many memorable scenes and moments amongst the many Marvel and DC superhero movies and television shows.  All these years later the train sequence in the first  X-Men movie remains one of my favorite scenes from any superhero movie.  That is a testament to the fine work of the director, the actors, the editors and special effects teams. Special mention must me made for Hugh Jackman and Ian McKellen.  Their hard work and dedication truly brought these characters to life.  Overall the movie succeeds because all involved took the material seriously.  X-Men was a turning point for the superhero/comic book movie genre and a wakeup call to Hollywood.  Even with this film’s financial success no one could have predicted how incredibly lucrative the genre would become in a few short years.        

Troy T.

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