X-Men (2000)/####/**** When the U.S. government threatens a newly-evolved race of mutant humanoids, the mutants battle over whether to destroy mankind. [Dir: Bryan Singer/ Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen/ 104min/ SciFi-Fantasy, Action-Adventure/ Goverment as Bigot, Social Tolerance]
This film opens with a very powerful scene: a young boy separated from his parents in a Nazi death camp is trying to fight his way back to them. Suddenly something strange happens: as he reaches out for them, a power he emits pulls apart everything metal in the area. As it turns out, this boy is one of the first of a new race of mutants. Only years later will he learn how to harness his power and become Magneto, a mutant who can bend metal at will. And he will never forget the lessons of the Holocaust.
Fast-forward to current times. In the U.S., mutants have become sufficiently numerous that the public is beginning to take notice. Responding to popular anti-mutant fears, an influential McCarthyite-type senator proposes mandatory mutant "registration." "Registration" may be a prelude to something else, perhaps something more sinister. In any case, Magneto isn't going to wait to find out. Seeing what he believes to be the beginning of another genocide, (as the Holocaust too began with such registration) he determines to make a pre-emptive strike on humanity.
He is opposed in this regard by an equally powerful but more generously-minded mutant, Professor Xavier. Xavier hopes for reconciliation with humanity and meanwhile operates a "school for the gifted," actually a secret school for young mutants, where he teaches them to use their powers for good. His students call themselves "X-Men." And so the battle ensues between Magneto and Professor Xavier's heroic X-Men, with the fate of humanity hanging in the balance.
There are several things libertarians will like about this story. First and foremost is the dominant social tolerance theme. The mutants are hated and feared not because of anything they have done but because they are different. It is this collectivist "group think" that is the root evil here. This social tolerance theme is underscored by the chosen location for much of the action--Ellis Island. The mutants are, in a sense, immigrants to humanity.
Second, this is a terrific parable for the way government divides people. Magneto's memories of the Holocaust coupled with the current-day U.S. government's proposed mandatory mutant "registration," give him reasonable fear with regard to the intentions of humanity. His actions in turn give humanity reasonable fear of mutants. This mutual fear lays the groundwork for inevitable conflict.
And third, there are parallels to gun registration in this story; indeed, this comes up explicitly when the proposed registration of mutants is justified at one point by the precedent of gun registration. The government wants to register the mutants because they are strong and therefore feared. It raises the whole question generally of whether an individual's power should be limited simply because others are worried.
This film has all that going for it, plus it's first-rate entertainment! It has a solid underlying story and a very imaginative cast of characters. It's ironic, but this film, based on a comic book, actually has more depth than most. There's no simple-minded megalomaniac or psycho driving this tale. The motivations of even the "bad guys" are, in a way, reasonable if incorrect. The fantastic characters of this film include: Wolverine, a man who has unlimited regenerative power; Storm, a woman who can summon the weather to do her bidding; Cyclops, a man who fires a powerful laser from his eyes; and Mystique, a woman who can assume the shape of any other person. Also in the plus column is: terrific theme music, perfect casting (Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart are superb in the lead roles), state of the art special effects, and tight editing.
I really enjoyed this film and was delighted that the ending seemed to set it up for a sequel. We could use more like this. When a film has the unusual quality of offering a distinct appeal to both social tolerance advocates and gun-owners, you know it's one of ours.
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Copyright © 2000 by Jon Osborne.