A sequel-opportunity tale,'X2'

A neato article the NY Daily News has on the X-Men movie phenomenon. Click on the link to read the whole thing, but beware.... SPOILERS!
Mutants give fresh lesson in tolerance


LOS ANGELES - Remember "Batman and Robin"? Most moviegoers would rather forget that 1997 debacle. The fourth installment in the Batman franchise was so anemic, it alienated fans, appalled critics and nearly killed off the comic-book movie.
Then came "X-Men."

Based on the popular Marvel comic about a race of highly evolved mutants, the summer 2000 film far surpassed commercial expectations, making $294 million worldwide and providing a shot of adrenaline to the comic-action genre.

Both hard-core enthusiasts and new fans praised director Bryan Singer ("The Usual Suspects") for creating a film that combined action with intelligence and soulfulness.

It was more than snazzy pyrotechnics and an attractive cast (including Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, James Marsden and Anna Paquin) that propelled "X-Men" commercially, allowed it to transcend its teenage male fan base and compel its director to print 11,000 copies of the sequel, "X2," which opens in theaters around the globe May 2. According to Singer, the movie will have one of the biggest single-day releases in history.

"Our film stands in its own universe," says Singer. "It's about more than just the comic characters and their uniforms and good and evil. There's something else going on."

The story of a battle between two philosophically opposed mutant factions, one preaching peaceful coexistence with humans, the other, aggression and the eventual annihilation of the human race, "X-Men" promoted a message of tolerance and understanding.

"X2" expands on those themes, but has the divergent mutant groups joining forces against a common enemy: the fascist arm of the American military, led by a xenophobic general (Brian Cox).

It is the films' central message of tolerance, stemming from the story's original historical context, that sets them apart from other comic-book-driven movies.

In contrast to the wholesome and relatively uncomplicated superheroes of its chief rival, DC Comics (home to Superman and Batman), Marvel heroes (who also include Spider-Man and the Hulk) are plagued with ambivalence, self-doubt and existential angst.

Created in the early '60s during the civil-rights movement, the X-Men comic, since its inception, "has commented on everything from sociopolitical unrest to adolescence," notes Singer, "and that's what has always made the X-Men and the other Marvel universes so appealing and so timeless. You're dealing with a lot of reluctant superheroes, and people can relate to that."

With oddball abilities ranging from telepathy to body-morphing to controlling the weather, the X-Men are the ultimate group of misfits. That is also the key to their popularity.

Almost everyone has felt like an outsider or a freak at some point in his life. As co-screenwriter Michael Dougherty observes, "No matter what minority group you belong to, no matter your race, creed or sexual orientation, you can find an X-Men character to identify with."

Indeed, unlike other comic-book subcultures, "X-Men" has an ardent, vocal gay following. And it's not hard to see why. "If you look at the subtext of 'X-Men' and 'X2,'" notes E! Online columnist Anderson Jones, "they're two of the gayest movies ever made.

"They're [constructed] with an awareness of what people on the outside go through. They take their differences and blow them up into superpowers, and that's one of the main reasons they work."

Jones, who is African-American and gay, adds, "I'm much more apt to believe that mutants are living among us and being persecuted in this country than I would accept that a guy from Krypton suddenly [dropped] to Earth."

Singer admits that one of "X2's" pivotal scenes was conceived as "a classic coming-out moment that goes terribly wrong." When teenager Bobby Drake, aka Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), returns home to tell his parents that he's a mutant, his parents react with consternation and his little brother calls the cops. The scene is also a chilling reminder of the climate of vulnerability and paranoia in which we are living post-Sept. 11.

"That's entirely coincidental," says co-writer Dan Harris. "The story was conceived before the terrorist attacks" and was never intended as an allegorical critique of current events.

Still, the writers couldn't help noticing parallels between real life and the fictitious world of "X2."

"Every once in a while we asked ourselves, 'Are we making a 9/11 commentary?'" says Dougherty.

"But that's the nature of comics. They always reflect the time in which they're created."

Originally published on April 24, 2003

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