At some point in my youth I became interested in Marvel comics. I do not recall exactly what was the trigger. There were vague references to certain characters among my earliest memories. The old The Incredible Hulk television show was in reruns when I was a child, and every kid knew about Spiderman. But I never collected the comics until my family moved to Florida. While out exploring the area on my bike, I discovered a comic book store nearby and it became one of my haunts. And for whatever reason, I became drawn to Marvel’s cast of characters more so than DC. It was around this same time that the X-Men animated series began airing. I have since re-watched all the episodes and it is . . . weird. You cannot beat that theme music, though. This only fueled my love for that particular team, thus I was thrilled as a young man when X-Men (2000) was released. The actual movie is, um . . . alright?
The comic, the animated series, and now the X-Men movie have traditionally focused on the bigotry that society feels towards anyone who is deemed different. It starts with one of the worst times of racial violence in our world’s history, the Holocaust, where a young Eric Lensherr (Brett Morris) is being separated from his parents at a concentration camp. The trauma of this event causes his powers to manifest, a common occurrence for people when they find out they are mutants, in this case giving him the ability to manipulate metal. In the present time, a much older Eric (Ian McKellen), now going by Magneto, is present for a government hearing where Senator Kelly (Bruce Davison) proposes what is called the Mutant Registration Act. This legislation would force mutants to reveal their powers and identities so they could be monitored by the government. Magneto opposes this, as does his old friend Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), known to his students as Professor X and a mutant with telekinetic and mind reading powers. However, they have two different styles of voicing their displeasure. Magneto wants to see open war between mutants and humans, whereas Professor X seeks peaceful co-existence. That such a bill is being proposed speaks to the state of distrust that exists between the two groups. We next get a more personal look at this mutant racism when we are introduced to Marie D’Ancanto (Anna Paquin), who has run away from home when her dormant powers surface when she kisses a boy for the first time. She flees the hatred directed at her and adopts the moniker Rogue because the danger of her physically touching someone causes her to feel alone. Stopping off at a snowy truck stop in the middle of nowhere Canada, she encounters Logan (Hugh Jackman), a loner mutant himself whose dog tags identify him as Wolverine. In addition to healing quickly from any wound, he has an unbreakable metal skeleton and razor sharp claws that extend from between his fingers. They quickly discover who each other really are, though Logan wants nothing to do with Rogue. Nonetheless, she stows away in his truck as he drives off, only to be on hand when they are attacked by other mutants. This is when the title group step in and save them from capture. As it turns out, these other mutants are henchmen of Magneto, who is trying to collect others like him for the war he is sure will come. He also aims to teach Senator Kelly a lesson. After kidnapping him, Magneto exposes the congressman to a process he has developed that speeds up the evolutionary process in people and makes them into mutants. However, these new talents enable Senator Kelly to escape. He is also picked up by the X-Men. Thus he, along with Logan and Rogue, are taken to Professor X’s school for gifted children, a place where mutants can develop their abilities in the safety of an academic structure. Rogue, however, still has trouble fitting in and decides to run away, whereby she is found by Magneto’s gang. Believing the process with Senator Kelly to be successful, Magneto plans to use Rogue to spread this evolutionary process all over New York City. What the master of metal does not know is that the process eventually killed Senator Kelly, though it is doubtful it would have mattered anyway. Feeling vaguely responsible for Rogue, Logan joins the rest of the X-Men to save her and stop Magneto.
As a younger man watching X-Men, I was not all that impressed with it. Chalk it up is yet another case of reality not living up to expectations. More concretely, much of the blame can be placed on the awful way Marvel sold off the film rights to its characters piecemeal to various production companies, making it hard to come up with a movie that would truly please fans. These are the reasons why I did not enjoy it when I was in my twenties. Watching it again now, I am struck more by its message of tolerance, which fits well with my Catholic Faith. Nonetheless, the aspect I would like to focus more on is the topic of evolution. The point is made throughout that mutants are simply the next step of human evolution, just arriving there a little sooner. Given how controversial a subject that theory has been since its inception in the nineteenth century, at least cinematically you can understand the tone of hatred towards such people. There are, in fact, Christians who still question evolution, and to be fair there is a reason why it is still referred to as a theory. Gravity is a “law,” meaning science has proven its existence beyond any doubt. Evolution has not quite reached that stage. The evidence is compelling, but there are still gaps. With us humans, there is still that concrete “missing link,” the one example of a human predecessor that proves mankind descended from apes. Whatever it is you believe on this issue, I am not here to argue with you. Instead, I would like to point out that the Bible does not definitively contradict or agree with such a notion. For us Catholics, we allow for the possibility of evolution. It is a matter of Biblical interpretation, but I wanted to take this moment to say that Catholicism is not a religion of science deniers. Thus we can watch a film like this without having to squirm in our seats whenever it mentions evolution.
Watching X-Men is kind of cute when you consider all that Marvel has done since 2000, and is continuing to do. The special effects are incredibly passé, though I am sure they looked amazing when it came out. It has some good messages of tolerance and fighting to protect the weak. It muddles about in telling it, which is understandable whenever you have an ensemble cast. Their later movies did better with the required juggling act whenever you have so many characters. The film is rated PG-13, but there is nothing too outrageous in it. It is not spectacular, but more like an interesting relic. Since Marvel has announced that it is rebooting the whole franchise, I look forward to seeing how that turns out. In the meantime, we can always revisit this old friend on Disney +.