Earl Grey. Hot. Oh, wait. 😉
One of my favorite of Patrick Stewart’s non-Star Trek roles is that of Charles Xavier in the X-Men franchise, a paen to the marginalized and disenfranchised among us. It’s hard to believe the first movie is twenty years old this year. And that it’s from a time when the bulk of major studio releases weren’t superhero-related. Those were the days, right?
So yeah, we’re going to dive right in.
For those who need a refresher, the world is in a state of unrest because people are afraid of mutants. In America, Senator Kelly (Bruce Davison) is pushing for a mutant registration law and stoking the public’s fear.
Mutants, however, know better, especially Magneto (Ian McKellen). As a little boy, Magneto saw his parents taken away from him at Auschwitz. He still bears the scars of that day, as well as the number tattoo he was given. Unlike other children in the same situation, however, Magneto was able to bend the metal gate with his mind. He sees this new law as nothing more than a return to what should have been left behind forever.
Others see the registration’s danger as well. Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), Magneto’s longtime friend, pleads with Magneto not to write off regular people, but Magneto doesn’t want to hear it. Xavier is telepathic, and he searches Magneto’s brain for some hope in his friend’s thinking. Magneto warns Xavier not to get in his way.
Xavier might be a mutant himself, but he has plenty of reasons to hope. He runs a school at his mansion in upstate New York for mutant kids. While its cover story is that it’s a school for the gifted, Xavier’s academic program also trains kids to function in the real world and use their abilities for good.
Usually Xavier’s students are runaways, and they tend to find him in one way or another. One of these is Marie (Anna Paquin), a teenager from Mississippi. Marie discovers her abilities when she kisses a boy and he freezes as if the life’s been sucked out of him. She freaks out and leaves home, changing her name to Rogue.
Rogue hitches a ride up to Canada, where she goes into a bar for a drink of water. It just so happens that Logan (Hugh Jackman), aka Wolverine is working as a cage fighter. I don’t know what it is with superhero movies that there’s always a cage fight, but that’s how they roll. Anyway, Wolverine’s racket is that he leans against the cage wall, his opponent kicks him around a bit, he whips their tush, and goes back to leaning on the cage wall. Yep, he’s a total frondeur.
While Wolverine sits at the bar after the crowd has gone home, one sore loser tries to shake him down for money, and like a flash he has the guy against a wall. To her shock, Rogue sees blades coming out from between Wolverine’s knuckles, instantly teaching the guy a lesson and slicing through the gun the bar owner has pointed on him.
As he’s driving down the road later, Wolverine finds Rogue huddled under a blanket in his trailer hitch. At first he leaves her by the side of the road, then thinks better of it and lets Rogue ride with him. Generous guy that he is, Wolverine even shares his stash of beef jerky.
The road trip is short-lived, though, because Wolverine hits a fallen tree. He’s thrown from the truck, attacked by a mutant named Sabretooth (Tyler Mane), and just in case that isn’t enough fun, his camper catches fire and Rogue’s seatbelt is stuck. Long story short, they’re saved by mutants Cyclops (James Marsden), Storm (Halle Berry), and Jean (Famke Janssen), who take them to Xavier’s school.
After he recovers from his ordeal, Wolverine lurches down the hall to Xavier’s office, where he’s been led by telepathy. Xavier draws him out, finding a restless soul who can’t remember anything before he became a mutant, and who is cynical to a fault because he doesn’t know who he can trust. Wolverine is somewhat placated by Xavier’s promise to help him find out what happened to him.
Of course, things aren’t that simple, however. Wolverine and Rogue got attacked on the road because Magneto knows about his metal skeleton, and to a guy who can manipulate metal with his mind, Wolverine is the ultimate puppet. Magneto also has a hate-on for Senator Kelly, whose push for mutant registration is gaining ground.
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this film, and I had forgotten how much of an origin story it is. I think 2003’s X:2 is the best film of the franchise, but the 2000 movie does an effective job of establishing the different characters in their various roles. It’s not heavy on plot; it has just enough to get the story going.
X-Men is more Hugh Jackman’s movie than anyone’s, but the interplay between Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen is satisfying. It’s easy to believe Magneto and Xavier really were friends when watching these two great British actors–it’s almost like a more amiable version of Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty. No matter how evil and misguided Magneto gets, Xavier always has grace for him. Xavier knows that at heart Magneto wants mutants to be accepted just as much as he does, and he makes it his mission to influence Magneto for good. Will Xavier succeed? Who knows.
Amazingly enough, before Patrick Stewart was approached to play Xavier, he had no knowledge of the character. In an interview given to Rolling Stone, Stewart said he never read Marvel Comics growing up, and had never heard of X-Men until working with Richard Donner. He was also amazed to find how much he resembled the comic book version of Xavier. So, the characters were already in Stewart’s mind when he was approached about playing Xavier, but he was reluctant to be in another franchise. He was also afraid of being typecast as Picard, which wasn’t an unfounded fear. There was a director who literally said to him, “Why would I want Captain Picard in my movie?”
It wasn’t until he had lunch with producer Bryan Singer that Stewart was finally convinced to take on the project. Singer emphasized what a good thing the film would be for everyone involved, and Stewart finally said yes. We all know how that’s turned out. Stewart may not have been familiar with X-Men comics, but he got what they were about, and he ran with it.
History shows how much Stewart’s choice has paid off. He’s among those credited with making the X-Men series a success, and it’s considered to be the official start of the superhero movie era, which, as far as we know, has no end in sight.
For more of the Beyond Star Trek Blogathon, please see Quiggy and Hamlette at The Midnite Drive-In and Hamlette’s Soliloquy, respectively. Thanks for hosting this, you guys–it was a great idea! Thanks for reading, all, and hope to see you on Friday for a review with a mysterious slant (No spoilers, though). Anyway, have a good one, my lovely peeps…