Power of X: How “X-Men” Saved the Comic Book Genre

A Change is Coming

Superheroes movies have become the most popular and profitable movie genres worldwide with “Avengers: Endgame” earning $2.79 billion in 2019. I can say we love comic book movies.

Ever Since the late, great Richard Donner made us believe that a man could fly back in 1978, we’ve been treated to decades of phenomenal comic book adaptations that, in the hands of gifted and understanding directors, have brought fans and audiences immaculately-crafted masterpieces while also showing otherwise stuck-up critics and clueless naysayers that the genre is capable of artistic merit and cultural respectability.

However, the 90’s was a time when the genre’s future was in doubt, with heartfelt classics like “Darkman”, “The Crow” and “Batman Returns” being overshadowed by half-assed cash-grabs like “The Rocketeer”, “The Shadow” “Spawn” and soulless corporate products like “Batman” (1989), “Batman Forever”, and “Batman & Robin”. The genre didn’t just need to change, it needed to evolve, and with Marvel’s phenomenal vampire masterpiece, “Blade”, showing audiences that the superhero genre was worth sinking their teeth back into; the stage was set not for a revival but for a rebirth. The stage was set for the “X-Men”.

The Evolution Begins

The key to every good comic book adaptation is the director’s understanding of the material.When that happens, connections are made and the vision of the director begins to align with the spirit and themes of the comic book being adapted.

In the case of “X-Men”, the film’s opening sequence of a young Magneto and his mother being separated into Nazi concentration camps grounds this movie and shows it is governed by reality. Reality, as skillfully utilized by director Bryan Singer, is what truly distinguishes this film from those before it and is the detail that single-handedly revitalized a genre.

From character motivations and arcs to the story-driven plot, or its carefully constructed themes, reality is the heartbeat that gives this film life. This is evident in the treatment of mutants, who are subjected to prejudice and fear by society, opposed by a misguided senator who seeks to pass a law that would have mutants hunted down, jailed, segregated and separated from those who are “normal” which is keeping in line with the comic’s social mirroring of the treatment of those who are a different race, gender or societal crowd.

Next is the villain Magneto, a complex character who echoes Malcolm X’s militance in his pursuit of mutant equality. However, it is because of his experiences in the holocaust-his witnessing of the genocidal subjugation that humans have inflicted on each other, that corrodes his noble pursuit for equality and turns it into a vengeful mission for supremacy.

Finally, the best use of reality is Singer’s approach to the characters of Rogue and Wolverine. Rogue is our audience insight character. She starts out as a perfectly ordinary teenager whose normalcy is destroyed when her mutation, the ability to steal someone’s life force, puts her boyfriend in a coma, which results in the abandonment of her parents and her becoming a drifter.

Next is Wolverine, an amnesiac drifter, who through his initial interaction and gradual caring for Rogue grows from a neutral-minded mutant individual on a directionless path to a nurturing and protective figure with a heroic and opportune future.

Lastly, there’s Professor X, the final and most important piece of this puzzle. Singer ignores the origin of each individual member and boldly, correctly establishes the team as a larger-than-life manifestation of Professor X’s dream. It is through Rogue and Wolverine’s initial encounter with the X-men that they go embark on self-discovery.

For Rogue it’s the discovery that she has a place where she can belong and live again, thus accepting her mutant identity. As for Wolverine, his  discovery is that he now has a cause worth fighting for, a community of people he is willing to die for, and a new identity as an X-man.

The Children of the Atom

Released in the year 2000, “X-Men” was a critical and commercial success, kicking off a new era of comic books films.Though there were many good and great comic book films that came after,the only films that properly followed in X-Men’s footsteps were Sam Raimi’s “Spiderman” trilogy, Singer’s legendary sequel, “X2”, and his single outing, ”Superman Returns”, and Christopher Nolan’s, “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight”. It is through the success of these films that the comic book genre would receive a still unparalleled level of audience approval and critical respect.

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