Logan’s Moving Pictures goes back to the Summer of 2000 and a little film called X-Men.
On July 13, 2000, nearly twenty-two years ago, my brother and I walked into the Carmike 13 in Columbus, Ga, bought drinks and popcorn, and waited in a small line to have our two previously-purchased tickets torn for the midnight premiere of X-Men, a movie we had spent a decade dreaming about.
We weren’t special in those regards; as the world now knows, there are plenty of people just like us, some who had spent multiple decades wishing this project into existence, and some who spent their years working toward making it happen. One of them was a guy named Kevin Feige, who had been an assistant to Laura Shuler Donner after graduating from USC, and then found his way into being an associate producer on the X-Men film after impressing some folks with his knowledge and passion for the comics (Shuler Donner was a producer on the film). He was subsequently hired on by Marvel…and we all know where the story goes from there, and, as awesome as it is, this isn’t about Feige.
This is about two kids fresh out of their teens who were about to connect with characters they loved in a way a lot of people had said would always be impossible. That the world of the X-Men would only ever really be able to be translated into animation at best. Anything live-action would just result in cheesiness and goofy antics, as nearly fifty years of trying to adapt them had proved. Burton would break that mold with his Batman films, which would then fall back into those tropes well after he left. It wasn’t until The Crow in ’94 that superhero comics would once again take on a serious tone. Stephen Norrington’s Blade in 1998 would continue that tradition and make serious bank doing it. Except they both had a similar tone to Burton’s Batman. Those weren’t hope-filled movies. And while the X-Men definitely had their dark and brooding plots and characters, their story had always been one of hope. No one could see their way around the loud costumes and flashy powers to bring that to the world of live-action cinema.
Then, at some point, they found a way; through changing the costumes to be more in line with those darker, edgier films, deciding to highlight the characters who could carry that look, and leaning into what made other properties a success, but tweaking it. Adding what made the X-Men “The X-Men”. And I don’t think there’s been a movie either before or after that my brother and I were more excited for than that first X-Men film.
We both came to the world comics a bit later than most kids I think. We weren’t unfamiliar with superheroes, having grown up with various iterations in cartoon form, and we were right there for that early ‘90s boom, falling into comics a year or so before X-Men The Animated Series premiered. A show, I should add, that’s getting a much-requested continuation on Disney+ and I can only wish that Ryan were going to be here to watch with me and podcast about it every week.
We’d actually recorded a rewatch podcast about the original show that never really got off the ground. It was called Snikt Snikt Boom, a name I was pretty proud of (Snikt is the sound Wolverine’s claws make, for the uninitiated). I think we got five or six episodes in the can before we got into an argument and didn’t speak for a few months. We never went back to it, which is a shame, we actually had a great time talking about it.
I think we gravitated towards the mutants for the same reasons a lot of readers did. We saw ourselves in them, we thought we were outcasts. At least I have always felt that way, and I know there were times in Ryan’s life where he would have said the same. Decades of not understanding why I saw the world the way I did, or why I would feel the way I was feeling, often my own thoughts working against me, I knew I never really belonged. It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that I understood what anxiety and depression really were and how they affected me. I can’t really speak for Ryan on where he felt like an outlier, but there are hours of podcasts where he talks about similar things. We’d both been bullied as teens about our looks and weight problems, even if sometimes it was just by each other. We never really excelled academically or athletically, though I’d point to laziness as the chief reason there. We didn’t fit in, at least not with the people you generally want to fit in with. So, of course, we were naturally drawn toward the X-Men as a concept.
I think every hair on our arms was standing on end when the movie opened with that Xavier narration, spiraling into that rainy scene in the concentration camp. I remember there were some people near us (the theater was packed!) who were so sure it was Wolverine we were seeing, and I’m not here to geek-shame them…but, they clearly didn’t know their X-Men history. We knew though, and we just looked at each other, smiling, then back at the screen.
Opening with a sort of mini-origin for one of the greatest villains in comicdom was a stroke of genius. It sets up so much of the pathos and motive of Magneto in only a few minutes. Couple that with one of the following scenes, where laws are being set in motion to brand and identify mutants, Magneto…Erik…looking on, witnessing history begin to repeat itself. It’s how an X-Men movie should start.
The introduction of Wolverine to the live-action world is equally perfect. Despite getting so much of his physicality wrong, everyone involved managed to nail the tone of who that character is and create one of the few parts of the franchise that would endure for decades, as well as make Hugh Jackman the star he was always destined to become.
Patrick Stewart as Xavier, Marsden’s Cyclops, the look and feel of the school, the overall atmosphere…I can remember just marveling (pun intended) at how much they managed to get right, while visually changing things to make them more cinematic and generate mass appeal. Not a perfect transition from page to screen, but so much was close enough that it set our geek hearts on fire with appreciation.
There’s plenty of “not good” stuff shoved into the film as well, including the worst piece of dialogue ever written, a plot that sounds cribbed from every bad sci-fi film ever made, and a director who doesn’t even deserve to have his name spoken. As someone who has such a connection to these characters and a love for what they can and should be, it pains me to no end that they were shepherded to a broader world by a man who turned out to be one of the bad guys.
Re-watching it now, I couldn’t help but notice plot holes big enough for the Juggernaut to waltz through, as well as some effects work that didn’t age well at all. But the nostalgia got the better of me through most of it. I still laughed at Wolverine taking verbal jabs at Cyclops (along with a few others here and there), and just watching the background performance of the kids in the school, noticing little touches that added to the mythos made me somehow appreciate it just a bit more. It all took me back to that theater in July of 2000, sitting with my brother, smiling for 100 straight minutes. So full of hope.
Finally, someone was taking something we loved as seriously as every other adaptation that got sent down the pipeline. We could talk about characters we’d enjoyed so much in our teens with people that were just discovering them. Or even better, rediscovering them. So, even with all its now-obvious flaws, there’s just so much in this movie that made me happy. Still makes me happy.
For all of the years after, through all of the sequels and prequels and sidequels this movie spawned, my brother and I were there. Almost always together, with so many discussions following. About what could have been better, what we couldn’t believe they got right, characters we hope they include in the next movie, the actors who should play them, storylines we want to see…everything our comic-loving imaginations could think of. When it came to the X-Men, even when the movies weren’t good, we were always filled with hope.
Maybe because that’s the currency those characters trade-in, what we saw when we looked at them, read their stories. People that were maligned and misunderstood, people who couldn’t even get along with each other much less the rest of the world, trying to do the right thing, even if that made them the bad guy, sometimes failing and often going thankless when they did succeed. But still hoping. Hoping that things will be better tomorrow. Hoping that their worst fears never come to pass. Hoping that the world will finally see them the way they see themselves.