10 Years Since The First X-Men Movie

By Ta-Nehisi Coates

Geoff Boucher talks to Bryan Singer and summarizes the impact:


It was the year "Mystery Men" was released as yet another campy spoof of the masked-man sector. Still fresh in the public mind, too, was Joel Schumacher's "Batman & Robin" (1997), which stripped away any psychological elements of the orphan-turned-vigilante tale and instead gave the world the questionable innovation of putting nipples on the bat-suits. Marvel Comics, meanwhile, was a joke when it came to the silver screen, with only three wide-release films based on its characters -- "Howard the Duck" in 1986, "Punisher" in 1988 and "Blade" in 1999 (that last one was actually satisfying for movie fans but had very little in common with the comics and was based on a relatively obscure character from the "Tomb of Dracula" comics of the 1970s). 

 Considering all that, the plan for "X-Men" was nothing short of revolutionary. Singer and his team, working from a script credited to David Hayter, would take the mutant superheroes of the wildly popular "X-Men" comics and treat them as believable outsiders in a reality-based world. Instead of spandex suits, though, they were outfitted in black leather, following in the fashion-savvy footsteps of "The Matrix," which hadn't been a comic-book movie but certainly felt like one.


"Some reviews were brutal and some lovely, but we had a $21-million Friday, a record at the time, and we knew we had turned a corner," Singer said. The movie became the opening salvo in an onslaught of superhero movies that were like night-and-day when compared to the films of the 1990s and earlier. "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight," three "Spider-Man" films, "Iron Man," two "Hellboy" movies, two "Hulk" films and "Watchmen" all followed "X-Men" in tone and spirit. 

"Some reviews were brutal and some lovely, but we had a $21-million Friday, a record at the time, and we knew we had turned a corner," Singer said. The movie became the opening salvo in an onslaught of superhero movies that were like night-and-day when compared to the films of the 1990s and earlier. "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight," three "Spider-Man" films, "Iron Man," two "Hellboy" movies, two "Hulk" films and "Watchmen" all followed "X-Men" in tone and spirit. 

There are many, many more to come: "Iron Man 2" arrives in May, "Thor" has just begun filming, and "Green Lantern," "The First Avenger: Captain America," a third Batman film and reboots of Spider-Man and Superman are gearing up. That's just a few; there are three dozen other comics-based projects at various points in the Hollywood pipeline, which was unimaginable in the days after "Batman & Robin," when the source material was considered radioactive in studio boardrooms.

I always loved that the first X-Men movie, and many of the subsequent superhero ones, actually took the movie seriously. It mirrored, for me, much of what Marvel was doing at their best, and how they grounded these people with great powers in the real world. I remember being shocked that New York hated Spiderman. It wasn't just J. Jonah Jameson writing copy (though that was a source.) The city blamed him whenever shit went wrong. Looking back on it, I think that's why I appreciated the marriage also. I just felt like the Spiderman story was inherently dark. I didn't want it to creep into cynicism and predictable tragedy. 

It was much the same for X-Men. The whole notion of mutant prejudice gave the conflict a kind of real world weight. Obviously like a lot of minorities--black, gay, whatever--I saw my own story in that. It felt the same about Spiderman too, I think. But whereas Spiderman was memoir for me, in that I felt personally connected to Peter Parker, X-Men was history. I felt connected to the bigger collective idea that a gift doesn't necessarily bring rewards.

For me that's the importance of X-Men, the movie, opening with a scene from the Holocaust and ending on Malcolm X. Whatever the film's flaws, I was just pleased that they tried to take it seriously, that they didn't feel like they were mocking you. I think that's what I hated about the last one. I felt like Brett Ratner basically just said "Oh cool! Powers!!!" Watching him do the Phoenix arc was like watching The Black Eyed Peas remake "The Symphony." It was just wrong.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2010/03/10-years-since-the-first-x-men-movie/37744/