The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, January 14, 2001
Wide Angle

The X-Men cometh!
By Ervell E. Menezes

CONVERTING comic strips into films is becoming increasingly common with Hollywood. The latest in this genre is X-Men which deals with the exploits of two groups of mutants. "Mutation is the key to our evolution," says a line early in the film.

Take Cyclops (James Marsen), Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and Storm (Halle Berry). They are children of the atom, homo superior, the next link in the chain of evolution. Each was born with a unique genetic mutation, which at puberty manifested itself in extraordinary powers: Cyclops’ eyes release an energy beam that can rip holes through mountains; Jean Grey’s strength is both telekinetic and telepathic; and Storm can manipulate all forms of weather.

In a world increasingly filled with hatred and prejudice, they are scientific oddities...freaks of nature...outcasts who are feared and loathed by those who cannot accept their differences.

Prof Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), mutant leader and the world’s most powerful telepath, lives to protect those who fear him while his one-time friend and colleague Magneto (Ian McKellen) lives to destroy them. Each believe he is right. Neither is willing to compromise.

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Xavier is crippled and is always in a wheel-chair and in the company of Jean Grey, Cyclops and Storm while Magneto’s sidekicks are Sabretooth (Tyler Mane), Toad (Ray Pack) and Mystique (Rebecca Romisn Stamos). Entering into this weird world are Rogue (Anna Paquin and Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman).

It is the age-old theme of the forces of good fighting the forces of evil. The detractors of the mutants include United States Senator Robert Kelly (Bruce Davison) who is fanning the flames of public hysteria, calling for all humans mutants to be unmasked, incarcerated and stripped of their rights as citizens until their powers can be analysed and controlled. It is an allusion to the McCarthyism when Communist-baiting had become a sort of national pastime.

Based on a screenplay by David Hytner and directed by Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects) the story covers a vast canvass. The assortment of characters in their varied costumes are impressive. If one is not familiar with the story and the philosophy of the mutants it can be pretty hard to follow. It has shades of Star Wars and the battle goes on with the accent on special effects.

But after the establishing shots and the induction into the story, it is more form than content. The various characters are more like circus performers doing their act but contributing little to the overall story. The razzle-dazzle action, of course, is impressive as it was in Star Wars or The Matrix but then few go to see a film only to watch the special effects. Before the halfway mark one tends to be numbed and lulled by this razzle-dazzle and the fact that the players (Halle Berry and Anna Paquin, among the better known ones) are hiding behind disguise doesn’t enhance things.

In fact the action is quite anonymous and the already weak story limps on towards its academic end only when it seems to run out of raw stock. It may be considered a pathbreaker of sorts but thanks, no thanks, it’s surely not my cup of tea.

Frequency is another disaster. Again, Hollywood is overdoing this anything-is-possible genre, this going forward and backward in time. Guess it was Back to the Future which set the trend and that was cleverly done. Disney’s The Kid also was forgivable because of the moral of the story — that work is not the only thing in life, one must make time for one’s loved ones. In Frequency the focal point is how one can go back in time to change a particular incident.

John Sullivan (Jim Caviazel) takes this chance and wants to prevent his fire fighter dad Frank (Dennis Quaid) from meeting his tragic end. The means of communicating with the beyond is a ham radio set and on a particular frequency he is able to get his dad, who is not dead as believed.

It is an atrocious plot. The American obsession with baseball takes centre-stage and as far sentimentality, it is dished out in copious doses. But credibility is nil and Dennis Quaid is all at sea in a story that should never made it to the screen. Director Gregory Hoblit seems to be on his own trip. It is more personal cinema and will have few takers, if any. Again, well worth a miss.