January 25, 2008


Speaking of Kelly Hu, she shows up in X2, her most notable purpose being getting killed by Hugh Jackman. It makes her interesting for about five minutes (she has two lines in the rest of the movie, besides on-screen walking-around time). Which is saying a lot more than most of the rest of the cast. X2 is the un-Scorpion King. Entertaining enough, but by the end you're glad that school's finally out and you can go out and play.

This is a movie plagued by a bad premise: that practically every other person and his dog on the planet is a mutant. It makes for plenty of politically correct metaphorical moralizing, but lousy story telling, as it quickly leads to a too-large cast and a dilution of focus. It's sort of like the scene in Bruce Almighty where everybody who prayed to win the lottery does, resulting in an individual payout of about 5 cents.

As being a "mutant" apparently grants one the ability to willfully violate the laws of physics, a healthy proportion of the population so blessed would quickly result in a pretty random universe. They also have Magneto (McKellen) making the mistake that Spike doesn't when Angel wants to destroy the world:

We like to talk big, vampires do. "I'm going to destroy the world." That's just tough guy talk. Strutting around with your friends over a pint of blood. The truth is, I like this world. You've got dog racing, Manchester United. And you've got people. Billions of people walking around like Happy Meals with legs.

Destroying the world is a lame motivation if you happen to be living in it at the time. What the heck do they think would happen to the economy? You can't torment all those hapless humans if they're not around anymore. (Both LOTR and Harry Potter have the same problem to varying degrees. What do Sauron and Voldemort actually want to accomplish? In Diana Wynne Jones' novels, in contrast, the bad guys have explicit and scary motivations.)

The other result of this abundance of superheroes and supervillains is that X2 breaks down to the same plot as X1, only with a second set of bad guys. What other plot can you have? Poor Patrick Stewart plays a tired Captain Picard while Gandalf (following my British accent rule) gets all the good lines as the not-so-bad-bad-guy-this-time who's still plenty bad enough, while Rebecca Romijn-Stamos slinks around in blue body paint.

At any rate, this is definitely a bad guy's movie. Except for Wolverine (Jackman) and Alan Cumming as Nightcrawler, the good guys are a dull, dull lot (and Wolverine and Nightcrawler have their bad moments; if you pay attention, Wolverine ends up killing an awful lot of people). That Nightcrawler is a German Catholic--an authentically religious character--is more interesting than all the mutant stuff put together. Why not just a movie about him?

By the time Jean Grey sacrifices herself for the greater good, I couldn't have cared less. Boyfriend Cyclops acts like he'd barely escaped a Hardy Boys adventure. However, there is a moment at the end almost worth waiting for: when Pyro runs off to join the bad guys, there's a quick shot of Wolverine smiling to himself. Yeah, he knows that's where the real fun is.

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# posted by Blogger Damien Sullivan
1/30/2008 2:05 PM   
Sauron's out to rule and dominate the world, not destroy it. I don't know where you get an idea of destroying all humans.

(And as a fallen angel, killing all humans wouldn't directly affect him.)
# posted by Blogger Eugene
1/30/2008 5:44 PM   
The antecedent here is the "Bad Angel" arc of Buffy. I only mention Sauron in the parenthetical, and "to varying degrees." But the question still stands. Granted, in war movies--and LOTR is essentially a war movie--we don't spend a lot of time wondering about why the bad guys are the bad guys.

But the better the motivation, the better the conflict. "Ruling the world" ends up as crude dualism. Truly ruling the world is mostly about politics. X-Files and Richard III are good templates in this regard. The opening soliloquy in Richard III is the standard against which bad-guy motivations must be measured.

(Compare Ian McKellen in the 1995 version against Ian McKellen essentially playing the same character in X-Men.)

In The Shore in Twilight, Ono goes to considerably length to point out that Asen can't be motivated solely by a desire to "rule the world." Asen is more like Angel in this regard--possessed by a particular kind of self-loathing that drives him to destroy the world instead of himself.

The desire to rule itself can--and too often is--explained as a flavor of mimetic desire. That's the case with the Royal Kou in Shadow of the Moon. But he's a dead man as soon as he launches on that quest. If you're that nuts, you're not going to have what it takes in the world-ruling department.

Actually, considering the author, Sauron is probably better explained in eschatological terms. But even Milton couldn't leave things at that. I guess I just prefer Milton's spin to Tolkien's.