I had a client cancel on me at the last minute yesterday, so I decided to treat myself to some downtime. I went to see the new X-Men movie, The Last Stand. I’ve always been a big fan of comic books and superhero stories, so I usually try to catch the new superhero movies when they come out. They’re often quite terrible, more often than not taking unnecessary liberties with stories that have been fan favourites for decades; killing the Joker in the first Batman movie, for example. Idiots.
Anyway, this is not a review of the movie or anything like that. You can decide for yourselves what you thought of it. But it got me thinking about the nature of some stories. X-Men is a story premise that really should not be. The basic explanation is that evolution is usually a slow process, but occasionally there are sudden, enormous leaps in evolutionary development. In this case, a random X gene crops up which gives some people remarkable powers while others are born quite normal. Relatively speaking.
So, from the outset we have a situation which requires an incredible suspension of disbelief. This is the case with any number of superheroes, obviously. SpiderMan, Peter Parker bitten by a radioactive spider that transfers its abilities to the hapless photographer. Interestingly, however, his web doesn’t come from his arse, which has always confused me. Of course, he wouldn’t look nearly so cool swinging through the streets of New York arse up. Superman, blasted from the doomed planet of Krypton at the last minute to end up on Earth where our “yellow sun” provides him with incredible powers including the ability to fly, stare lasers at things and be virtually indestructible. How our sun suddenly gave his eyes the ability to shoot fire is never really explained, but we suspend disbelief because we all like a good superhero.
There are numerous examples, but the X-Men has to be one of the most out there stories in existence. This mutant gene manifests in any number of completely random ways. Some are fairly straightforward such as telekinesis, pyrokinesis and so on. Others include the ability to control storms, a body that can transform into metal at a moments notice, a body that can pass through solid objects, a person that becomes unstoppable when he builds up too much momentum and many more. It seems that this mutant gene is basically carte blanche to think of the most random, bizarre and, most importantly, cool powers. How can the same mutant gene give one dude giant wings on his back and another dude laser vision? How can one dude control ice and another produce spikes of bone from his wrists to throw at people? It makes no sense at all, even in the realms of superhero action. But we lap it up as a good story if it’s well written. The escapism of fantasy is irresistible to so many of us, after all.
In the latest X-Men instalment they deal with the problem of the government creating a “cure” for the mutant gene. In other words, they develop the ability to take away the mutants’ cool powers. This brings up the most interesting aspect to me. In the movie there are a few scenes showing queues of mutants lining up for the cure. These must be the people that have mutations that aren’t so cool. The only X-Men member that seems to have a curse rather than a superpower is Rogue, whose touch sucks the life out of anybody. She considers the cure a good thing, understandably, even though she’d be an outstanding assassin if she chose to be.
Now I want to see some of the people in those queues, desperately lining up for a chance to get rid of their mutant superpower. You’d be really pissed off, after all, if you turned out to be born a mutant, only to have your power really suck. Imagine the chagrin when one guy gets born with the ability to control fire and your mutant superpower is that everything you touch turns to milk. Imagine seeing Storm call down lightning from a clear sky while your power enables you to metamorphose into a turd at will. How about watching a mutant with some strange lizard mutation climb walls with ease while your own mutation was some version of sea slug causing you to be hugely fat and slime your way slowly around with little purpose in life?
The premise of the X-Men is indeed ridiculous by anybody’s standards and I would love to see the Anti-X-Men movie, where Milk Wrangler and Slugger take on the world’s supervillains with a cunning trap involving slime and cow juice. Still, I know there’s not a nerd out there (and let’s face it, we’re all nerds to some degree) that hasn’t had the conversation, “If you were an X-Man, what would your power be?” Like being a X-Man means choosing your power. If only. If we try to attach any level of reality to the premise, there would be a lot more Milk Wranglers than Wolverines out there. Still, it just goes to show that the most ridiculous story can become a success with the right amount of passion behind it. People can be prepared to suspend their disbelief quite extensively.
That still doesn’t explain the success of Titanic though.