(Not) A Movie Review of X-men: Why the Story Works
I am a big fan of the X-men universe. The comics, cartoon series (old and new), I dig them all... especially the movies!
The most attractive trait about the X-men is that it is about a group of outcasts. Anyone who has ever been a teenager knows the feeling. And everyone wishes they had hands that could freeze your opponent instantly... or a handy set of kitchen knives popping out of their knuckles when the going was tough, or any other number of awesome powers shown in the X-men universe.
From a writer's perspective, I love the X-men stories because I can only imagine the effort and planning it takes to work with so many different characters, and yet allow them to all have their say (without stepping on each other's toes) in two cinematic hours.
So this is not a review.
It's my own subjective analytical view as to some of the reasons why the story works.
Taking a look at one scene from the first X-men movie, (which personally, I would have called "Scene 7: Never Wake Up a Wolverine") we have two of the story's pivotal characters, Logan and Rogue as the newest arrivals in the X Mansion. We have established at this point that they have begun to develop a platonic friendship formed from their meeting as two loners in an outlandish town.
In this scene, it is the dead of night when all occupants of the mansion are meant to be asleep. Logan is very unsettled (which has an important reason in itself) and tosses and turns from the nightmares of his lost memories. Rogue is sleepless because of this, and goes to Logan, concerned about his well-being. It's a typical scene in any ordinary life ("Wake up, you're having a nightmare!" etc) - which becomes drastically different when you layer in a few evolutionary induced powers.
Rogue cannot touch him to wake him up, because if she does she will extract his life force. So, gently, easy does it, she tries to get him to wake up by talking to him. Meanwhile, the nightmare reaches a point where it's too horrific to bear, and Logan wakes with a roar. While that is scary enough for anyone, let's not forget,
Logan has knives in his hands.
Then, with what seems to be pure survival instinct, Rogue reaches out her fingers to Logan's face. From regret and panic, he shows a new emotion - fear. Even shaking his head as he sees those deceptively gentle-looking hands get closer. But he doesn't move away, which might have been due to being paralysed by the deep guilt (along with panic) he would feel at that moment. And so it happens, as Rogue touches Logan's skin ever so lightly, energy is drained from him.
We haven't forgotten that Logan also has the power to heal himself instantly. The tables are now turned as Rogue heals, while he becomes the one in mortal danger... Of course she lets go just in the nick of time, and although greatly weakened (temporarily), Logan survives.
Why is this scene genius?
Because it could not have worked with any other characters. Think about it, if Logan had stabbed someone with ice powers, that wouldn't have helped anyone. If Rogue had been stabbed by someone with ice powers, extracting them would just make her mortal wounds colder. But because it was those two characters specifically, she was able to extract his healing powers enough to heal her wounds completely.