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How effective is ‘X-Men’ at presenting the flawed hero and the sympathetic villain through the characters Wolverine and Magneto?
Traditionally in the comic book genre, the characteristics of a hero and villain follow certain conventions, signifying their roles of good and evil. Bryan Singers ‘X-Men’ undertakes an alternative approach on this, his adaptation of the famous comic book story, shows us how unique X-men is to the typical comic book genre, especially in the way its heroes and villains are presented. Heroes are usually portrayed as strong, attractive characters full of goodness, whilst villains are the complete opposite and are ugly, evil, uncaring characters, who will stop at nothing to wreak havoc or get revenge. Hugh Jackman’s take on Wolverine is an excellent example of representing a character with many flaws and Ian Mckellen’s act as Magneto is a perfect view on a villain with a past and feelings.
The scene where we first see Wolverine is set in an old, dirty looking bar, the lighting is dismal and the general mood of the surroundings is chaotic. There is a commotion and people are booing and cheering, the camera then views a cage and we notice a fight taking place, it looks like a contest. Focusing on the cage, we see a man being thrown against the cage wall, he is un-conscious and looks badly hurt, the man is then dragged away. At this point the camera turns to give us our first glimpse of Wolverine with his back towards the camera. Wolverine is the one responsible for hurting the man in the contest. His actions are not those usually adopted by a hero character and could be perceived as crawl and vicious. Would a hero fight purely for sport or payment? Is this a hero like thing to do?
With the camera angled on Wolverine’s back there is a shimmer of orange light shining over him, the camera then moves around to show a medium-shot view of the front of Wolverine, his face is half hidden in the shadow, we still can’t see him clearly. This makes him even more mysterious to the viewers, his identity is still unknown, and this secrecy really captures the audience attention keeping them engrossed in the film.
The fighting continues and a new opponent enters the cage, he attacks Wolverine who falls to the floor giving the impression that he has weakened since the last fight. Suddenly his fist appears and he strikes the attackers hand. At the point of contact we hear a non-diagetic sound of metal bashing, showing Wolverine’s power and strength and also shows the audience that he is far from normal.
In the following scene in the bar Wolverine represented is shown wearing old, worn out clothing. It is not colourful like a traditional heroes costume, his facial features have been made to look rather wolf-like, which gives him a rugged, mystifying appearance, unlike the handsome and dazzling look of a usual hero, say like, Superman or Spiderman. Through the use of props (‘cigar’) and Hugh Jackmans facial expressions you get the feeling that Wolverine is a loner, who isolates himself from other people, living a boring and meaningless life. As he does not remember anything about his past, he does not see the point in searching for these answers.
Wolverine is very strong-minded and brave character who can be quite arrogant at times, yet he is kind and caring to the people he befriends. He is self-reliant and tries to disguise his inner feelings with a tough attitude. His actions may be misunderstood sometimes but he would never knowingly hurt somebody unless he truly thought they deserved it.
Wolverine is a reluctant hero; he does not want to be labelled as a typical superhero with a silly name and costume, ‘you actually go outside in these things’, gives us an insight into his views about wearing a customized outfit, something he regards as ridiculous, humiliating and totally un-necessary. Wolverine just wants to be a regular guy who happens to have special abilities, which he can use to help people.
Wolverine does what he wants to do regardless of other people’s opinions. Those who he believes are deserving of his help, can trust him to do the right thing and put his powerful strength to good use. Wolverine will fight for the truth and offer his
assistants if he believes it’s for a good cause. He is most defiantly a person you would want on your side in times of trouble.
Wolverine is reluctant to be part of the X-Men, as seen in the scene with Storm, after Wolverine sets off to find Rogue by himself, wolverine states ‘The Whole world is full of people that hate and fear you…and your wasting your time trying to protect them. I got better things to do’. These key lines tell us that Wolverine does not want to be part of a team that protects people who do not appreciate their help, all he sees is people treating them as outcasts.
What makes Wolverine a hero is his protective and caring attitude towards those he becomes close to, as with Rogue whom he starts to bond with. In the scene that commences after Wolverine refuses to give Rogue a lift and leaves her in the road, we see a change in Wolverines character. As he starts to drive away from Rogue, the camera gives us a medium-close up and perspective shot of Wolverines face, this shot shows the viewers his feeling of guilt for leaving her and then we see him stop the van. This scene illustrates a typical heroes character, showing that underneath Wolverines rough manner, he has a good heart.
The people that force out his heroic qualities are mostly Xavier and Rogue. Wolverine has a connection with Xavier because he can see inside his mind and he could hold the key to unlocking Wolverine past, answers that he has been looking to find forever, answers to how he got claws. Xavier helps him not only to discover who he is, but also to give him a new meaning and start in life. All this gives Wolverine the motivation to fight alongside the ‘X-Men’ in an attempt to find the truth. Rogue however shares a different relationship with Wolverine and inspires him to protect and fight for her safety. They help each other to find a sense of belonging and meaning in their lives.
Towards the end of the film there is a scene with Rogue and Wolverine, which fits the idea of a traditional hero. In this scene Wolverine shows true affection for Rogue and shows that he truly cares for her. A key camera angle in this scene is an overhead close-up view of Wolverine putting his hand on Rogues head in the hope that she will take his power to heal and then heal herself. This shows the audience Wolverine’s sensitivity and fatherly love that Wolverine has for Rogue and willing to sacrifice his life for her and makes him look like the traditional hero putting others before himself.
‘X-Men’ is very effective at presenting flawed hero, as Wolverine has a mixed personality, he can be mean to people sometimes, but be the hero in a crisis.
Magneto’s childhood is presented as a horrific traumatising ordeal. The first scene of the film begins with the view of a concentration camp in World War II, a close-up of people walking in rain and mud sets the scene and the director’s use of diagetic sounds creates pathetic fallacy. The camera pans out to an extreme long shot and we see the horrid surroundings that the crowd of Jewish people are in, then it zooms in to show a perspective shot of peoples faces, allowing us to see their emotions of horror and sadness. When we see an extreme close up of a number on a boys arm, which we come to learn is Magneto, we realise the disturbing truth about how Jewish people were perceived as a number and nothing more. At the point where Magneto is separated from his parents, a medium long shot shows us Magneto’s distress from his body language as he crawls into a corner screaming. We see how both he and his parents are terrified at being torn apart from one another.
This insight into Magneto’s history is not at all like the normal stereotype of a villain, as villains do not usually have a history or a possible reason for being evil, they just are. Villains do not form relationships with people or get emotionally attached to others, unlike Magneto who we see really cares about his parents. Also villains are not meant to fear anything and Magneto does fear something ‘humans’.
Magneto’s experience in the concentration camp colours his view of the problems mutants face, his time has also taught him to use his powers to his advantage, hoping to gain total control and seek revenge on all humans. Magneto is fearful and adamant that a repeat of the past will happen again and feels that there can be no compromise between mutants and humans, in his eyes they can never co-exist together. He plans to pursue an epic battle with humans and is determined to do anything in his power to protect the mutant race and stop them from suffering a similar fate as he did and prove to humans that mutants are the better being and rule supreme.
We can sympathise with why Magneto would have such strong hatred against humans because of what happened to him as a child, he is mentally, emotionally and physically scared and wants revenge. Should we hate Magneto because of his status of a villain or should we sympathise with him because he was once being a victim himself corrupted by tortured past, showing him as an innocent and giving him reasons to be a willing participant in his evil deeds?
Magneto’s reasons for trying to turn the humans on Ellis Island into mutants are understandable in some ways because he truly believed that what he was doing was for a good cause and would benefit mutants in the upcoming future.
The scene where Magneto and Xavier are in the corridor shows that they have a history with each other and almost treat each other as allies instead of enemies. When we first see Magneto’s face, it is shown in a shadowy light and he is wearing black clothing, this effect creates a suspicious and threatening look about him, however we do not know it is Magneto until some time later. The lighting views Xavier different than Magneto, he is seen clearly in bright light and gives the impression that he is a good person.
The director presents Magneto with a mixed personality through the use of dialogue, ‘I will bring you hope old friend. And I ask only one thing in return. Don’t get in my way’, this tells us that even though Magneto is sworn enemies with Xavier, he still asks him with friendly intentions to stay out of his way, meaning that he is does not wish to hurt Xavier. This is completely out of context, when compared to the traditional villains, as they want to hurt heroes. Magneto only really wants to fight the humans and not the ‘X-Men’. He would only injure them because they meddle with his plans.
In the final scene of the film we see Magneto and Xavier playing a game of chess, through the close-up of Magneto and Xavier’s hands moving chess pieces, this demonstrates a symbolic theme of good vs. evil. Whilst they play chess Magneto asks Xavier:
Magneto- doesn’t it ever wake you in the night…the feeling that
someday they will pass that foolish law, or one just like it,…
and come for you and your children?
This quote shows the viewers a vulnerable side of Magneto that we can sympathise with, as he is obviously afraid that a similar historic event or one on an even larger scale will once again become reality.
Villains rarely appear again once they have been defeated and killed, but as Magneto is still alive and in prison, it questions whether a return is definite. This possible scenario is hinted, when Magneto says to Xavier ‘you know this plastic prison won’t hold me forever. The war is still coming, Charles, and I intend to fight it. By any means necessary’, this quote shows that Magneto thinks there could be a way of escaping.
‘X-Men’ is very effective in presenting a sympathetic villain by showing different sides to Magnetos character and giving him a dramatic past, which explains why he became a villain.
X-Men is very successful at portraying Wolverine and Magneto as very complicated characters, as they both have different personalities and morals, however Wolverine’s aggression could be considered to be one of a villains traits, he has learnt to have a level of control over it, whereas Magneto’s hate for humans has turned him bitter and revengeful, overpowering him, therefore giving him the drive and determination to wreak havoc on humankind.
Creating a sympathetic villain and flawed hero gives the characters more depth and background, making them more believable and interesting.
Overall I think ‘X-Men’ has designed the characters well, as they have explored all aspects of what is needed to create an interesting character. Wolverine and Magneto show their own individuality, yet we still see that they both share good and evil qualities, giving the characters charisma and allows the audience to view them in different perspectives.