X2: X-Men United was the third X-Men movie that Fox Studios was behind (the TV movie Generation X was the first). It had the X-Men united with the brotherhood to take on William Stryker, who was planning to kill all mutants. Before the movie however, William Stryker had only made one appearance in the comics – “God Loves, Man Kills”, a graphic novel released in the 80’s. The movie is loosely based on the graphic novel, however there are big differences. This post will explore those differences. In preparation for this post, I both watched the movie and read the graphic novel in the same day.
X2 was the first major superhero movie I saw in the current onslaught of the superhero movies. While Marvel vs. Capcom 3 pushed me into comics, I’ve always had at least a minor interest in the X-Men since I saw this movie. For me, going back and watching it again was like a 60-year-old visiting the first house he grew up in. It was traveling back to what eventually lead to reading comics in the first place – nostalgia in its purest form. It’s not the first superhero movie I’ve ever seen, that would be Batman Forever, but it’s the first superhero movie I actually liked.
For a while, X2 was my favourite X-Men movie. After watching it again a few days ago, I don’t like it nearly as much anymore. It’s still a decent movie, but I now consider X-Men First Class the best of the X-Men movies despite its own flaws.
It goes without saying that the original story is better as usual. It makes more sense, the characters are treated better and there aren’t any stupid moments. That said, the movie isn’t without merits. Most of the changes the movie makes are more to keep it in line with the first movie, so there’s no way it could have been the same as the graphic novel. There is nothing wrong with simplifying things for the movie crowd. Before I get into why the graphic novel is better, let’s discuss the differences.
X-Men: Cyclops (team leader), Wolverine, Shadowcat (then known as Ariel), Storm, Nightcrawler and Colossus. Xavier is there too, but he’s not officially on the team. Illyana (Colossus’s sister) is also in the book, but her mutant power hasn’t manifested yet. Magneto joins them later, but the rest of his brotherhood is absent.
Villains: William Stryker, an ex-military leader who has always had a strong hatred for mutants. So much so that he killed his wife and newborn mutant son. He eventually became a TV evangelist who often preached against mutants and called them devil spawn. He secretly leads the purifiers, a group of religious extremists put together to exterminate all mutants on the planet.
Location: Mostly in New York.
X-Men: Cyclops (team leader), Jean Grey, Storm and Wolverine. Professor Xavier is around too. X-kids important to the plot include Rogue, Iceman and Pyro. Colossus is also in the movie, but only for the first act. Nightcrawler joins them about 30 minutes in. Magneto and Mystique later join the X-Men; however they betray them in the end.
Villains: Colonel William Stryker, who is considered America’s top military expert on mutants. He was involved with Weapon X. His son was a mutant with the same basic power set as Mastermind (the power of illusion). He tried sending his son to Xavier’s school, but the school didn’t work for him. The kid resented his parents and eventually led his mother to suicide through his rather nasty illusions. This motivated Stryker to believe all mutants were evil and to kill them all. He also enslaves mutants with drugs
Locations: New York, Boston and Alkali Lake in Canada, where Stryker’s base is.
Those differences aren’t inherently good or bad. Before I get into the movie’s problems, I will say one thing. The changes to Stryker’s back story are fairly well done. In the comics, Stryker is never given a good reason to hate mutants. He simply hates them because they’re different and he’s a bit of a nutjob. Sure, there are people like that in real life but still. In the movie, he has a personal reason to hate all mutants and it makes him a more sympathetic and relatable villain. Sure he’s still twisted and evil, but this time it’s not without reason.
Another good scene in the movie is where Iceman is telling his parents about being a mutant. It’s the same kind of awkward family discussion as when the son of a very religious family tells them he’s an atheist, or that he’s gay. It’s handled very well. In fact Iceman, Rogue and Pyro are all handled well in this. Wolverine’s past is also handled well in this movie, revealing enough of his past so that we know how horrifying it was without spoiling too much for an origins movie. Too bad Wolverine: Origins failed as hard as it did.
The biggest problem with the movie is the way that Stryker uses Xavier. In both stories, the villain captures Xavier and plans to use his mental powers to kill all mutants. In the comic version, they spend hours, maybe even days, brainwashing Xavier using torture, sensory deprivation, violent images and they even torture Cyclops and Storm (also captured). They make Xavier believe that mutants are abominations and that the only way to redeem himself is to kill all mutants. It’s rather scary that this “religious” man could do such horrendous things to people. Despite all the brainwashing though, they fail to convert Xavier completely and his subconscious self stops him from actually killing anyone.
In the movie, Stryker just uses his son’s illusion powers. There’s no brainwashing, there’s no drugs involved (except to control Stryker’s son but that doesn’t count). Somehow, these illusions are enough to convince Xavier to kill all mutants? I find that hard to buy. The illusions aren’t even trying to chance Xavier’s beliefs; they’re just telling him to find all the mutants and focus hard enough to kill them all. Xavier knows that focusing too much mental strength on one mutant will kill him, and no illusion is going to change that. It just feels … off.
Another big problem is the use of characters. Cyclops is completely wasted. After he’s captured by Stryker, he doesn’t show up until the movie’s almost over. He’s drugged to follow Stryker’s orders and attack the X-Men. Of course, Jean brings him back to his senses. Apart from that, Cyclops hardly does anything in this movie. Even when Cyclops is captured in the comic, he’s still involved with the story (same goes for Storm).
Jean Grey is poorly used in several ways as well. I’m not talking about losing control of her powers, that’s fine. I’m talking about things like Wolverine’s “That was some display of power” line. All Jean did was disable one missile, and you’re saying that’s a big display of power when Storm creating hundreds of funnel clouds isn’t? Secondly, at the end of the movie Jean Grey pointlessly sacrifices herself to save the others. The X-Jet is having trouble starting up as a rush of water is fast approaching. Jean steps out of the jet, telekinetically starts and raises it while telekinetically holding back the water. Why couldn’t she have done that from inside the jet?
Another problem, however minor, is how Magneto joins the group in the movie. In the comic, the X-Men are fighting purifiers downtown. He joins in, helps out, and explains himself. The X-Men didn’t necessarily need his help, he just made things easier. He later helps Kitty Pryde escape from the Purifiers, revives Cyclops and Storm and distracts Stryker while the rest of the X-Men strike from behind. He never tries to kill anyone in the comic; he only wants to defend his kind and help discredit Stryker.
In the movie, the jet is shot down by a missile in the middle of nowhere, and somehow Magneto is there to save them. How did he find the X-Men? Weren’t they previously in Boston while he just escaped from prison near New York? It just feels too convenient. In the comic, the X-Men are fighting downtown in New York, that’s fairly easy to spot. In the movie it makes little sense. Magneto planning to kill all humans is also way too extreme for Magneto considering he survived the holocaust. He should be trying to win the war between humans and mutants, not exterminate all humans.
Nightcrawler’s a bit off in the movie as well. For the most part, he’s handled well. He’s a kind, devoted religious man. However he also carves images into his skin for every sin he’s committed. Why is that necessary? What is with Hollywood and making devoted religious characters do that? He never mutilated himself in the comics so why is he doing that here? His insecurity with how he looks is never mentioned either, even though it’s a major part of his character (God Loves, Man Kills mentions this).
The main theme in God Loves, Man Kills is the danger of religious extremism. Despite the fact that the main villain is a TV preacher, the graphic novel is still respectful to religious beliefs in general. The movie doesn’t even attempt to touch this subject. That’s not inherently a fault, but it does imply that either Bryan Singer or Fox’s heads are afraid of the subject. What could have been a thought provoking movie that delves deep into racism, religious extremism and brainwashing turned out to be just another superhero movie. It’s a decent Superhero movie, but nothing more.
That’s why “God Loves, Man Kills” is better than “X2: X-Men United”. Sure, the movie is still a decent superhero flick, but like the rest of Fox’s X-Men movies it’s not without problems. The graphic novel is deeper, it’s paced better and it’s completely without stupid moments.
And that’s it for my comparison of comic vs. Movie. I’ll eventually get around to tearing apart X-Men 3, but the next nerd journal is about Highlander 2 and 3.