- compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2001 1 Jan
Look out, sliced bread: the uncanny X-Men are threatening to become the latest, greatest thing. Action-hungry audiences spent a surprisingly robust $54.5 million in the film's opening weekend. Critics found themselves shocked that character development and social import could blend with the comic-book genre. And Christians spend the weekend seeking the most meaningful spiritual analogies from the highly allegorical story.
"It's this summer's most thoroughly satisfying movie," says GreenLake Reflections' Jeffrey Overstreet about X-Men, in which a group of superpowered mutants strive to fit into a society that fears them. "X-Men are the heroes the big screen so desperately needed. They're damaged, lonely, and misunderstood, but they have a … hope for understanding with 'normal mankind.'" The Dove Foundation says this parallels a Christian experience in America: "Often, the unwitting suspicion cast at the followers of Christ takes on a comparable prejudice. But, like the sacrificial motivations of the film's protagonists, believers are reminded to love their persecutors." This is not the only way the X-Men display Christian virtues. Movieguide appreciated "the unconditional forgiveness [X-Men leader] Professor X shows to his old friend Magneto, in the hopes that he will turn from his evil ways." Deanna Marquart, guest reviewer for Christian Spotlight, says that another mutant's penchant for self-sacrifice is a "heart-touching lesson in love." Not every reviewer was happy; Childcare Action complained of a nearly nude mutant with a "sprayed-on outfit," and a premise that was "in favor of the theory of evolution." But Hollywood Jesus disagreed, saying that the one reference to mutants' "evolution" from humans was merely meant to imply "that we all contain the same genetic stuff. (As the Bible says, we are all of one blood.)" Crosswalk.com's Michael Elliott uses the mutants' "evolution" as a parallel with being made a "new creature" in Christ. Just as the mutations have given the X-Men "a potential power, but it is necessary for them to learn how to control, exercise, and use it properly," so Christians "continue to study the Word of God [to] learn how the spirit within us works." Mainstream critics also noted the film's spiritual resonance, even if they couched their descriptions differently. The Oregonian's Shawn Levy says the film possesses "an unusually sober strain of moral insight [that] sees into the heart of human life," and J. Rentilly of Rough Cut was impressed with "the meaningful heroics of flawed individuals struggling to save themselves." Lest the movie sound textbook-dry, the U.S. Catholic Conference reminds readers that it delivers on a strictly visceral level, too—"an entertaining sci-fi thriller [with] an absorbing, multi-layered narrative, sharp editing and imaginative special effects."
The good reviews for X-Men continue to trickle in, although they're laced with a few more caveats than previous ones. Holly McClure of Crosswalk.com warns to mind the PG-13 rating, as the film is too "dark, depressing and complicated" for youngsters. But overall she "was pleasantly surprised at how well written and directed this movie is, and although I've never been a fan of the comic strip, there is an interesting evil against good storyline." The Phantom Tollbooth's J. Robert Parks finds its "big ideas" of prejudice and tolerance too heavy-handed, but says that it does effectively capture "the pain and angst of adolescence—when your body starts changing and you actually think you're a mutant, when nobody understands you and you'd rather run away into the woods, when your only salvation is finding someone who's as freaky as you are." PlanetWisdom calls it a "good action movie [that's] exciting and well-choreographed," but says the movie's references to evolution are "a serious flaw in the movie's premise." Preview's Paul Bicking, however, says God makes as much of an appearance in the film as evolution theory. The villain Magneto asks a prisoner "if he's a God-fearing man and states that God is a teacher who should not be feared."
X-Men is the comic-book story of mutants who are feared by society but nonetheless try to foster peace between their two communities. The X-Men love their enemies, both the humans who would quarantine them and violent Brotherhood of Mutants who feel superior to humans. While the Brotherhood sees a future of triumph over humanity, the X-Men are sustained by hope in a future of reconciliation. The film seems to say that your concept of heaven, or the future, determines how you will live. Loving my enemies, I learned, is the only course of action if I truly hope for a heaven where we will be reconciled.