(Note: This is an analysis of the character work as told in the screenplay for the 2000 film X-Men. This is an important distinction, as there are major differences between the script and the final product seen in theaters.)
The first thing I noticed when reading the script for X-Men, was the fact that our main character does not show up until page fourteen. While a bit odd, it overall does not affect the flow of the story. There are a lot of characters in the X-Men universe and the script takes it time introducing each one. The opening of the film gives us a small scene with several of the main team members. We may not know who they are yet, but that is not important. What is important is how they stand out. Each scene clearly defines each character’s past and their special power. The screenwriters (Ed Soloman and Christopher McQuarrie) are introducing us to the supporting team before they lead us to our main character.
But this is intentional because of who this film’s main character is: Wolverine. Wolverine is an angry loner. He is far from refined; he may have certain powers that make him unique like the rest of the team, but he does not use them with finesse. The first time we meet Storm, she is like Logan. But the next time we see her in the script, time has past and she has learned how to hone her abilities. This shows that each of the team members have already learned from Charles Xavier. Wolverine, aka Logan, has yet to meet Charles. This is a major plot point for the film. So let’s take a look at an example. (This scene is nearly two pages long, so I will be skipping through it, indicating that by a ‘…’.)
KENYA - 1972
The hot scorched arid savannah…
A PRETTY GIRL OF 12, is tagged and
ONE DEVIOUS CHILD seems to get an idea. He picks up a small
stone and tosses it at the Pretty Girl. Another child follows
suit and then another. Before long, mob rules gives way and
stones are being tossed and then thrown. Small and then
It grows to the brink of frenzy, the laughing and the
shouting not too unlike the noise of the previous scene.
So much so, we may miss the first flake of snow. The children
certainly do. It is snowing for a good half minute before the
last of them stops.
By then, the snow is thick as flies and wafting down to melt
instantly on the hot African soil that has never seen snow
They look up again and see that mixed with the snow are tiny
pellets of hail, seeming to increase in number as the snow
The girl drops to the ground and covers her head as
hailstones the size of coffee cans plow into the Earth as
well as the weaker shacks of grass and mud. Before long, they
hew a path of destruction that devastates the village.
And all along the girl sits huddled in the dust, crying. As
hailstones fall in a circle around her, never coming closer
than ten feet or so.
This is our introduction to the character of Storm. She is a tortured and shunned child who cannot control her powers. Her abilities have clearly been met with fear and contempt. This scene constitutes pages four and five from the script. Now compare this to her next scene on pages sixteen and seventeen. (Again, I will be skipping through indicated by a ‘…’.)
A SUDDEN FLASH OF LIGHT.
Lightning? No. Lightning is not red…
The wind blows so violently now that he nearly misses two
figures standing only a few yards away - mere silhouettes in
the icy haze.
A closer look tell us it is a man and a woman, THEY WEAR
STRANGE UNIFORMS of form-fitting material - the man wears a
reflective visor that hides his eyes. The woman's face is
bare, revealing dark skin and penetrating eyes.
ANOTHER FLASH - one that seems to come from the visor itself.
An intense beam of red light. Sabertooth looks down and sees
the ice at his feet has melted - more accurately been melted -
The TWO FIGURES - CYCLOPS AMD STORM - obviously two of the
children we saw earlier now grown - stand over the whole and
calmly watch Sabertooth gather himself and swim back to the
As we can see here, not only is Storm in full control of her abilities, but she’s no longer alone. Again, Storm is not the main character, Logan is. But Storm, along with Cyclops, are Logan’s gateway into the world of the X-Men. Logan needs to meet Charles Xavier. He is a broken and feral man, much like Storm, Cyclops, even Magneto (the film’s villain) were in the beginning of the script. But we see how they have all been affected by their time with Charles. Therefore, we see that Logan will go through a change by the end of a film. A change that he desperately needs to make. This script is slightly longer, roughly one hundred and ten pages. But with a story set in such a huge universe with so many iconic characters, you really need a little extra time in order to build them up and give them breathing room. And that is okay. Another example of how we see a hint of Logan’s future transformation briefly through the eyes of a different character, is Scott Summers aka Cyclops. (Same rules with the ‘...’ apply.)
INT. BOYS BATHROOM
Several boys are here, bowties undone - undipped in most
cases. Smoking, drinking from whatever inventive container
was used to smuggle in booze. Breath freshener and Visine are
Some of the guys are rolling joints while others make the sad
effort to wave smoke away. Who are they kidding? It's a fog
Man, you are something else. What's the
matter with you?
His friend is on the toilet with his head in his hands. He
seems to be in some pain. He is SCOTT SUMMERS - AGE 17…
He knocks the bottle away..
Scott looks up, taking his hands away, revealing for an
instant that his eyes are merely bright red embers in his
head. Featureless but for the color.
Freckles takes a step back...
He looks at Scott who is now crying meekly in the stall.
The door swings closed TO REVEAL:
A SMOKING, MOLTEN HOLE in the stall door, framing Scott's
Compare that to:
INT. DANGER ROOM CONTROL BOOTH
Cyclops leans into the mic that is connected to the P.A. in
the Danger room.
You really might want to wear some gear.
Logan turns to face him, holding up his hand as his claws
retract, we cannot help but notice that the middle claw
lingers in a familiar sign of defiance.
Cyclops leans in and whispers to Jean. She pushes the lever a
INT. DANGER ROOM
Logan sees this and scowls.
Two objects come at him from opposite directions. Be crosses
his arms and smashes them both…
INT. DANGER ROOM CONTROL BOOTH
Xavier is watching this with growing interest, seeing
something new in Logan's features…
Cyclops leans forward and hits the lever, driving it to its
In the first scene, we see that Scott is your typical teenage boy: drinking, smoking weed, etc. in the boys bathroom. This is the first time his powers are exposing themselves to him (and the world) and he is terrified. Now when we come back to him, he is not only in control of his powers, but as we seen on page forty one, he is also the leader of the team. This is showcased throughout the film, but here we see a rivalry starting between the team leader and the scruffy newcomer. This builds up Cyclops as a character. He is the team leader; strong and focused, and he wants to make sure that every member of his team is at the top of their game. They need to be. But we also see that he still has a bit of that boyish jealousy. Not to mention the fact that Logan likes Jean Grey (Cyclops’ girlfriend and a telepath). That starts a whole rivalry between the two characters.
As mentioned earlier, I was struck by the amount of characters in this screenplay. And yet, each of them is very clearly defined. They also each serve a purpose in the story. Each contributes in a major way. This is very important because as long as each character has something to do, they don’t feel like an addition. Certain films are based on team dynamics, and therefore they do have a lot of characters. Granted, we still follow one central character through their journey (Logan), but having several supporting characters does not always hurt a film. Some of these characters only have one of two scenes, but they still contribute to the story in one way or another. Whether it is early in the script, or late in the game, they all add something important, while also being clearly defined in who they are. And I think that is what makes the difference. So when crafting ensemble films, be aware of what each member of the team adds to the story and the arc of your main character.