Release Date: July 14, 2000
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: Bryan Singer
Release Format: Theatrical
With X-Men: Apocalypse looming on the horizon, I thought it would be a good time to revisit the X-Men films of old. I’ll be reviewing all seven previous entries in this series leading up to my review of X-Men: Apocalypse toward the end of the month. It’s time to analyze the good, the bad and the seemingly endless plot holes that have plagued the series for the better part of a decade so let’s get started.
There are no two ways about it, if you asked me what my favorite comic series was as a kid or even today, I would stand up and proudly reply, “X-Men”. From the comics to the cartoons, I was an absolute X-Men junkie. I loved the epic and engaging stories, I loved the unforgettable characters and I still find myself reading and watching everything related to them even as a 28-year-old man (Yes, even the bad ones… I’m lookin’ at you X-Men: Noir). So when I heard as a 12-year-old kid that an X-Men movie was coming out, I couldn’t contain my excitement. I squealed harder than a little girl at a N’Sync Concert (Ask your parents, kids). So, my father and I went to the theater opening weekend to see my favorite heroes on the big screen. Was it perfect? No, not by any stretch. However, what I got was still a fun, meaningful and action packed experience that I still love to this day. In fact, I love it even more now, 16 years later as an adult.
In this first outing for the beloved heroes, US Senator Robert Kelly is trying to get a mutant registration act passed that will force all mutants to reveal themselves publicly. It’s here we are introduced to Magneto (played by Ian McKellan) and Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and while they both oppose the registration act, they oppose in different ways. Xavier is clearly more trusting about mankind making the right choice and tries to keep hope alive, battling the registration act by use of politics. Magneto, however, believes that mutants are the superior race or as he so distinctly puts it, “We are the future, Charles, not them. They no longer matter.” Meanwhile, the loner mutant Wolverine (played by Hugh Jackman) stumbles across a runaway named Rogue (played by Anna Paquin). When Xavier realizes that Magneto may be after one of them, they bring Wolverine & Rogue into the fold and work together to stop Magneto and his Brotherhood Of Mutants.
X-Men is a film that feels simplistic but also pays close attention to character development while giving all of its actors a chance to shine as their respective characters. For example, the film opens with the origins of Magneto, showing him as the young child, Erik Lehnsheer, as he is taken from his mother by the Nazi’s during WWII. From the first frame, the film perfectly demonstrates for us why Magneto is the way he is so that we can build a connection with him. Given Ian McKellan’s presence alone, it’s no surprise that he nailed this role. He plays the sympathetic villain who believes himself to be the hero of mutant-kind with precision and ease and his moments with Patrick Stewart’s Charles Xavier are some of the many highlights of the film. The scene of them playing chess together is a personal favorite of mine. The film makes it clear that these aren’t just two bitter old men, these are friends; friends who are torn apart by their own beliefs and ideologies but who ultimately want the same thing. Seeing it play out in certain moments is actually a bit heartbreaking.
Hugh Jackman was perfect as Wolverine (despite the significant height difference from his comic book counterpart) and he plays off Anna Paquin’s Rogue beautifully. Much like with Professor X and Magneto, Wolverine and Rogue have a defined relationship that, at times, comes off as a father/daughter relationship. Both have much in common as they are both running from something and both find it difficult to be around other people; Wolverine due to his aggressive nature & unknown past and Rogue because of her inability to touch other people without potentially killing them. Another thing I’m glad they played upon was the triangle between Wolverine, Cyclops (played by James Marsden) and Jean Grey (played by Famke Jensen). This was a big part of the comics and the animated show so I was pleased to find that Singer was able to fit it in the film. It’s mostly played for laughs, building up the rivalry between Cyclops and Wolverine but overall it was a pretty good starting point. Both Jensen and Marsden do fine in their roles and fit the characters well, even if Cyclops does play second fiddle to Wolverine (And that’s not just here, that’s ALL the movies in this series).
The Brotherhood of Mutants consists of Mystique, Toad, and Sabertooth. Whereas any lesser X-Men film (*coughs* Last Stand *coughs*) would probably just push them to the sidelines to make more room for Magneto, this film manages to have some pretty fun action set pieces with each one of them. Toad (played by Ray Park), for example, has a pretty unique confrontation with Storm (played by Halle Berry). The final line she delivers to him is a groaner, to say the least, but the sequence was so much fun that it didn’t really bother me. Rebecca Romijn-Stamos was a good Mystique. She had the body, she had the voice and she had the charisma to bring the character to life but, much like most of the films in this series, Mystique comes off as more of a lackey than her own individual character.
As for the story and the pacing, it all works well and feels like classic X-Men. Magneto has an elaborate plan for mutant domination that the X-Men have to stop. Again it’s simple, but for their first outing, that’s all they had to be. Bryan Singer does a beautiful job establishing the X-Men universe, complete with the themes of racism, isolation, and fear that were prominent in the comics as well as the cartoon. As far as the action is concerned, it’s thrilling. Bryan Singer goes out of his way to make every action scene in the film memorable. We have a rumble in a snowstorm, a fight inside a train station and big climactic battle in and on The Statue of Liberty. The writing for the film is well done, though I must address that David Hayter did not write this movie himself. He was given sole writing credit (much like Simon Kinberg in X-Men: Days Of Future Past but, oh well) but Ed Solomon and Christopher McQuarrie also had a hand in this particular script and I believe they deserve some credit as well. Good job, guys.
That being said, the movie is not perfect. It does have some issues but, the more I watch it, I realize that most of my issues have to do with the film as an adaptation rather than a film. So, I’ll just get those gripes out of the way now. First and foremost, the suits. I understand that they were leaning more towards the Ultimate X-Men designs but the fact that they all have the same outfits is a bit lame. The black leather looks nice but part of what made the X-Men memorable was that they each had their own distinctive uniforms. I don’t know, maybe a nitpick, but they just never really sat right with me, personally. Second, while it was awesome to see Wolverine and Sabertooth have a huge battle with each other twice in the same film, the film disregards their complex history. Granted their history has changed too many times to count in the comics but the film makes the odd decision to ignore it altogether. Guess I shouldn’t complain, though, I still have a botched Lady Deathstrike to get to when I review X2. At least Tyler Mane looked the part.
My final issue was with Rogue. Yes, I know, I spent half a paragraph talking about how much I liked her and her friendship with Wolverine but, at the same time, the Rogue in the film is nowhere close to the Rogue from the comics or the cartoon series. Rogue is supposed to be a southern belle, not a damsel who needs saving. I used to make the comment that the Rogue in this film acts more like Kitty Pryde or Jubilee than she does Rogue. Now, I stand by that statement but, watching it again, doing it this way made much more sense from a storytelling standpoint. If it had been Kitty Pryde or Jubilee encountering Wolverine, their relationship wouldn’t mean anything. The point of Rogue being made into this character was so that she could relate more to Wolverine; the feeling of isolation, the feeling of not being able to be close to people and the feeling of powerlessness to get back what they once had. There is fantastic writing in this film for these two characters and the way they relate is the very heart of the film. Would have I loved to have seen the Rogue I know and love from the comics on the big screen? Absolutely, no question about it. However, I have to concede that the story would not have been anywhere near as meaningful as a result.
Overall, X-Men is a fun ride with meaningful characters, interesting themes and tons of exciting action to boot. Is it perfect? No, it’s not, but for the first X-Men movie, I’m just glad they got as much right as they did. The acting is superb from the entire cast and all of them seemed really into their roles. When I saw Patrick Stewart as Professor X and Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, I didn’t see Patrick Stewart or Hugh Jackman; I saw Professor X and Wolverine, perfectly realized. Despite it’s few glaring flaws (and by glaring flaws, I mean my excessive nitpicking), it’s still big on character development, big on action, big on story and big on heart; X-Men just rocks.
- Characters: Some characters are better than others, as some don’t resemble their comic book counterparts in spirit (especially Rogue, Sabretooth, and Mystique). However, when a character is done right, like Wolverine, Professor X or Magneto, the film shines through. Not perfect but nowhere near bad either.
- Cinematography: The film looks great. The action set pieces are phenomenal and memorable. Some of the CGI is a bit dated but that’s common with most films from the early 2000’s.
- Story: The story is a bit cheesy, especially in regards to Magneto’s plan but the script by David Hayter, Ed Solomon, and Christopher McQuarrie brilliantly blends in the social commentaries that made the comics and the cartoon so fun to enjoy.
- Acting: The acting all around is well done with Ian McKellan, Hugh Jackman, and Anna Paquin being the highlights. Each actor embraced their characters beautifully and had fun while also being dramatic and moving.
- The Acting
- Thought Provoking Themes
- Exciting Action
- Great Set-Up For An X-Men Universe
- Some Bits Of Cheesy Dialogue
- Lame Costumes
- Some Characters Represent Their Comic Book Counterparts In Appearance Only