X-Men (2000) / Action-Sci Fi

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and some language
Running Time: 104 min.

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen, Bruce Davison, James Marsden, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Rebecca Romijn, Tyler Mane, Ray Park, Shawn Ashmore, Stan Lee (cameo)
Director: Bryan Singer

Screenplay: David Hayter
Review published July 16, 2000 (revised December 27, 2006)

Upon first hearing of this project I was skeptical, since it seemed virtually impossible to cram almost 40 years of comic book mythos and the dozens of main characters that are a staple of the Marvel Comics franchise into a 2 hour movie while still pleasing fans without confusing people new to the X-Men universe. While X-Men does leave quite a bit to be desired as a film, that it delivers cohesive storyline, while also remaining relatively faithful to the themes of the Marvel comic book, is a remarkable feat. This definitely could have been much worse.

The plot: Well, it seems every once in a while, an increase in the amount of mutants (evolutionary accelerated humans who possess powers beyond average) occurs.  The 20th Century is one of those times. Erik Lensherr (McKellen, The Fellowship of the Ring) is a former Polish Jew who sees his family and friends perish at the hands of the Nazis, and who discovers he has powers of immense magnetism, where all metals are at his mercy. Years later, the upsurge in mutants is causing the United States Congress to try to pass laws against them and eradicate the mutant menace, and fearing genocide of his own mutant race, Lensherr (aka Magneto) is recruiting mutants to band together in a war to turn homosapiens into mutants, and therefore finally gain them acceptance (If you can't beat them, make them join you). Professor Charles Xavier (Stewart, Star Trek: Insurrection) is his nemesis in the battle, and he has started a school for the ultra-gifted mutants to learn and hone their powers into something manageable for the good of humanity. The two factions go head to head when New York is threatened with virtual extinction at the hands of Magneto.

All things considered, X-Men is about a good a movie as one could reasonably expect considering the limitations of the source material. The main themes of mutant-hood are set up well, and thankfully, the film eschews delving into the backgrounds of all of the characters, instead focusing on the most popular and interesting character, Wolverine (Jackman, Someone Like You), with Rogue (Paquin, A Walk on the Moon) offering a vulnerable damsel-in-distress to inspire the loner to join the team.

There's good casting all-around, getting the most natural person for Professor X and a solid Magneto in Ian McKellen (who Singer previously directed in Apt Pupil). Casting Hugh Jackman, a little known Australian-born actor, as Wolverine was a definite gamble, but a successful one by most accounts, and he does a commendable job in the role (even if he is a bit tall).  Anna Paquin also plays a great Rogue (even without the accent, shugah). Other notable castings include Halle Berry (Bulworth, Boomerang) as Storm, Famke Janssen (Love & Sex, The Faculty) as Jean Grey, WCW wrestler Tyler Mane as Sabertooth, and Ray Park (who played Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace) as Toad.

Obviously, given the success of the film and the established fan base, sequels followed, fleshing out the characters a bit more, allowing us to be rewarded with a solid series of adventures, a la the Star Trek film series.  As long as they continue to concentrate more on the core characters they already have, instead of introducing the hundreds of other X-Men characters from the comic books, it should prove a successful venture. Fans of the popular "X-Men" comic books should enjoy seeing their dreams of big-screen greatness for their characters delivered in this entertaining action-adventure, and many unfamiliar may become fans of their own by seeking out the comic book series.

Don't expect to be blown away with this first entry, and you'll get 90+ minutes of adventure, comic book style. X-Men isn't groundbreaking, or even great filmmaking, but that doesn't diminish it as comic book fun.

-- Followed by X2: X-Men United (2003) and X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), the spin-offs X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) and The Wolverine (2013). Also followed by the prequel, X-Men: First Class (2011), and a prequel/sequel, X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014).

Qwipster's rating

©2000, 2006 Vince Leo