Hugh Jackman - Logan/Wolverine
Patrick Stewart - Professor Charles Xavier
Ian McKellen - Eric Lehnsherr/Magneto
Anna Paquin - Marie/Rogue
Famke Janssen - Jean Grey
James Marsden - Scott Summers/Cyclops
Halle Berry - Ororo Monroe/Storm
Rebecca Romijn - Mystique
Bruce Davison - Senator Robert Kelly
Tyler Mane - Sabretooth
Ray Park - Toad
Genre - Fantasy/Comic Book/Action
Running Time - 104 Minutes
Back in the day, I was an avid comic book collector. While DC Comics has some interesting heroes [Batman tops them all; Superman is okay at best for me], I was definitely a Marvel guy. I bought every issue of Spider-Man [Amazing, Spectacular, Sensation, Web, regular, anything related], Fantastic Four, The Avengers, and especially the X-Men [Uncanny and the other 200 spinoffs]. As someone who was bullied when I was younger, I could relate to the adventures of these mutant heroes trying to find a place in society that not even their powers could help them with. I thought it would always be cool if they had made a film about the team. After all, the 90s cartoon on FOX was a fantastic interpretation of the team, taking stories from the comics and doing them justice [especially the episodes with Phoenix/Dark Phoenix - great stuff]. But I knew making a film about a team that had so many years of history would be a tough task to pull off.
After all, prior to 2000, comic book films [especially on Marvel's side of things] weren't doing so hot. Sure the 60s and 70s television shows like Batman, Wonder Woman, and The Incredible Hulk were very cool [the less said about that Amazing Spider-Man show, the better]. Plus in 1978, you had a huge superhero film in Richard Donner's SUPERMAN, which crafted [in my opinion] a better sequel in 1980's SUPERMAN II. Too bad SUPERMAN III, SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE, and SUPERGIRL weren't that great.
In 1989, Tim Burton restarted the cycle with BATMAN, a film that shattered box office records at the time and gave everyone hope that comic books can work as live-action movies. However, the 1990s weren't great for comic book films. While 1992's BATMAN RETURNS and even 1995's BATMAN FOREVER were more than watchable films, WB bombed with 1997's BATMAN AND ROBIN. We also had TANK GIRL, THE PHANTOM, JUDGE DREDD, STEEL, and SPAWN - films that really didn't set the box office on fire. Besides 1994's THE CROW and 1997's BLADE [the first Marvel Comics film property to be successful in a long while], things were looking pretty bleak.
That is until X-MEN was announced for a 2000 release. Directed by THE USUAL SUSPECTS and APT PUPIL director, Bryan Singer, and boasting a pretty impressive cast, there was some decent hope for the film. Crafting a film with these characters in a realistic world that audiences [who may or may not the comics' history] would be a challenge for the filmmakers, as it would obviously not please everyone. Still, X-MEN was going to be a major success since it was highly anticipated for years. It did well at the box office. Critics enjoyed it. Fans liked it for the most part. And it reignited, not only Marvel Comics film properties, but the entire comic book film genre in general. So while X-MEN isn't the greatest superhero film adaptation out there, it deserves a lot of respect and credit for not only giving us other comic book adaptations that would be released later on, but for being a decent film in its own right.
In the near future, some members of the human species are undergoing an cellular evolution that provides these members with special abilities that make them somewhat superior to normal humans. This has caused some fear in many, sparking a political debate, led by Senator Robert Kelly (Bruce Davison) - who wants to create a bill that will let the public know exactly who's a mutant in order to quarantine them somehow, hopefully stopping the threat of their existence. While upstanding mutants, like Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Dr. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) who both have telepathy [Jean is mainly a telekenetic], are trying to ease the public in believing that mutants are just like everyone else, most of the public is willing to sign this bill.
Meanwhile, a teenage girl named Marie (Anna Paquin), who calls herself Rogue, runs away from her home in Mississippi after she puts her boyfriend in a coma after kissing him on the lips. Apparently, Rogue has the ability to absorb the lifeforce of others with just a single touch, causing her grief and loneliness. She arrives in Canada and ends up in a bar. Here, she meets a steel-cage fighter named Logan (Hugh Jackman), who calls himself Wolverine. Wolverine's mutant power happens to be healing wounds and illnesses at a rapid rate, but his main attraction seems to be sporting a Adamantium skeleton with claws that could cut through any material.
Wolverine and Rogue reluctantly partner up, unaware of an ambush by evil mutants known as The Brotherhood who have a great interest in them. They're saved by another group of mutants called the X-Men, who are associated with Professor Xavier. Using a school as a cover up for their identities, Xavier explains that the school is used to train mutants how to use their powers to protect humanity. However, Xavier's former best friend Eric Lehnsherr (Ian McKellen), who is The Brotherhood's leader as Magneto, believes that humans will never understand or appreciate mutants, wanting to destroy homo sapien life once and for all.
It's really a surprise that X-MEN, even 11 years after it's release, still holds up pretty well and works as well as it does. You'd think with, at the time, 37 years of history and hundreds of characters to work with, the film would turn out more of a disaster. After all, putting a comic book movie is pretty hard to do, since you have to please two sides of the audience: those who already know the history and those who are watching just to see action and cool special effects without knowledge of the backstory. It's even harder when you're doing an origin story where you can't do too much so it doesn't alienate both audiences. X-MEN, while not perfect in any way, still does enough to give everyone what they want while creating a foundation for a future franchise.
The screenplay by David Hayter, with help by Bryan Singer and Tom DeSanto, takes its subject matter seriously and with respect. It must have been a tough job trying to create an origin story with characters that have such a huge history for so many years. What characters do you use? What story from the comics do you tell? How do you please fans of the comics while introducing these characters to those without any X-Men knowledge? I think for the most part, Hayter chose the right characters to build a franchise on. Do I wish other characters could have been in the film? Of course. Gambit would have been a shoo-in for me. Maybe even Beast as well. What about Colossus and Nightcrawler? Eventually, those characters do appear in the film series. But they would have made interesting additions to the X-Men squad from the beginning. But the characters we do get are pretty much characters that should be in an X-MEN film.
Obviously, the purpose of this film is to establish characters and establish the story arc that would continue in other installments. As we all know, the X-MEN franchise is really Marvel's way to bring the most popular and probably most overrated [in my opinion anyway] X-Men ever - Wolverine. While the focus on one of the most bad ass characters ever created would become a problem in the later entries of the franchise, it's easy to see why he's such a draw in the original. He has a rebellious personality. He can kick your ass and not think twice about it. He has cool metal claws and speaks like a younger Clint Eastwood. He flirts with hot redheads and plays a father figure to damsels-in-distress. Who doesn't want to be this guy? I think the way Wolverine is portrayed here is pretty close as it is to the comics - the tough loner who eventually finds a family that he won't abandon or betray. Should he be the main character for a group hero franchise? That's questionable. But he's the one fans and non-fans know, making Wolverine an easy candidate to be in the spotlight.
Because of Wolverine's focus, the other characters in the film do get a bit of the shaft except for a few. Obviously, the main strife between Professor Charles Xavier and Magneto has to be a major focal point since their rivalry is why the X-Men stories exist to begin with. Xavier, taking the Martin Luther King, Jr. approach, believes that mutants should co-exist with humans. Magneto, taking the Malcolm X approach, feels that mutants are better than humans and deserve more respect because of their powers. If they can't handle that, then he'll eliminate his enemies by any means necessary. While we don't know much of Xavier's background from this film alone, Magneto's motives come from the fact that he was a survivor of the Holocaust. Feeling persecuted again for being different, he refuses to be a victim and will maintain power even if he has to eliminate an entire species to make it happen. While Xavier's X-Men and Magneto's Brotherhood attempt to hurt each other to bring their respective leaders' points across, there's an odd mutual respect that goes on between the two men, since they were once best friends. No matter if Xavier wants to infiltrate Magneto's mind or Magneto poisons Xavier's mutant locator, Cerebro, the two men still manage to remain cordial to each other as if it's a game of Chess. It's an interesting relationship that grows as the franchise expands [their relationship seems to be the main focus of the prequel, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS]. It also mimics their relationship in the comics to a tee as well, giving the material a lot of depth that most comic book films seem to lack.
The other characters that get more time than the others are Rogue and Jean Grey. Rogue is the inexperienced, young mutant who has no idea how to handle her powers. She also plays Wolverine's reason to join and stay with the X-Men, helping them as they help her deal with her horrible condition. I've always had an issue with how Rogue was portrayed in these films. She's such a strong, tortured, and interesting character in the comics that it's kind of sad to see what she's reduced to in the movies. She doesn't have super strength. She can't fly. The seductive Southern accent is nowhere to be found. Even her relationship with Mystique is glossed over and Mystique is in the damn film! I always felt that this character was really Jubilee and Kitty Pryde merged together [both characters were usually under Wolverine's wing in the comics], only with Rogue's absorption powers. I sort of understand that to do Rogue, they would have to bring in a much larger backstory and bring in characters that other studios may have had the rights to [Carol Danvers in THE AVENGERS franchise soon?]. But without Gambit and without the look and feel of the comic character, Rogue just feels like a missed opportunity. Sadly, Rogue is portrayed here the best than in the other films.
With Jean Grey, she's here to be Xavier's confidant due to their identical powers and skills. She's also one of the main reasons Wolverine stays with the X-Men, as he has a huge attraction to her - one she quietly returns, even though she's with the X-Men's leader, Cyclops. While the love triangle does feel a bit forced at times, it does need to be there because it was a huge part of X-Men history. And I never really realized it until watching the film again recently, but the moment where Jean finally uses Cerebro to find Rogue's whereabouts after Magneto kidnaps her, is the catalyst for what should have been the Dark Phoenix Saga. Unfortunately, we all know how that ended up, but it's nice to see how subtle it was set up.
It's too bad the other characters don't get much screen time. Mystique and Toad have a ton of personality and shine in every scene they're in. Toad is really shocking since he's not really considered a major X-Men villain, even though his powers make him interesting. Mystique has always been a favorite of mine, with her ability to look hot and shape-shift. She's probably one of the highlights of the franchise as a whole. Sabretooth, while an awesome character in the comics, is nothing but Magneto's lackey in the film. He's portrayed as dumb, but the comic book character is one of the most dangerous and cunning villains the X-Men have ever faced. He would get a better and bigger role in X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE years later. As for the rest of the X-Men, Cyclops doesn't get much to do really. It's a shame since he's supposed to be the leader of the team and has been a part of every major storyline in the X-Men's history. As for Storm, what a waste of character space she is. Another one who is a born leader, all she gets to do is wear a bad white wig and say lines that just make you cringe. She deserves better.
I will say that the narrative really focuses on the true essence of any good X-Men story - the fact that being a mutant can be a great thing for some, but it could also be lonely, painful, and difficult to deal with due to others not being able to understand or tolerate one's evolution. The sense of being alienated has always been at the core of the X-Men series, and the film captures that really well. From the politicians wanting to end this "Mutant Menace" because powers are dangerous to humankind [even though they refuse to see the good they could wield], to the idea of destroying those who don't understand due to the lack of hope in change, and to the idea of family and the struggle to keep everyone on the same page even when they have different opinions are all presented well - creating a serious and thought-provoking action film underneath the special effects and fight scenes. The characters, even with their silly powers and costumes, all come across as real. They face problems just like everyone else. The only difference is that they can manipulate the weather, reads minds, or use metal as a toy. It's not as dark or brooding as BATMAN, yet it's not as colorful as SPIDER-MAN. It handles the balance very well.
I think what doesn't help the narrative is the short running time. At 104 minutes, this film would be long enough for an origin story for a singular character. But when you have this many characters in one film and you're trying to set up their backstories, create conflict, and get from point A to point B, you really need more time to give each character their due. In fact, the action sequences [there should have been a few more really] do feel a bit rushed at times. It's as if you can tell there was more to the story that was told here, but there's so much you can tell in such a short time. Also, there are a few moments of exposition that slow the pace a bit, which is not good when you're watching an action film. Still, the film is mostly successful in what it attempts to accomplish.
Like with every comic book film, the main attraction is really the action sequences and special effects. X-MEN, surprisingly, only used a $75 million budget. While understandable that 20th Century Fox would be a bit cheap with this huge project, due to the fact that comic book films weren't setting the box office on fire at the time, it does limit the visuals a bit. Not only did the budget cancel out certain characters from the original script [Gambit was supposed to be a main character from the beginning, but his powers would have cost $$$], but it makes some of the CGI look really cartoonish at times. Wolverine's claws, at times, look visibly like CGI instead of real metal. The scene where Wolverine cuts a part of the Statue of Liberty's crown looks really fake. There are other moments as well, but most of the effects do look solid. It's too bad Fox rushed X-MEN for a summer release instead of the holiday 2000 release as it was intended. Maybe those issues would have been ironed out. As for the action sequences, they're quite well choreographed. The highlight is definitely the final sequence, with Wolverine pretty much kicking ass by himself and with the X-Men's help. Both issues would improve greatly in future installments [except for some of the special effects in X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE], but it's a decent start. It just looks primitive to what we're used to now, that's all.
Bryan Singer does a great job directing such a complicated comic book film. It has superheroes and supervillains doing extraordinary things like a fantasy film, yet it's believable and kept grounded in reality. The film moves pretty fast, the editing is fantastic, the cinematography looks nice, and the acting sequences are shot well and with some nice style. While the final sequence is great, my favorite moment in the film is actually the scene at the train station where Magneto has a showdown with the police. It's just a tense, suspenseful moment in the film that not only shows how good of a director Singer is, but gives his main villain a lot of power that makes him truly come across as a threat [even if Magneto is a 60-year-old man in a stupid outfit]. The music by Michael Kamen could have been stronger and more intense to really push X-MEN over the top [like Danny Elfman's scores for these films]. It was just there for me and doesn't add tension or any sort of excitement to this film, which is probably why I hear people claim it's boring. But other than that, Singer used X-MEN as a teaser for what he had planned in future installments, even though he only stayed around to do one more. But that's a story for another time.
The acting is mostly good. The film really belongs to then-unknown Australian actor, Hugh Jackman. I can't imagine how Dougray Scott [the original pick for Wolverine] would have managed since Jackman truly brings the character to life in more ways than one. This film truly made the man a star and deservingly so, as he carries the entire film on his back and doesn't even sweat it. He's a bit taller than I would have liked, but he knows exactly who the character is. Just like Wolverine, Jackman is the best at what he does. I can't see anyone else in the role.
Patrick Stewart is the only choice to play Charles Xavier. Even before the film was released, I would always tell my friends that he's the only actor that could pull the role off. Not only does he look like the character, but he gives the film class and a level of respect that this kind of film needs. Same goes with Ian McKellen as Magneto, who really gives X-MEN depth by creating a villain we can't hate as a person, but can hate the way he does things. We understand both characters and see both their points quite easily, due to having two actors who can seriously provide a foundation that this franchise is based upon.
Anna Paquin is good as Rogue in terms of what the film is trying to accomplish. She handles the torment of not being able to touch others without hurting them, along with the loneliness the character has to endure, with grace and conviction. She presents the negative side of being a mutant and does it well. She also has nice chemistry with Jackman, with makes her role as his crutch believable. I also dig the moment she gets that trademark white streak in her hair by the way. I just wish the character was portrayed more like the comic book version.
Famke Janssen is sexy as hell as Jean Grey. She portrays a real woman - one who is intelligent, powerful, and easy on the eyes as well. She's the backbone of the film and does a great job with the material. Also sexy is Rebecca Romijn, who rocks Mystique in nothing but blue paint with some material covering her privates. She doesn't say much in the film really, but her seductive presence is definitely felt.
As for the other actors, Ray Park does well as Toad. He knows how to play physical roles, even giving audiences a nod to his Darth Maul days. Tyler Mane looks physically imtimidating as Sabretooth, but doesn't impress other than that. James Marsden does a good job as Cyclops, even if he never gets his moment in this franchise. And Halle Berry is just...yeah. That accent is horrible and the wig distracted me. Storm [and probably Berry] deserved better than what was given. Also, Shawn Ashmore [as Bobby Drake/Iceman] and Bruce Davison do well in their small roles.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE USING MY INVISIBILITY POWERS TO SNEAK IN THE GIRLS' SHOWER...FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES...
- When Rogue kissed Cody, her absorption powers put him in a coma. Apparently, she's related to M.C. Hammer.
- Bobby made a rose out of ice for Rogue. Too bad it's the only way he'll get a chance to touch Rogue's "flower", if he knows what's good for him.
- Rogue touched Logan for his healing factor after he accidentally stabbed her during a nightmare. Not only was this the most penetration Rogue would probably ever get from a man, but Logan's pain equaled my pain of watching him in AUSTRALIA. I'm still suffering...
- Magneto held off the police by manipulating their metal guns and using the weapons against them. Remember - those sweating bullets will suffer a Megadeth.
- Never hit Wolverine in the balls. He'll take that personally. So would 100% of the male population. Save the nutcracking for Christmas!
THE FINAL HOWL
While not the best made superhero film or superhero origin story, X-MEN still holds up pretty well after 11 years and deserves credit for creating a superhero film that's mature, smart, and respectful to its source material. There are certain aspects about the film I would probably do differently as a fanboy, but Bryan Singer deserves a lot of credit for doing justice with what probably was a challenging task to bring one of the most popular comic book teams to life. X-MEN, for the most part, marks the spot.
3 Howls Outta 4