Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 44 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sci-Fi Action Violence
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Written by: Tom DeSanto & Bryan Singer
(based on the X-MEN comics by Jack Kirby & Stan Lee)
Starring: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Bruce Davison, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Ray Park, Tyler Mane, Anna Paquin & Shawn Ashmore
An X-MEN movie had been trying to get off the ground for nearly two decades. Many different scripts passed through lots of hands before this movie was finally released in the summer of 2000. Though X-MEN might seem slightly dated by the standards of our modern spoiled superhero sensibilities, it was a game-changer at the time of its release. Most notably, it resurrected interest in a genre that had been dying a horrible box office death a few years prior (e.g. BATMAN & ROBIN). Though most of its sequels are superior and this first film basically exists as an introduction to the franchise, 2000’s X-MEN is big fun entertainment that’s loaded with spectacle and special effects.
In the “near future,” the public has become afraid of mutants, individuals born with superhuman powers. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is one of these mutants, gifted with extraordinary healing abilities, elevated senses, and indestructible metal claws. Alongside him is teenage runaway Rogue (Anna Paquin), who sucks away the life from everything she touches. Wolverine and Rogue stumble upon Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Run by psychic Professor X (Patrick Stewart), this “school” is a safe haven for mutants as well as a front for the X-Men, a top-secret group of mutants.
Not all mutants are good though, and menacing metal-bender Magneto (Ian McKellen) has plans to level the playing field between mutants and humans. Accompanied by shape-shifting Mystique (Rebecca Romijn), slimy Toad (Ray Park), and feral Sabretooth (Tyler Mane), Magneto begins to enact a carefully calculated terrorist plot that involves an important mutant at Xavier’s School. It’s up to Wolverine and the rest of the X-Men: Cyclops (James Marsden), Storm (Halle Berry), and Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), to stop Magneto’s evil plan.
X-MEN both is and isn’t your typical superhero film. The former comes from following a by-the-numbers plot about good vs. evil. There are clear-cut heroes, diabolical villains, a plan to take over the world, and an exposition-filled origin story that paves the way for future installments (five of which have followed in the last 16 years and that number jumps to seven with the WOLVERINE films included). The driving force of X-MEN’s narrative comes from prejudice on both sides of the mutant fence. Plot developments are driven forward by a bill that would force mutants to publicly reveal themselves. Magneto’s motivation is driven by his hatred for mankind, which in turn was spawned from mankind’s hatred towards him. Wolverine and Rogue are drawn together due to a world that seemingly hates them for simply being who they are. Themes of prejudice and civil rights are evident in this film, even though it sticks to a clichéd superhero plot.
Wolverine, Rogue, Professor X, and Magneto are the main players here and every other mutant is swept to the sidelines. Hugh Jackman was a fresh-faced newcomer at the time of X-MEN and really broke onto the big screen in the role of Wolverine. It’s damn near impossible to imagine anybody else playing the clawed mutant, especially since Jackman has done so for eight films. He’s a likable protagonist with a mysterious past. Patrick Stewart is perfectly cast as the kindly, peaceful Professor X. He’s an old man with a good heart and does his best to fill those around him with hope for the future. The oppositional force comes in Ian McKellen’s Magneto, who garners sympathy due to his tragic backstory (shown in a prologue sequence) and warped ideals.
The only bad apple in the cast comes in the form of Anna Paquin’s Rogue. Paquin isn’t exactly known for being the world’s best actress (watch any episode of TRUE BLOOD and you’ll immediately know what I’m talking about) and her Mississippi accent is distractingly over-the-top. Paquin’s line delivery is utterly devoid of believable emotion and this makes Rogue into a hollow character, despite of her tragic backstory. The supporting cast somewhat makes up for Rogue’s boring character, because Halle Berry is enjoyable as Storm, James Marsden gets a few good laughs as egocentric Cyclops, and Famke Janssen is an interesting ally as Jean Grey.
Magneto’s henchmen (and henchwoman) are interesting as well, even though they only function as muscle for him. The second most interesting villain, behind Magneto, comes in the ever-changing form of Mystique. As much as I love Jennifer Lawrence’s take on the character in recent installments, Rebecca Romijn is far more threatening as the blue-skinned baddie. Tyler Mane is basically a growling hairy guy as Sabretooth, though he receive get a very cool one-on-one fight with Wolverine. Ray Park, who also played Darth Maul in 1999, is a blast as the long-tongued, agile Toad. As far as humans go, Bruce Davison is great as a hate-filled politician with a significant role to play in the story.
The first X-MEN is a fun superhero flick. It follows the familiar beats of many other superhero stories, but repeats the clichés in interesting ways. The film is loaded with cool sequences and an exciting good vs. evil showdown in the finale. X-MEN is good, but very much feels like an introduction for better sequels. Seeing that X2, FIRST CLASS, DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, and THE WOLVERINE are all heads and shoulders above this first installment, this can definitely be seen as the case.