Rated: PG-13 :: Released: 14 July 2000
Director: Bryan Singer :: Starring: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Anna Paquin, Rebecca Romijn
By Doran Murphy
03 February 2005 — Being one of the earliest films in this new generation of Marvel comic book movies, everyone had high hopes for X-Men. As franchises go, X-Men is Marvel's biggest, with the possible exception of Spider-Man. And this film could have either quashed all hopes of comic book movies doing well or started a resurgence. Obviously, the results speak for themselves. Zillions of dollars made at the box office, lots of DVD and VHS sales (despite the fact that X-Men was released near the official death of the VHS player) a special edition of X-Men 1.5, and a box set with X-Men 2? Yeah, it did pretty well.
The film starts off with one of my favorite scenes in recent movie history—Magneto as a child in a Nazi death camp. It's got a couple purposes that I really like about it. One, it looks very impressive visually, and grounds the film in historic reality. Two, it makes Magneto vulnerable. No, they don't really touch on this later, but it shows that he is not some sort of all-powerful god. It shows that Magneto has suffered loss and tragedy; and it humanizes him and makes him sympathetic. It's just like the comic books—you may not agree with Magneto, but at the least you can sympathize with him. The death camp also plays a large part in Magneto's motivations. The movie is based on registering (and presumably numbering) mutants, and the number tattoo he bears on his arm serves as a poignant reminder of what happened the last time he allowed himself to be numbered. Obviously, he doesn't want it to happen again.
The movie does a pretty good job of pinning the characters down. They made a few small changes in the character dynamics, like Sabretooth and Wolverine (in the comics, they have a long, long history), and the relationship between Rogue and Wolverine is noticeably different, as well. (In the comics, Jubilee is Wolverine's sidekick—not Rogue). The latter change is acceptable, but the former is heresy. They might cover it up in future movies with something like memory implants, but either way, I was none too happy. I mean, all they had to do was have Logan say "Sabretooth" or "Victor" during their first confrontation, and it would have been a touchdown. It's actually very disturbing that the two characters didn't seem familiar with each other, because of the important roles they play in each other's history.
The part that really impressed me about X-Men is how well most of the characters were done. In the promo shots that were taken for the movie, the faces that they used were sort of darkened, as they didn't really seems sure of their abilities to pass these off as the characters we know and love. It provided a sense of allure as well, but at first I thought they just half-assed the costume making and such. However, when I saw the film, I quickly found that most of my fears were almost completely unfounded. The only thing that didn't look very cool was Toad; and well, Toad sucks. The large "mutant explosion" effect they used was also very well done and quite cool looking.
The movie is really well acted, and I was quite surprised that there was so little cheesiness and over-acting. Other than Halle Berry, who really, really disappointed me in this film. (And subsequently in X-Men 2, yet she has the gall to demand more money. Fuck her.) She just seemed so very lame. Mind you, some of her lines really, really sucked. ("What happens when a Toad gets hit by lightning? The same thing as everything else!") But I just couldn't stand her. I could be crazy, though, and I do hate the Storm character in general, so it could be mainly due to that.
Anyway, X-Men introduces us to most of the major players we're going to see in the series. Plot-wise, it's nothing exactly groundbreaking. Obviously it sets itself up for a sequel, where they can take the existing character development and build on that. X-Men was built as a decent film that would make the fans hungry for more, while setting the series up for bigger and better things. It's fairly ambitious in this regard.
However, in some regards it set a dangerous precedent. Some filmmakers seem to think of sequels to comic movies as a foregone conclusion; and they half-ass the original. They seem to forego an actual gripping film for character development, setting things up for bigger and (presumably) better things in the later film(s). X-Men was a fairly entertaining, but it's inspired its fair share of bastardizations and knockoffs, which are poor films.
No matter which way you cut it, I find X-Men is still an entertaining film several years after its release. Yes, X-Men 2 blows it out of the water (But in a good or a bad way? Stay tuned!), but I still enjoyed watching it; even though I've seen it several times. It's not just because I'm a comic book fan either; several non-comic book fans I know enjoyed the film quite a bit, too. In light of this overall "pretty goodness", I give it:
Comic Geek Score: 8
Movie Fan Score: 7.5
Averaged Score: 7.75