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X-Men (2000) – Movie Review

X-Men movie poster

Directed by Bryan Singer
Written by David Hayter, story by Tom DeSanto & Bryan Singer
Starring Hugh Jackman, Anna Paquin, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Famke Janssen

My Advice: Don’t miss it.

There’s a war brewing, and the lines are being drawn. Mankind is evolving to the next step, and that step happens to be “mutants,” people with superhuman abilities. Trouble is, mankind isn’t too keen on their brethren being able to do these neato things, and the general populace becomes afraid and belligerent, as they are wont to do. Among the mutants, there are two factions. Professor Charles Xavier (Stewart) believes in getting past the ignorance of humanity and preaches tolerance. Erik Lensherr, also known as Magneto (McKellen), thinks Xavier is suffering from a major delusion and that humanity and tolerance are mutually exclusive.

[ad#longpost]Cast into the middle of all of this mayhem are two new players. Marie, also known as Rogue (Paquin), is a young girl who experiences her first kiss laced with horror–her beau drops into a coma after their lips touch. Logan, also known as Wolverine (Jackman), is a man whose past is a shadow, and he spends his empty life wandering from place to place–with a little something extra up his sleeves. They know themselves to be mutants, and find themselves travelling together if for no other reason than they’re both outcasts to the rest of the world. But when Magneto’s plans for bringing peace to the world by any means necessary endangers them, Marie and Logan have to figure out where to turn for help…

The people behind this project have created the best live action translation of a spandex superhero comic book to the big screen that I have ever seen. Rather than making huge slip-ups that miss the heart of the source material (the chainguns on the Bat-plane in the first Batman movie spring to mind), it instead manages to deliver what no other adaptation has: a truly ensemble piece that successfully walks with one foot in the real world and the other in comic book fantasy. The one place it might overstep is in Magneto’s plan: isn’t it a little lame? Perhaps, but in the context of the film (and with the phenomenal Sir Ian to back it up), it’s easy to buy into.

Speaking of backing up the characters, there weren’t any slackers amongst the cast. Along with the aforementioned McKellen, Patrick Stewart was born to play Professor X. The scenes between the two are some of the best in the film. Right behind them are Paquin and Jackman. Paquin, as Rogue, taps into the real tragedy of a character who must eschew physical contact with even the ones closest to her–her performance is quite effective. Jackman nails the part of Wolverine. Period. Again, their scenes together, in Logan’s truck and then later on a train work and work well. The other X-Men and members of Magneto’s Brotherhood are also excellent. James Marsden’s Cyclops is a perfectly straight-laced foil to Wolverine’s coarseness. Ray Park’s Toad is an amusing and agile (albeit nasty) improvement upon a pretty useless character in the source material. Halle Berry manages to act the part of Storm so well I forgot she was wearing that utterly ridiculous wig.

Apart from some sharp dialogue, it’s also the little touches that show the work that went into bringing this to the screen. Storm speaks with an accent of the African continent. When she gets ready to shock the hell out of people, their hair stands on end. Other mutants from the comic book series appear as students at Xavier’s school, ready for the next movie. They also put a lot of thought into making comic book effects turn into movie effects. The usage of the mutant-detecting of Cerebro I thought was particularly inventive, for example.

This was the kind of project that could have made or broken the genre of the comic book adaptation. And some would argue it’s the kind of genre that needs to be broken and then left in the corner to whimper until it expires. I would submit to them that this film shows it’s possible to create something which will please both the hardcore comic geek and the cinemagoer who’s coming in with no prior knowledge of the source material. Expect many other projects to be picked up and thrown around in the wake of this one, and most of them will not reach this level of success. But for now, just revel in a case where they got it right for once. I feared that the movie would be an embarrassment and I dared Bryan Singer to prove me wrong. He did. And I couldn’t be more pleased. Well, at least until the Director’s Cut comes out on DVD.