This review (and all subsequent X-Men reviews) comes from someone who isn’t terribly familiar with the greater X-Men comic book mythology. My knowledge of X-Men prior to the first movie was gleaned from a few viewings of a cartoon in the 90s and hours of arguing with friends over who we’d play as before the street lights came on and our parents called us home for dinner.
Having said that, here are my thoughts on 2000’s X-Men.
When preparing for this franchise rewatch/reviewing project, I was shocked and disheartened to see that the original X-Men movie is 14 years old. It humbled me and made me feel really old. What was arguably more troubling than the reminder that I’m getting older was seeing that this movie has also done the same.
I was surprised to see that not only are the special effects starting to show distinct signs of aging, the choreography in the close quarter fight sequences are bordering on inexcusable in their awkwardness. The scenes in question are overly reliant on using wire harnesses to fling the characters across open spaces. I can only assume the desired effect is to show the strength of the mutants but the effect is lost when it’s repeated constantly throughout the movie.
The special effects whenever Storm uses her power are particularly outdated. The strange, fuzzy electricity effect of her lightning attacks was enough to take me out of the movie the three or four times it appeared on-screen.
Poorly aging special effects aside (for the time being), there are still a lot of really good things about X-Men. There are two reasons the movie gave rise to a franchise of 7 and counting movies: Director Bryan Singer and actor Hugh Jackman.
Singer does a great job handling the persecution of the mutants in this universe. The mutants in X-Men are outcasts, born with a mutation that normal folks fear and hate. X-Men reaches the heart of the story by giving this struggle for mutant equality the spotlight while also applying a very real and current social commentary to it.
Hugh Jackman as Logan/Wolverine is some of the greatest comic book movie casting I’ve ever seen. Logan is a deeply troubled and angry man. He’s also incredibly badass. These traits come through in the sequels quite a bit, but here in the first installment it’s Logan’s guardian-like relationship with Rogue (Anna Paquin) that really shines.
Rogue is a mutant incapable of physical contact while Logan can’t remember his life. The two are social outcasts who happen to cross paths in Canada. If it weren’t for Magneto and his band of malicious mutants, I would have had no problem seeing a movie based around Logan and Rogue’s search for themselves.
Alas, every comic book movie needs a villain. Ian McKellen brings Magneto to life and plays him as the very formidable opponent that he is. I love the way he displays his power when the police have him surrounded. Likewise, there’s a great scene where he and Wolverine interact that demonstrates how, for all his badassdom, Wolverine is no match for Magneto.
Patrick Stewart plays Xavier equally as well. The franchise’s dichotomy of good and evil is personified in Xavier and Magneto and the two play off each other incredibly well. So much so that it makes perfect sense that the movie opens and closes with these two men palavering over the plight of their kind. The opposition between Xavier and Magneto is illustrated really well.
Unfortunately, the movie falters slightly with some of the ancillary mutant characters. The X-Men are more three dimensional and overall better drawn than Magneto’s associates (expect maybe Mystique). Halle Berry as Storm is probably the best of the bunch, if only because she’s slightly subdued in her role. Of course, that doesn’t exclude her from having the worst line in the entire movie and (probably) the franchise as a whole.
Cyclops (James Marsden) and Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) get a lot of screen time since they are more closely tied to Logan. The love triangle is set up well enough. I’m not a fan of the dynamic in the sequels but here it’s more cutesy and played off as Logan disliking Cyclops and trying to get under his skin. The result is a lot of great one-liners and comic relief that really brings the movie together. For better or worse (spoiler alert: it’s worse) I’ll talk more about the triangle in future reviews.
Magneto’s side of the conflict, unfortunately, is much worse off. The aforementioned Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) is given some good material to play off of here and there but it’s really only to serve the movie’s social commentary rather than add dimension to her character. It only gets worse from there.
Sabretooth (Tyler Mane) and Toad (Ray Park) are the two other associates of Magneto. Toad is really animated in his choreography and it comes across as really cheesy and over the top. Sabretooth is largely wasted throughout the movie. His presence would be threatening if he was given more screen time and the ADR whenever he roared wasn’t so horrible.
Overall, the story is cool and the presentation (though slightly dated) is impressive when viewed in the context of the movie’s release in 2000. X-Men kickstarted the comic book movie crazy that’s dominated the box office in the 14 ensuing years and for all its faults, it’s still a fun opener to the franchise that introduces characters (and dynamics) fairly well. However, X-Men ultimately leaves room for bigger and better things in the franchise.