X-Men is the comic book movie that ushered in the modern success of superhero movies. Its importance to the genre should never be understated. X-Men is also the first genuinely good Marvel movie. The key was to take the source material seriously. A problem that plagued every other Marvel movie at the time. Before X-Men, all that was made was Howard the Duck and a bunch of low budget direct-to-video crap. Blade was a step in the right direction, but Marvel was still yet to make a big budget adaptation of one of their major properties. X-Men was created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby in 1963 during the Silver Age of comics. The unique team of Mutants was celebrated for dealing with issues like prejudice.
Although Stan Lee got things started, it’s really writers like Chris Claremont who diversified the X-Men into who they are today. The success of The Animated Series just made a movie the next logical step. Ironically, Lauren Shuler Donner (wife of Richard Donner) was the one who ended up producing. I just wish Marvel didn’t sell its rights to 20th Century Fox. Bryan Singer’s familiarity with themes of prejudice made him a natural choice for director. The beginning of 2000 was a perfect time to bring special effects heavy Marvel characters to life. Making X-Men the first superhero movie I ever saw. Since my parents were big comic book fans, my brother and I saw it in theaters. At 5 years old, I became an instant fan despite knowing nothing about the comics at the time. I didn’t really become an expert of X-Men comics until way later…
X-Men centers on the conflict between Mutants and the rest of humanity. Just like in the comics, Mutants manifest special abilities at a young age. The magnitude of their power results in them being feared and hated. Although the X-Men belong with the rest of the Marvel universe, I have to admit it makes sense for them to live in a world where Mutants are the only superpowered individuals. Otherwise, X-Men is very faithful to the spirit of the comics. Bryan Singer was sure to balance superhero action with complex character drama. While at the same time giving it a sleek early 2000’s aesthetic. Meaning colorful yellow spandex is replaced by gritty black leather similar to The Matrix. Sure it might have been difficult to take the costumes seriously, but I’ll always prefer comic book accuracy over anything else. It was 2000, so fans just sort of accepted the leather as long as the characters were faithful.
The original Uncanny X-Men consisted of Cyclops, Beast, Iceman, Angel, Jean Grey/Marvel Girl, and their founder Professor X. The movie instead creates its own continuity in order to utilize popular Mutants from their 1975 roster change. Now the team consists of Wolverine, Storm, Cyclops, and Jean Grey. Rogue became the primary teenage recruit and other important X-Men like Iceman, Kitty Pryde, Jubilee, and Pyro only have cameos. While more expensive teammates like Beast or Nightcrawler had to be left out. The Brotherhood of Mutants was also changed to accommodate key villains. Archenemy Magneto now leads Mystique, Sabretooth, and Toad. All of whom have similar simplified appearances. Magneto only retains his trademark cape and helmet.
X-Men begins with a lesson on Mutation and a thrilling theme by Michael Kamen. Don’t expect to see the Marvel logo just yet. X-Men isn’t exactly a conventional origin story, but we do get a glimpse of how Magneto and Rogue manifested their powers. First with its miserable opening of Magneto discovering his ability to control metal in a concentration camp. Then in the “Not too distant future” where Rogue kissing a boy puts him in a coma. The primary conflict is between Senator Kelly’s attempt to register Mutants and Magneto’s plot to mutate the human race using a magnetically powered machine. Charles Xavier and his old friend Erik Lehnsherr represent the conflicting views of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. Professor X fights for a peaceful solution while Magneto fights by any means necessary. Their complex relationship perfectly translates from the comics.
Sir Patrick Stewart was inspired casting for the powerful wheelchair bound telepath. Although Professor X wasn’t specifically British, Stewart was already bald and very commanding. Equally inspired was the casting of Sir Ian McKellen as the villainous Master of Magnetism. Successfully propelling McKellen’s career a year before Lord of the Rings. Rogue goes on the run to Canada where she encounters Wolverine. Who easily beats a guy in a cage fight. It’s a perfect introduction to an iconic fan favorite X-Men. Made even better when his Adamantium claws pop out for the first time. Hard to believe Hugh Jackman was just an unknown Australian theater guy at the time, but his subtle animalistic rage made him perfect for the role. His only minor flaw was being too tall and too handsome. Since Wolverine is supposed to be a short bruiser. Jackman isn’t jacked, but his hairstyle looks good in live-action.
Oscar winning actress Anna Paquin is great at playing a young Rogue longing for acceptance despite being unable to touch, but it’s not exactly accurate. Although she fits the movie’s theme, Rogue is supposed to be a powerful seductive Mutant. Fortunately she does become more confident by the end (and even gets her iconic white streak). Logan develops a strong bond with Rogue that brings out the best in him. While driving, they’re attacked by the vicious Sabretooth. Wolverine’s archenemy whose simplified to just being an intimidating animalistic henchmen played by wrestler Tyler Mane. The X-Men make their presence known by rescuing them both. The X-Mansion in New York is their base of operations. Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters is filled with gifted Mutant students. While the underground base is shiny and full of X’s. The Danger Room was too expensive to film, but Cerebro makes an impression. A confused Logan is mentally guided by Professor X who introduces him to the rest of the team.
James Marsden fits Cyclops’ visor well, but it’s really the only time he shows any leadership. His love triangle with Jean and rivalry with Wolverine are just as well represented. Halle Berry was everywhere at the time, so it only made sense that she was cast as Storm. Her hair was white, she kept her cape, but she wasn’t as dark as the African Mutant and what’s the deal with her accent? Famke Janssen was equally popular at the time. Her Jean Grey shows glimpses of telekinetic power, but there’s not enough screen time for her to show it. Magneto’s plan is revealed when Mystique reveals herself. Rebecca Romijn-Stamos definitely stands out as the blue shape shifting Mutant. Instead of wearing a white outfit, Mystique is naked with scales. Giving her a sexy seductive menace. Then there’s Toad. A disgusting minor villain that Ray Park manages to jazz up with his signature acrobatics. Magneto’s plan consists of testing his machine on Senator Kelly, turning him into a Mutant, but using Rogue’s power draining abilities to increase its power, and mutate World Leaders.
When Rogue is kidnaped, Magneto displays his full power by turning everyone’s guns against them. Mystique poisons Cerebro, subduing Xavier in the process. The climax consists of the X-Men taking their awesome X-Jet to fight the Brotherhood at the Statue of Liberty. Wolverine vs. a Wolverine disguised Mystique is a fun fight, but Toad getting the upper hand on Mutants as powerful as Jean Grey and Storm is just ridiculous. At least it brings out the full weather controlling might of Storm. Ruined by the hilariously bad joke about what happens to a Toad that’s struck by lightning. Wolverine manages to claw Mystique, but she gets away. Magneto magnetically imprisons the X-Men except for Wolverine who has a berserk confrontation with Sabertooth. Their fight atop Lady Liberty is legendary. After Wolverine finally says “Bub,” Cyclops finishes him off with his optic blast. Magneto is finally defeated when Wolverine slices through his machine and lets Rogue absorb his healing. Logan leaves to seek answers about his past, Rogue is accepted by the X-Men, Mystique secretly poses as Senator Kelly, and Charles & Erik discuss humanity in a perfectly symbolic game of chess.
X-Men was definitely ahead of its time as a Marvel superhero movie. The action makes uncanny use of every unique power. Even if the CGI is a bit dated at times. Although it takes its commentary on Mutant prejudice seriously, there are still plenty of funny moments. Along with a handful of strange moments. Namely Senator Kelly becoming a disturbing water Mutant. Look out for Stan Lee’s traditional cameo as a hot dog vendor. I’ll always have fond memories of seeing X-Men as a kid learning about superheroes for the first time. Sure X-Men seems dated with its inaccurate costumes and loose approach to certain characters, but its sincere action packed style is exactly what superhero movies needed at the time.
Followed by: X2