X-Men (2000)

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X-Men (2000)

Post  BoG on Tue Nov 11, 2014 1:07 am

This was the key film in the Marvel Film Universe, the first one that showed that Marvel Super-Heroes could be big hits in the cinemas. Spider-Man, a couple of years later, was the truly humongous box office hit and placed Marvel at the forefront of big sci-fi action films, but this first X-Men film surprised everyone with its huge 1st weekend and it went on to be one of the big hits of that year, 2000. X-Men, as a comic book, began way back in 1963, but the film depicts a mixture of characters from the sixties and later ones introduced in the seventies. The X-Men refer to human mutants, persons born with special abilities far beyond normal humanity. As narrated briefly by Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart as a powerful telepath in a wheelchair) before the credits, these mutants represent an evolutionary leap forward for mankind - rather than thousands of years, the evolutionary changes happen in the span of decades.
The first scene takes place in a Nazi prison camp in 1944 Poland and introduces us to Erik Lehnsherr as a young boy when his powers first begin to manifest; he would grow up to be Magneto (Ian McKellen) - an older mutant with a bad attitude and power over all metals.  We then switch to the modern era in the suburbs, in "the not too distant future."  Here we meet Rogue (Anna Paquin), a teen who has a bad experience with her first kiss; this establishes the lore that mutants usually first manifest their powers at puberty. Next, we meet Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Xavier's prime student and assistant, who is trying to convince members of a summit meeting that mutants are not much of a threat. Most remain unconvinced, especially a strident senator (Bruce Davison). It's around this point that the main plot is unveiled: there are 2 sides to the mutant camps, one led by Professor X (Stewart, the benign faction headquartered at a School For Gifted Youngsters), the other by Magneto (McKellen, the radical side); these two leaders used to be friends in some distant past but have a different approach in dealing with mankind's hostility.
And then, up north, we meet Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), a mutant with a really bad attitude.  He seems at home in some dive or always getting into bar fights, the distinction being that his opponents may get severely cut up. And, at this point, the theme is revealed: a minority within the human race, persecuted by the majority, struggling to overcome prejudice and ignorance. This was also the selling point in the comic books. Translation: most 'normal' humans do not like or trust mutants. Wolverine is a true loner and anti-hero who may go either way in choosing between 2 sides; or, Wolverine may choose neither - he is the true X-Factor in this intrigue. The film scored a triumph with casting Jackman as this bad-tempered mutant in the 11th hour: the actor was an unknown, complementing the mystery of Wolverine's own character, and fit the role splendidly. He brings a much-needed energy and intensity to the entire picture.

The rest of the key mutant players are rapidly revealed: Cyclops (James Marsden) and Storm (Halle Berry) are sent by Professor X to fetch Wolverine & Rogue, who are attacked by Magneto's henchman, Sabretooth (Tyler Mane), like a bigger version of Wolverine. Cyclops fires intense blasts from his eyes, while Storm controls the weather. Magneto's other lieutenants are Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), an athletic shapeshifter, and Toad (Ray Park), with a wicked tongue. These two kidnap the senator, who soon learns of Magneto's plan: he will employ a strange device that will forcibly change normal humans into mutants. However, as we find out later, such an unnatural, artificial change is unstable and results in death. Xavier's team will need to set aside their various differences and stop Magneto's team and his plan. In the meantime, studying up on Wolverine's regenerative powers, they learn that he may be older than Xavier and that the unbreakable metal Adamantium had been somehow surgically grafted onto his skeleton. This will be followed up on in subsequent films, especially when they get around to the origin movie for Wolverine in 2009.
Many viewers regard the sequel, X2 (2003), as even superior to this intro film, which may indeed be true and there was a higher budget for all the future films, but there's a raw energy here that cannot be duplicated in a sequel. Here is where a strange new world was first brought forth to an audience, a near-future where fantastic beings were a somewhat natural outgrowth of mankind's evolution (if you discount possible influences of the atomic age, which isn't mentioned here). Here we met all these characters with their different, amazing powers. The creation of a whole new world landscape is a daunting prospect, but director Bryan Singer and the writers pull it off, using the established comics lore instead of disregarding it. There was also some dream casting involved here - could anyone but the bald Patrick Stewart, most famous as Capt. Picard on Star Trek TNG, play the famous bald mutant of the comic books?  Could anyone but Halle Berry play the lovely Ororo a.k.a Storm, a startling beauty in the comic books?
Of the other characters, McKellen shines as the main villain, making Stewart appear stiff by comparison. Magneto's is a tragic history as shown, more complex than most comic book villains, but he's also a super-powered terrorist and does not engender much sympathy. His henchmen are all fine, with the blue-colored female shapeshifter standing out a bit. Of the heroes, Rogue (Paquin) has the most interesting role besides Jackman. The one area the filmmakers failed in is the Jean Grey/Cyclops romance. This relationship, evolving over the many years in the books, had the capacity for great things on film - Scott & Jean were meant for each other, soul mates if you will. None of this comes across in the film; Jean is made the older woman for some reason, and Marsden, miscast as the brooding Cyclops, lacks any depth. Halle Berry, probably criticized most as Storm, isn't really given a chance to be good or bad in the role; most of the time, you just stare at her apparent beauty. It was a pretty exciting film. It could have been much worse.  BoG's Score: 8.5 out of 10
X-Trivia: cameo by Stan Lee (co-creator/writer) on the beach as a hot dog vendor, when the senator exits the ocean waters.
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