Director: Bryan Singer
Writer: David Hayter
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Tyler Mane, Ray Park, Rebecca Romijn, Bruce Davison
Running Time: 1 hr 44 mins
Remember Halle Berry’s accent in this one? Yeesh…
Continuing our trend of marathoning movies leading up to other movies, we’re starting an X-Men-athon today before the release of the upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse. As you usually would, we’re kicking it off with a review for the first film in the series; Bryan Singer’s X-Men. The film might be the most important film for the rise of the comic book movie as it was the first sign of life since the abysmal Batman & Robin. The film is a more grounded and dramatic movie that rather impressively introduces us to the characters of this franchise. Compared to the other films in this franchise, and actually most other comic book movies before and afterwards, this movie feels quite small in scale. It’s a film that focuses more on story, character and ideas over big explosions and it’s the reason I think the X-Men have lasted so long. The film doesn’t spread itself too thin, despite being an ensemble comic book property, with a smaller group of mutants given focus with most of them being handled very well. The film really knocks characters like Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and in particular Erik Lensherr/Magneto (Ian McKellen) out of the park but it’s hard to argue Storm (Halle Berry), Cyclops (James Marsden) and Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) are a little lacking.
They’re allowed to lack though because they at least work as a way to improve the stronger characters. Jean Grey provides a potential love interest for Logan and the two have good chemistry. The film also sets up her mutant potential quite well while saving it for sequels, in a good way. Cyclops playing the douchebag side of the love triangle is the low point for the film and is a bit of a misuse of the character. Still, this aspect doesn’t bog down the film much and the performances of Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen propel this film to great success. It’s really hard to imagine anyone else playing these characters, even if two of them have been and quite well even if not quite as well. While Rogue (Anna Paquin) is the outsider character we follow through the film and becomes a very important object of the film, she’s sidelined for the new hero of Wolverine which turns out to be a smooth and successful transition. We are treated to a tragic backstory for the character and his introduction in the cage fight at the bar is brilliant. His rough, bad boy demeanour is never annoying and his snark makes him infinitely likeable. The connection between head good and bad guys Professor X and Magneto also creates a great dynamic for the fight in the film along with the ethical dilemma of the danger mutants possess against humans.
That last bit is what makes this film something deserving of attention. It elevates this film from a simple action movie to an idea film, similar to Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy although a little more rough around the edges. That’s this film’s greatest weakness. It’s not a particularly good looking film. Much like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, the budget is not very high and some of the effects in this film are quite poor along with a finale action sequence that looks a little cheap with the obviously fake set. Despite this, the film pushes through thanks to Bryan Singer’s direction who still feels like the man who made The Usual Suspects here. This is an engaging film that feels devoid of studio meddling although not without a few clichés and cheesy one liners. The one liners do work very well when delivered by Ian McKellen but Halle Berry’s “Do you know what happens to toads when they get struck by lightning? The same thing that happens to everything else,” is laughably bad. The obvious eye colour flashes from in-disguise Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) are a little clichéd and push it towards the end but these complaints aren’t massive and Mystique’s acrobatic fighting style and disguise ability really impressed me back when I first saw this film. While the film has an obviously low budget, it does still have some impressive set pieces. The first appearance of Sabretooth when Wolverine crashes his RV is almost horror-like as we see the two go at it from Rogue’s perspective and a lack of knowledge on their powers. The Terminator 2-esque scene with Magneto dropping police cars and holding cops at gun point with their own guns is also thrilling.
The oddest thing about this film, returning to it after a long time and many massive sequels, is that it really is a barebones film. Many of the X-Men staples aren’t fully present in this film or are only really teased. The film flashes past very quickly and works on its own quite well but compared to some of the sequels like the perfect X-Men 2, it’s quite shallow with only the blueprint semi-formed with nothing completely built yet. It’s not much of a complaint though as it’s very refreshing and feels so much better than the more TV-styled MCU and admittedly the newer X-Men films even if I still enjoy them.
Summary: X-Men isn’t a perfect film but it sets up a franchise very well with strong standout characters and a brilliant central idea while also being a solid drama with moments of genuine suspense.
Best Performance: Ian McKellen
Rotten Tomatoes: 81%