X-Men (2000)

Director: Bryan Singer

Starring: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Anna Paquin, Bruce Davison, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Ray Park

There is such a thing as becoming too beholden to a work of fiction, I suppose. You see sci-fi fans doing it all the time. Some call themselves “Trekkers.” Whatever their interest, these sci-fi fans all have one thing in common: the meticulous (and somewhat unhealthy) dissection of all that is wrong with a television episode or film. This is called nitpicking. So it was with “X-Men” when it finally hit the big screen in July of 2000, after what seemed like an endless wait to have one of the most popular comic books of all time turned into a motion picture. Some looked up at the screen in awe. Others gazed in disbelief, seeing what resembled their heroes, only not quite “…and here are the reasons why.” As an eighteen-year old just out of high school, I found myself somewhere in-between. I’m still in that uncomfortable middle ground now, leaning on the side of nitpicking. A fan of both the comics (mainly those of the late 70’s/early 80’s) and of the 1990’s cartoon series, I was grateful to finally have a live action movie to go along with the package, however I did take issue with one particular line of dialogue which pokes fun at a certain character’s traditional tight yellow costume. “X-Men” is far from perfect, but objecting to something so insignificant as this is pretty silly in the long run. If one were to be truly critical of the film, a better place to start would either be in the story or in the casting/characterization. I choose the latter.

The film opens in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1944. A young boy is being separated from his mother by German soldiers. In desperation, he reaches out his hand, and a nearby gate seemingly starts twisting and bending all on its own. The boy is Erik Lehnsherr, and he will grow up to become Magneto (Ian McKellen), a mutant with the power to control all metallic objects. Flash forward to the present day. At her parents’ home in Mississippi, a young girl named Marie (Anna Paquin) is spending some very innocent time with a boy in her room. However, when they move to kiss one another, the boy suddenly slips into a coma. Marie has the power to drain the life force out of anyone she touches, and she gives herself the nickname “Rogue.” Afraid of hurting anyone else, Rogue leaves home and runs away to Canada. There, she meets a man who fights in cages for cash and is referred to as “Wolverine” (Hugh Jackman). His real name is Logan, and he has a secret, too. Wolverine has quick-healing abilities, as well as an indestructible metal skeleton. You can bet the latter will work against him in any confrontations with Magneto. Wolverine also has no clear memories of his past, only bits and fragments.

The longstanding friendship/rivalry between Magneto and Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) is rooted in their opposing views towards human/mutant relations. Xavier, a mutant with telepathic abilities, believes in a world where the two sides can co-exist. Magneto, who has lived his whole life in a world of intolerance, feels that the only solution to the problem is to turn everyone into a mutant. Magneto needs Rogue to absorb his power and control the machine he has built, and he acts rather coldly about the fact that doing this would kill her. To prevent this from happening, Xavier assembles his team of X-Men, which (with the addition of Wolverine) includes Storm (Halle Berry), Cyclops (James Marsden) and Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) as members.

“X-Men” is one title that will likely remain out of Marvel Studios’ reach, staying within Fox’s firm grasp for as long as they keep pumping out sequel after sequel. Hugh Jackman as Wolverine is spot-on, as is the love triangle between him, Jean Grey and Cyclops. I also like the bond formed between Wolverine and Rogue, something that never existed in the comic. Maybe my favorite thing about this movie, actually. Professor Xavier and Magneto, if not perfect, are also represented well by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. Where the characterization goes horribly wrong is with Cyclops and (especially) Storm. Although the tension between Cyclops and Wolverine is correct, Cyclops himself comes off as weak when he should be the commanding voice of the team. He was only their leader, for crying out loud! Not so, here. Wolverine, who was the popular supporting character in the comics, is the de facto leader in the film series… so get used to it, Fox says. As for Storm, aside from her being able to control the weather, everything else about her is wrong. In this movie especially, Berry’s attempt at an African accent is downright painful. I think she knew this as well, which is why that disappears in the sequels. Halle Berry was simply the wrong fit for her character. Yet, by May 2014, she will have appeared as Storm four times! I can’t watch her battle with Toad (Ray Park) without riffing on it “Mystery Science Theater”-style. To this day, I still hear the song “Rock You Like a Hurricane” during this awkward, amateurish fight scene.

I am in some ways thankful that I never followed the comic books of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk or their collective adventures as The Avengers. I was able to go into each movie with a clean slate, with no nits to pick. But I doubt I would find very much to object about those movies whether or not I had read the source material. It’s also true that “X-Men,” even with its faults, is still a very fun action-packed extravaganza. It was also partially responsible for helping to make the comic book film a genre that audiences would flock to see and big name actors would sign on to appear in, as it is today. With immensely popular storylines at the ready, the franchise still has limitless potential. It just won’t be achieved with yellow spandex.

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Comments
  1. Ian Shuirr says:

    won’t be achieved with yellow spandex…….that’s great lol

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