Cast : Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Tyler Mayne, Bruce Davison, Ray Park, Shawn Ashmore.
Synopsis: Wolverine, a mutant human struggling to fit into society, becomes involved with a group of fellow mutants known as the X-Men, battling the evil forces of Magneto and his followers. The fate of the world hangs in the balance.
It all begins here.
Wunderkind director Bryan Singer, fresh from success in Hollywood after the runaway classic The Usual Suspects, brought his considerable talent to bear on the Marvel Comics stable, with the first big screen adventure of the X-Men, a collection of mutants who exist in a world that despises them. With a hugely talented cast of big name stars, there was almost no possible way this film could fail financially, however, the risk was that mainstream audiences wouldn’t click with the storyline (which, to be fair, wasn’t a Superman or Batman, which are synonymous with superhero comics). Still, Fox persisted, and with such a cast and popular director involved, expectations were raised.
The film essentially told the genesis of the X-men, at least, the inclusion of the Wolverine character into the fold, as well as pitting them against Magneto, one of the Marvel comics big-time villains. Hugh Jackman, an Australian actor and relative unknown in Hollywood, was cast as Wolverine, the arrogant, angry, indestructible mutant named Logan, whose skeleton had been enhanced with a strange metal alloy known as Adamantium. Coupled with his ability to regenerate from any injury, Logan’s Adamantium enhancement allows him to produce three metal spikes from each fist, giving him the Wolverine moniker. Capitan Picard himself, Patrick Stewart, was cast as X-Men mentor (and leader) Professor X, Charles Xavier, the mentalist able to read minds and possessor of other, unknown psychic abilities. Gandalf, Ian McKellan, was cast as Magneto, a fellow mutant who stood for everything the X-men did not, that is, the integration of mutants into humanity. Magneto felt that mutation was the next evolutionary step in humanity, and thought himself a superior being, and wanted to push mutants into an upper echelon of power and control. The X-Men, led by Xavier, felt a peaceful co-existence was a better solution.
Oscar Winner Anna Paquin, Famke Janssen, Halle Berry, Rebecca Romijn, James Marsden, Bruce Davison, pro-wrestler Taylor Mayne and Darth Maul himself, Ray Park, co-starred as various characters in the film, which had a fairly heavy element of characterisation over action. Indeed, Singer’s directorial kudos for his previous films had been for the well developed characters within them, so fan expectation on decent scripting and character development was warranted. And he delivered. With the focus more on the lingering themes of isolation, bigotry and humanity’s fear of the unknown (or different) a prevalent element in the screenplay, as well as some low-key set pieces (and at least one great big one to keep the fan’s happy) X-Men was released in 2000 to generally positive reviews.
I have to say, X-Men is a superb piece of cinematic entertainment. For those reading this who have yet to enter to world of the X-Men, or are unfamiliar with their history and world, let me just tell you this: you’ll still enjoy the film. Foreknowledge of their history is not a requirement for enjoying this film. In fact, perhaps it might make for a better film overall if this was the case. That way you learn about the characters as Logan does, since the story is primarily his at first, even if the film is staged as an ensemble piece. Anna Paquin, whose role was gradually reduced in the sequels (heck, she was barely even in X-Men III!) is superb here as the young girl Rogue, whose mutant ability is stealing the life force of others when she touches them. Without the ability for human touch, except to kill people, Rogue is quite lonely and isolated emotionally, since her parents have all but disowned her (much like most of the population who discover a family member with a mutation) and sent her away.
The opening sequence, of a young Magneto in a Nazi death camp, threads the theme of bigotry and resentment of others through the film, with humanity as a whole reflecting the Nazi ideology of viewing the mutant population as evil, creatures to be feared and loathed. Singer has touched on the Nazi theme before, in his first major film project, Apt Pupil (starring Ian McKellan as well). However, the thematic elements run deeper than just that: there’s the isolation the mutants feel, as they are forced to go underground to escape the persecution. There’s the rejection of their humanity (after all, they are still human, just with a few extra abilities!) which plays on their minds, and then there’s the feelings of vengeance and arrogance, which is played out by Pyro in X2 in particular, but still an overarching theme throughout this film.
Singer takes the modern comic-book film route and plays the incredible events as straight, and realistically, as possible. By portraying these people as real, and their abilities as realistically as possible, without a sense of inflated sci-fi sensationalism, it grounds the film in a way previous comic-films hadn’t been. Up until this stage, comic-book films were modelled upon the success of the Christopher Reeve Superman films, which, while great in their own way, were perhaps a little too fantastical for modern audiences to appreciate. But by placing these incredible heroes and villains in the “real” world, with real emotional weight, you’d have a film that would appeal to an audience teetering on the brink of the new millennium.
The cast perform admirably, almost all playing it straight and true, with only the mildest hint of a wink to the audience by Logan, whose character is inherently antisocial anyway, and thus predicating him to be against the grain of the film regardless. The problem with ensemble pieces is that generally, each character becomes less defined than they would otherwise be in a regular film, due to time constraints, and I think that does occur somewhat in X-Men, since it’s an origin film it’s got to produce and explain a whole slew of new information to the uninitiated. This leaves a lot less time to get to know the second-tier characters, and although hints of other Marvel stalwarts are made throughout the film, there was never going to be the time to explain everything within a 100 minute feature. Still, the pacing, structure and development of the film’s themes are rock solid, well performed and executed by Singer and his team, leaving X-Men to be one of the finer comic-films to come from Hollywood in a long time.
Small and subtle in-jokes for the fans are scattered throughout the film, although, if you aren’t “into” the X-Men franchise in it’s comic book format, you’ll still enjoy this film a whole lot. It’s exciting, fresh and genuine, something a lot of “fantasy” film aren’t, and while the subtext of the movie is often lost amongst the explosions and fight sequences, this is one comic book movie that may just have you thinking about things a little differently. The human parallels are evident from the opening frames, and it’s something I think the X-Men series as a whole has been quite good at, it’s bringing to light some often unexplored themes and making them accessible to everybody again.