X-Men (2000)


I am going to get an elephant in the room dealt with quickly, and it is the same thing that I had to mention in my review of Bryan Singer's The Usual Suspects.  Singer is a creep - an entitled ephebophile who managed to hide his crimes due to the fact that he is bisexual and could, in most cases, brush away accusations as homophobia.  It didn't help that some of the early accusations were false, but it just happened that ironically solid ones started pop up after the release of Bohemian Rhapsody.  That, unfortunately, has put a stain on him and the movies that he has made - a number of them, arguably, cultural touchstones of the late '90s and early 2000s. 

That said, long before Disney bought out both Marvel and 20th Century Fox, X-Men was one of the first superhero films to take the subject matter seriously.  Other than the first two Superman movies and the Tim Burton Batman films the legacy of superhero films prior to X-Men was spotty at best.  Singer was no fan of comic books, but figured that this particular Marvel series, which included allegories to dealing with racism and other forms of intolerance, would be something he would like to do.  It beat Sam Raimi's Spider-Man to the big screen by a couple years, although Raimi was able to do his movie because X-Men had opened the door to taking this type of film seriously, and he had been wanting to do a major comic brook movie since he made Darkman.

Ironically, it is now Raimi that is responsible for renewed interest in the X-Men franchise.  Between the last couple of regular X-Men films falling significantly below expectations and Singer's fall from grace the series itself had become dormant, with The New Mutants being the last movie from that original universe.  Despite the fact that it is a Marvel property it, like the Spider-Man films, were licensed before Disney swept up everything, and they pretty much existed on their own.  However, Raimi appears to have added Professor Charles Xavier, as portrayed by Patrick Stewart in the first three films as well as Logan, to the new Dr. Strange film.  Thus, as Spider-Man: No Way Home has pretty much made Spider-Man the first Marvel Cinematic Universe film, that title may soon be usurped by X-Men.

As more and more mutants become known to the American public Senator Kelly (Bruce Davison) leads a charge to force them to register due to fears of their powers.  Eric Lensherr (Ian McKellan), also known as Magneto, fears that this is the precursor to the horrors he witnessed as a child when placed in a Nazi concentration camp.  Along with a small group of similar-minded mutants - Sabertooth (Tyler Mane), Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) and Toad (Ray Park) - Magneto hopes to level the playing field.  Professor Xavier, on the other hand, thinks that there is a way to calm fears and deal with the rest of humanity on their own terms.

He runs a special school, along with telekinetic Dr. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Scott Summers (James Marsden) and Ororo Munroe (Halle Berry), aka Cyclops and Storm, that teaches young mutants how to control their powers as well as the normal schooling they will need to get through life.  Their newest student, Rogue (Anna Paquin), has a unique skill in which she can drain the lifeforce from anyone - and, if they happen to be a mutant, she temporarily gains their powers.  The danger she poses to others forces her to self-isolate, although she makes friends with Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), a mutant with healing powers that has been enhanced with an adamantine skeleton.  Initially Xavier thinks that Lensherr is after Wolverine, but it turns out that his plans for humanity involve the latest addition to Xavier's school.

X-Men still stands the test of time, although its age can be seen through some older CGI (the movie was made on a lower budget, as 20th Century Fox was unsure of it being successful) and shots of the World Trade Center during the action that takes place on Liberty and Ellis islands.  Still, the scenes of Wolverine's claws are nowhere near as bad as the infamous CGI in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and most of it still works after all these years.  Like most early superhero films the CGI was there out of necessity in order to make fantastic things that happened in the comic books reality.  Much of it was still done practically and, in reality, there are only two major action scenes in the movie. 

Instead, although Singer banned comics from the set (with everyone ignoring his ban anyway) and changed the uniforms to black leather instead of yellow and blue Spandex, the spirit of the comic was still there.  Singer and Tom DeSanto's story was their own for this movie, thus avoiding any controversy with adopting already established storylines, and David Hayter managed to smooth things out in a way that got the point across without getting too preachy.  Magneto also succeeds at being a properly nuanced villain, where most attempts in the later MCU - outside of possibly Thanos - has failed to successfully portray.  Then again, they don't have Ian McKellan to play the part, and part of the thrill of X-Men is seeing two distinguished actors like McKellan and Patrick Stewart in key opposing roles.  It gives the movie some gravitas that many others are missing.  

The main problem, at least in this first entry, is the shoehorned love triangle.  Whether or not it exists in the comics it just doesn't feel natural in X-Men.  I remember it being handled better in X2, but there is no romantic chemistry between Jean Grey and either Wolverine or Cyclops.  There is nothing wrong with any of the actors in this capacity, but rather the way the characters are written.  It doesn't feel like Logan is trying hard at all to steal her and it also doesn't feel like Scott cares if he keeps her.  It's almost as if Singer, who up to this point has admittedly written memorable male characters for The Usual Suspects, doesn't know what to do with a strong female.  That's further evident in the fact that Rogue is left as little more than a damsel to be rescued by Wolverine in the end. 

Still, after all these years and ownership changes of the studios, it's inevitable that X-Men would find its place in the MCU.  It's going to be an awkward place as they are going to have to accept a number of works from a disgraced director as canon, as well as find some way to fit Deadpool into everything as well as Logan's, and Professor X's, ultimate fates.  It's going to be interesting to see how far they are willing to go down this rabbit hole, or what revisions to the X-Men we are likely to see, especially since the Snap wasn't even a consideration when making Logan

X-Men (2000)
Time: 104 minutes
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Anna Paquin, James Marsden, Halle Barry, Bruce Davison, Rebecca Romijn
Director: Bryan Singer



 

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