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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: X-Men

Starring: Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen
Director: Bryan Singer
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 104 Minutes
Release Date: July 2000
Genres: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action

*Also starring: Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Tyler Mane, Anna Paquin, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Shawn Ashmore

Review by MrBrown
3 stars out of 4

As geeky as it sounds, I must admit it--when it comes to _X-Men_, I am what is called a "fanboy." I grew up fervently following the comic book exploits of the team whose membership is made of genetically evolved, superpowered "mutants." Seeing a group of guys and gals kicking serious ass with their superhuman abilities is undoubtedly a major factor in my (and many others') interest, but what has made _X-Men_ so popular--and very passionately so, at that--are the realistic characters, authentic people who just happen to have powers. And while most comics treat their heroes' and heroines' abilities as simply a cool gift, for the X-Men and mutants in general, it is also very much a curse; much like any other minorities, mutants face severe prejudice from the rest of the population.

So adapting _X-Men_ and its sprawling, 30-year-plus history into a 100-minute feature film is a dicey proposition for any filmmaker, and even moreso for one who was not a fan to begin with--such as Bryan Singer, who is at the helm of Fox's lavish, long-awaited $80-million extravaganza. Not only must he appease the fanboys by not deviating too far from the source material, he must also make what is essentially a three-decade-long-and-counting soap opera accessible to the non-fan. And contrary to fans' greatest fears, Singer's _X-Men_ is an exciting, fast-paced adventure that will satisfy both audiences.

For a summer blockbuster--especially one based on a comic book--an $80-million budget is a pittance, but it's an appropriate figure for _X-Men_. Spectacular visual effects are called for (and are effectively employed) to bring the team's powers to life, but the budget limitation forces the filmmakers to make the effects a carefully used enhancement of the story and characters, which are hence given more weight (as they always had been in the comic).

For the most part, credited scripter David Hayter and a gaggle of uncredited scribes (including Singer's Oscar-winning _Usual_Suspects_ partner Christopher McQuarrie and _Buffy_ maestro Joss Whedon) succeed in making the characters mirror their counterparts on the page. The X-Men is a team of mutants led by Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), a powerful telepath who runs a school for "gifted youngsters" and fights for mutant tolerance. As the film begins, his team consists of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), a telekinetic (i.e., can move objects with her mind) and a telepath herself; Scott Summers, a.k.a. Cyclops (James Marsden), who cannot control his deadly optic blasts; and Ororo Monroe, a.k.a. Storm (Halle Berry), who can control the weather.

Those established members, however, take a backseat in the film to the new recruits, Logan, a.k.a. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Rogue (Anna Paquin). The wild, mysterious Wolverine is perhaps best known for his retractable, razor-sharp claws made of the indestructible metal adamantium (his entire skeleton is also bonded with it), but his mutant abilities are heightened senses and a rapid healing factor. Rogue can absorb a person's lifeforce, personality, and memories (and, in the case of other mutants, powers) with a single touch. After discovering her ability after kissing her boyfriend, a distraught Rogue flees her native Mississippi for snowy Canada, where she meets Wolverine. When the two are attacked by the evil and animalistic Sabretooth (Tyler Mane), it's Storm and Cyclops to the rescue, and Wolverine and Rogue soon find themselves getting acquainted with the ways of Xavier's school.

Jackman, an unknown Australian actor known for his musical theater credits, and the teenage Paquin were Singer's two most controversial casting choices. Only one will completely win over skeptical fans: Jackman, who completely inhabits Wolvie's wild, woolly persona; from his first scene, fans should have no doubt about the actor's ability to embody the character's trademark ferocity. Paquin will have a harder time of convincing the fanboys. Young, waifish, and unglamorous, she in no way resembles (in appearance and temperament) the sexy, sassy, voluptuous, and now-20something comic book Rogue (the team's most popular female member). But within the context of the film's story--that is, as a "starting point" Rogue--her casting is understandable, and aside from an inconsistent Southern accent, Paquin is perfectly adequate. Even so, for the inevitable sequel, I suggest Singer pull an Anakin Skywalker and age Rogue a few years by way of a recast--and thus bringing to the screen the true Rogue fans know and love.

Needless to say, Rogue is the character that is least true to her printed incarnation. In addition to the change in age, she is given a real name (Marie), and her upbringing by evil mutant shapeshifter Mystique (and, hence, Rogue's history as a villain) is completely jettisoned. Mystique does appear in the film (played by Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), but only as part of a fairly faceless support team (along with Sabretooth and the aptly named Toad, played by Ray Park) for the film's central villain, Magneto (Ian McKellen). Magneto is an old friend of Xavier's, but the two drifted apart over their difference of philosophy. Xavier believes that there is hope for regular humans to accept mutantkind, but Magneto doesn't, preferring to go to war with them.

Magneto's dastardly scheme to bring humans and mutants to level genetic ground is the focus of the plot, and this thin story is indeed the film's weakest element. But the shortcoming is easy to forgive when the atmosphere and smaller details feel so right. The whole allegorical issue of "mutant hysteria"--perpetuated by bigoted U.S. Senator Robert Kelly (Bruce Davison)--is well-developed and played with the earnestness it deserves, as is a WWII-era-set prologue that faithfully details Magneto's beginnings. In fact, the serious--though never pretentious--tone of the film perfectly matches that of the comic, never veering into the camp sensibilities that have marred other comic-to-screen adaptations. Singer and the writers must also be commended for doing a bang-up job with the character relationships. The tense triangle between Scott, Jean, and Logan is perfectly played out; and Wolvie's bond with Rogue is also nicely handled.

But, being a fanboy, I'm not above nitpicking over certain things. While the Wolverine/Rogue relationship works in the film's context, in terms of the comics it bears more resemblance to his bond with two other young mutants, Kitty Pryde and Jubilee (both of whom have cameos in the film), than anything he ever had with Rogue. Another throwaway mutant appearance, that of Iceman (here referred to only by his real name, Bobby), is sure to upset purists; he's a teen and Rogue's kinda-sorta boyfriend at Xavier's school. Rogue's young age also means the erasure of the fascinating sexual tension between her and Magneto, which could have come into play at a crucial juncture of the film. And pity poor Storm. While Berry gives the character appropriate poise and elegance, the writers give her very little to do. Her forceful leadership abilities are gone, as are her claustrophobia (which should have been a factor in one scene) and sisterly relationship with Jean. Plus, what is the deal with that woefully unconvincing wig and her brown eyes (they should be blue)?

But some things have to give when adapting a comic to film (much like any book-to-screen translation), and for this fanboy, it's a relief that overall _X-Men_ the film bears uncommon fidelity to its source material. And as a critic, it's a relief to see an effects-laden popcorn movie offer a bit more meat than is traditionally required of such films. That said, _X-Men_ is best seen as just the jumping-off point for a possible big screen franchise--one whose full potential can be realized in subsequent installments.

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