In the world of the X-men, the human race is divided into three factions.
First we have the normal humans, led by Senator Kelly (Bruce Davison).
Second, there are the students of the kindly Professor Charles Xavier
(Patrick Stewart), who are working to live side by side with regular humans.
Professor X and is students are mutants, meaning genetic mutation has
granted them strange and powerful abilities. The professor is able to read
peoples minds and control their actions through telepathy. His X-men (older
students who have learned to control their abilities) include Cyclops (James
Marsden), who can fire powerful beams from his eyes; Storm (Halle Berry),
who can control the weather; and Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), who can move
objects with her mind. Professor Xavier's old friend, Eric Magnus, aka
Magneto (Ian McKellen), controls the second faction. This group believes
that humans and mutants are heading for a war, and he intends to make the
first strike. Magneto and his flunkies: Sabretooth (Tyler Mane), Mystique
(Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), and Toad (Ray Park) intend to turn the leaders of
the world into mutants so they will be on Magneto's side when the war comes.
To do this he requires one of Xavier's two new students. The students are
Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), who can heal from nearly any wound and is able to
eject razor sharp claws from his hands; and Rogue (Anna Paquin), a young
girl who can drain the life out of people and mutants just by touching them.
Xavier has to determine which student Magneto is after and why before he can
carry out his plans.
Guess what folks, that plot summary could have been even longer. Bryan
Singer has managed to condense 38 years of X-men comics into one movie. I'd
better warn you right now, if you didn't have a clue what I was talking
about when you were reading that summary, avoid this movie because you are
going to be completely lost. If the plot sounded interesting to you try to
see the film with an X-men reader so they can explain things to you in
advance. Okay, the rest of this review is directed entirely at those of you
who would qualify as X-men fanatics (you know who you are, don't try to deny
it). When I first saw the previews for this film several months back I was
more than a little skeptical. In fact, the only thought that was running
through my mind while I watched the preview was "Oh dear lord, what have
they done?" To say I was pleasantly surprised by the final product would be
an understatement. Bryan Singer has done a bang up job, creating a truly fun
and exciting summer movie in a year full of dull, formulaic films. In fact,
I haven't been to a summer movie that was this much fun since 1998's "The
Mask of Zorro".
I know one of the largest concerns many X-men fans (myself included) had
with the new movie was the casting of Australian actor Hugh Jackman as fan
favorite Wolverine. The Wolverine seen in the comics stands a little over
five feet tall, is built like a brick wall, and looks to be about forty five
years old. Hugh Jackman is over six feet tall, is slender but muscular, and
looks like he's in his early thirties. As it turns out this was one of the
best casting choices in the movie. Not only is Jackman a great actor, but
his appearance looks more threatening in real life than I think someone with
the comic character's appearance would have. There are three other really
great actors in "X-men", but I'll get to them in a minute. First I want to
cover the minor characters. James Marsden ("Gossip") and Halle Berry
("Bulworth") are both woefully miscast, though I'm not sure anyone could
have played Cyclops in quite the right way. Tyler Mane (of professional
wrestling fame) and Rebecca Romjin-Stamos ("Dirty Work") aren't required to
act much, but they fit their parts quite nicely. Ray Park ("Star Wars:
Episode One") hams it up something fierce as Toad, but he's obviously having
such a good time that it's easy to forgive. Finally we have Bruce Davison
("Apt Pupil") playing Senator Kelly in a nice, believable fashion. This
character could have been over-played to the point of being ridiculous,
yelling anti-mutant sentiments at the senate and behaving much like Hitler.
Davison keeps his performance restrained and soft spoken, which makes us
believe a person like this could still have power this day and age.
The three great performances come from Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: The Next
Generation), Ian McKellen ("Gods and Monsters"), and Anna Paquin ("The
Piano"). I can't see anyone but Patrick Stewart playing the part of
Professor Charles Xavier. Stewart has all the perfect attributes: the
accent, the mannerisms, the soft-spoken nature, the kindly face, and (of
course) the bald head. The only complaint I had with Xavier in the film is
that he was sadly underused. While he shows up in the beginning to explain
things to all the non-fans out there, he vanishes at about the midway point.
Ian McKellen seemed like a poor choice for Magneto when I first heard about
his casting. The comic version of Magneto is a big, hulking man in his early
sixties who can control all metallic objects. Ian McKellen is obviously a
little older than that and has a slender build. Fortunately McKellen is such
a great actor that he easily makes up for his different physical attributes.
Anna Paquin is another choice where fans thought Singer was out of his mind.
The comic character of Rogue is a tall southern belle in her thirties. Anna
Paquin is, well, Anna Paquin. Thankfully she delivers such a marvelous
performance you'd swear she was born to play this role (I'm almost tempted
to forgive her for "The Piano"). The Rogue character is one of the more
complicated roles to play, being a girl who has no possible future with
people since she can never be touched. Paquin plays the role beautifully,
avoiding overacting when it would have been so easy to do.
So how does "X-men" fare in other areas besides acting and plot? Obviously
one of the biggest draws is going to be the special effects, which are very
well done. However, well done special effects are becoming more and more
common place in Hollywood. The question then became whether Bryan Singer
would use them wisely, and I'm pleased to say he did so. Singer keeps the
effects so restrained that when he actually uses them they amaze the
audience (as special effects are intended to do). The first time Storm
really lets loose her powers in the movie I heard more gasps and cheers from
people than I've heard about a movie in a long time (excluding "The
Matrix"). The soundtrack to "X-men" is one of the low points, being seldom
used and sadly inappropriate when present. Thankfully this is made up for by
the great dialogue, which is a good thing because despite what the previews
would have you believe, this is a dialogue driven movie. Wolverine gets some
of the best lines, such as one in a scene where Xavier has just explained
the mutant conflict and his school (and the whole plot actually), and
Wolverine responds with: "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard."
There's also a nice little jab at all the "X-men" fans who had criticized
the film's costumes (I'm guilty of being one of them I'm afraid, but I've
changed my mind since then). Wolverine taps his costume with disgust and
asks "You guys always wear these?" Cyclops responds with "Well what would
you prefer, yellow Spandex?" The movie runs a nice brisk 90 minutes, but as
much as I love short movies, this one could have used a bit more time.
Sometimes Singer's direction feels far too rushed, particularly when he's
introducing the characters. I'd recommend "X-men" to fans of the comic and
of comics in general, since no one else is going to follow the story too
well. I give it a well earned four out of five stars.
Copyright © 2000 John Beachem