Copyright © 2000 by 20th Century Fox
In a world where gifted beings with superpowers are alienated and feared by the rest of the community, the film is about two different approaches used to get acceptance from the normal humans about mutant kind. Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) establishes an institute for the gifted to help all fellow mutants to control and hone their abilities in hoping to co-exist peacefully with humans. The X-Men team consists of Cyclops (James Marsden), Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Storm (Halle Berry) and is led by Xavier himself. But for former ally and friend, Magneto (Ian McKellen) believes that humans and mutants can never live ideally as Xavier envisioned and together with his Brotherhood of Mutants, plan to mutate all the world leaders in order to achieve mutant acceptance. Caught in the crossfire between both the groups are Wolverine and Rogue (Anna Paquin) who may be the key to Magneto’s diabolical plan.
The pioneer to the reemergence of future comic book adaptations i.e. Marvel’s fellow Spiderman, Iron Man, Thor & Captain America and DC’s new interpretation of Batman & Superman all receiving critical acclaim throughout the decade, it proved to mainstream filmgoers that the superhero genre was not all campy or superficial but can actually be artistic, serious, intelligent and still able to deliver the required over-the-top action pieces with panache. Just like what Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Gladiator did for their respective genres, the X-Men movies have been regarded to kick start a loyal following with the newer generation who may or may not be aware of such classic characters. Just for the record, I was one of them who was totally oblivious of their existence having only known the ‘Big Three’ (here is looking at you Bats, Supes and Spidey).
Enough of gushing and let’s get to why this remains my favourite franchise (even more so than Christopher Nolan’s reimagining of The Dark Knight). Call me sentimental, but this film had so many ‘powerful’ scenes that still evoked goose bumps every time I watch it (I have lost count). From the opening sequence where Magneto is separated from his parents upon entering a concentration camp and discovering his ability to Rogue’s ‘death’ only to be resurrected by Wolverine, these moments provide the emotional weight that you seldom see in a summer blockbuster. Speaking of emotional weight, it definitely will strike a chord to those who are looking for characters that they can identify with and there are plenty. I am sure that we have all been alienated and shunned at some point in our lives before like Wolverine or Rogue and even disliked just for looking different like Cyclops. Besides having a consistent theme running throughout about isolation for being ‘gifted’, it is interesting to note that the drafts submitted before this was green lit were more light-hearted and action oriented. Good call from Fox.
Although we can think of many other great directors to fill Bryan Singer’s shoes, I for one am grateful that he finally decided to take on this project after turning it down several times. The pacing was great and at a running time of only 104 minutes, we get sufficient back story from all the main players here. Known for his knack of handling large casts, each character certainly had his/her moment to shine. Kudos to top notch performances from Anna Paquin, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen and an outstanding portrayal from new comer Hugh Jackman as the adamantium-clawed Wolverine. He certainly had the look and gravitas for the role. To think that he was a last minute replacement when Dougray Scott had to pull out due to his prior commitment to Mission: Impossible II. Talk about perfect timing. The members from the Brotherhood of Mutants also left good impressions of themselves albeit only briefly on screen. Clearly, Tyler Mane (Sabretooth), Ray Park (Toad) and Rebecca Romijn (Mystique) were having a blast while playing them. It would have been nice to see more development in their characters though. I guess that is where the sequels come in.
While the casting was almost impeccable, I thought that Storm would have been better suited if it was played by someone a little taller and with a more convincing accent. Nevertheless, her gift was such a joy to be seen on screen. Highlights came from the attack in the train station and the finale where she got to zap Toad while uttering the now infamous line of informing him that he’ll burn just like everything else. The fights between Sabretooth and Mystique were strong and stylised courtesy from action director extraordinaire, Cory Yuen. While it is understandable that the studio wanted to keep the budget at a low, the scope of it still feels larger-than-life thanks to tight editing and a script that dares to address some of the more challenging issues we are facing currently i.e. on equal rights, consequences on the invasion of privacy and fearing the unknown/being different. It could have been a run-of-the-mill offering with a world domination plot taking centre stage, but I am glad that we are served with something more substantial without losing its entertainment value and comic book roots. All in all, it’s just a very well made film with some unanswered questions raised for the sequel to continue its fight for mutant kind.
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence