“X-MEN” (2000) Review

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“X-MEN” (2000) Review

If anyone had asked me what was the first genuine superhero film, based upon Marvel Comics characters, my choice would be the 2000 flick, “X-MEN”. In fact, I suspect that it was the first Marvel film ever shown in the movie theaters. Its success spawned a series of superhero films that continue to this day.

Based upon the Marvel Comics series, the plot for “X-MEN” began first in 1944, at a concentration camp in German-occupied Poland. Thirteen year-old Erik Lehnsherr is separated from his parents, upon entry to the camp. And in an attempt to reach them, he causes a set of gates to bend with a magnetic force and is knocked unconscious by the guards. The story jumps several decades later when a 17 year-old girl from Meridan, Mississippi named Marie aka Rogue is flirting with her boyfriend. They kiss and her boyfriend goes into a coma, thanks to Marie’s ability to suck an individual’s life force. Instead of immediately killing a mutant, Marie’s ability manages to suck his or her ability before dying. Upset over the harm she had inadvertently caused, Marie runs away from home and ends up in Laughlin City, Alaska. She meets Logan, an amateur fighter known as “The Wolverine” at a local bar. He also possesses superhuman healing abilities, heightened senses, and metal claws that extend outwards from between his knuckles. Marie hitches a ride with Logan. While on the road together, they are both attacked by Sabretooth, a fellow mutant and an associate of the adult Erik Lehnsherr, who has become known as Magneto. Two mutants – Scott Summers aka Cyclops and Ororo Munroe aka Storm arrive on time to save Wolverine and Rogue, and bring them to Charles Xavier’s mansion in Westchester County, New York. Xavier is an old friend of Magneto’s.

Xavier’s mansion serves as headquarters for Cyclops and Storm, the two mutants who had rescued Rogue and Logan. They are part of a group called the X-Men, who try to seek peace with non-mutant humans, educate young mutants in the responsible use of their powers, and stop Magneto from starting a war with humanity. While Xavier, Cyclops, Storm and a fourth member of the X-Men named Jean Grey try to figure out the reason by Magneto’s attempt to kidnap Logan and Marie; Magneto sets his plan in motion with the kidnapping of an anti-mutant politician named Senator Robert Kelly by Sabretooth and another minion, a shapeshifter named Mystique. Kelly is behind a Federal legislation called the “Mutant Registration Act”, which would force mutants to publicly reveal their identities and abilities. Magneto uses Kelly as a subject for a machine that artificially induces mutation. He plans to use it on the entire non-mutant population. But a mutant has to generate the machine’s power. When it weakens Magneto during his experimentation on Senator Kelly, it becomes clear to the X-Men that Magneto wants to use Rogue’s transferring ability and the Statue of Liberty to power the machine.

I never saw “X-MEN” at the movie theater. In fact, I had never heard of Marvel’s “X-MEN” comic series, until I saw the movie after its video release in late 2000. Needless to say, I became an immediate fan. I found the idea of a group of people with psychic abilities divided by moral compass and political beliefs, and who are regarded by others as freaks, rather fascinating. I realize that the movie is not particularly faithful to the comic book series that it is based upon. However, director Bryan Singer and screenwriter David Hayter did a pretty solid job of using the comic source to create their own cinematic version of the series. The movie also featured some first-rate acting and excellent production values.

After seeing the film, I saw how the original costumes for the X-Men looked in the comics. And all I have to say is thank goodness Louise Mingenbach designed a more uniformed look for the superheroes . . . even if it involved black leather. Newton Thomas Sigel’s photography struck me as solid. His best work seemed to be featured in the Liberty Island sequence. Ann Brodie and her team did excellent work on the makeup for some of the characters – especially Logan, Sabretooth, Toad and Mystique. Mike Fink and his team received an Oscar nomination for the film’s visual effects. Fink later expressed dissatisfaction with his work and I can see why. They struck me as . . . okay, but nothing more or less. I found the visual affects used during Logan’s fight against Sabertooth atop the Statue of Liberty as somewhat clumsy. And considering that most of the movie was either set indoors or at night, I cannot honestly say that “X-MEN” was a visually stunning film.

Most of the performances featured in “X-MEN” struck me as solid. There were a few exceptional ones. The movie made a star out of Hugh Jackman and it is easy to see why. Jackman is obviously a talented actor and he had the good luck to be cast in one of the comic franchise’s most memorable characters. I could also say the same about Ian McKellen’s performance as Erik Lensherr aka Magneto. What I found fascinating about McKellen’s take on the character is that he managed to convey Magneto’s willingness to pretend that his heinous actions were for the benefit of his fellow mutants, whom he believe should rule the earth. Patrick Stewart gave a fine performance as the more tolerant Charles Xavier, who would rather mutants and non-mutants to live side-by-side, instead of engaging in eternal conflict. I was also impressed by Anna Paquin’s poignant performance as the young Marie aka Rogue, who seemed desperate to make some kind of connection to others, despite her ability. Bruce Davidson gave an excellent and complex performance as Senator Robert Kelly, whose fervent anti-mutant stance eventually softens from a traumatic experience and a conversation with Ororo Munroe aka Storm.

Among the movie’s solid performances came from James Marsden’s Scott Summers aka Cyclops, Famke Jenssen’s Jean Grey and Rebecca Romijn as Magneto’s hench woman, Mystique. I suspect some might be astonished by my description of Romijn’s performance as “solid”. I stand by my word. Mind you, I found the Mystique character rather striking – especially physically – but Romijn’s performance merely struck me as solid. I wish I could say the same about Ray Park’s portrayal of another of Magneto’s minions, Toad. Honestly? I found the character cartoonish and one-dimension. Unfortunately, Park failed to rise above the material. I hate to say this, but I have to say the same about Halle Berry’s performance as X-Men Storm aka Ororo Munroe. Most fans tend to blame Berry for the poor portrayal of Storm in this film. I cannot, considering her more positive portrayals of the character in subsequent films. Frankly, I blame Bryan Singer and screenwriter David Hayter. Poor Storm was merely used as a background character, except in a few crucial scenes. And Hayter wrote one of the worst pieces of dialogue in Hollywood history for the character. However, there was one scene in which Berry gave an excellent performance; and it featured Storm’s poignant conversation with Senator Kelly.

As much as I liked “X-MEN”, I feel that it is very overrated by many critics and the franchise’s fans. I can honestly say that it is probably my least favorite X-MEN film. The main problem I have with this film is the number of plot holes or lack of logic in the story. I could say that it is indicative of the franchise’s growing reputation for plot inconsistency. I never understood how Magneto learned about Rogue’s ability to absorb a mutant’s ability. I realize he must have learned about what she had done to her boyfriend David. But how did he learn about her ability’s impact upon mutants? How did he or Sabretooth discover that she had traveled all the way from Mississippi to Alaska? I was also unimpressed by Logan’s first scene at Xavier’s school in which he woke up, heard voices in his head and ended up roaming all over the place in confusion. I am confused. Did Professor Xavier used telepathy to awaken him? Or did Logan simply hear voices, thanks to his enhanced hearing?

The one sequence that really puzzles me was Mystique’s activities at Xavier’s School. The scene began with Mystique shape shifting into Rogue’s new boyfriend, Bobby Drake aka Iceman in order to convince the adolescent that Xavier was angry at her for using her ability on Logan to heal herself and that she should leave the school. Why? So that Magneto could have an opportunity to snatch her. Later, Mystique transformed into Xavier in order to infiltrate Cerebro, Xavier’s telepathic enhancing machine and sabotage it. Why on earth did Singer and Hayter create such a convoluted situation? They could have easily allowed Mystique to first sabotage Cerebro and then snatch Rogue from the school, herself. I also realize that Jean Grey, being both telepathic andtelekinetic, could have easily rescued herself and her fellow X-Men from Magneto’s trap inside the Liberty statue’s interior. I have already commented on the clumsily shot fight scene between Logan and Sabretooth. The former’s fight against Mystique was somewhat better and probably enhanced by slow motion. And if I must be honest, I found the movie’s writing and pacing almost episodic. Every time I watch “X-MEN”, I get the feeling that it is a first-rate “B” or television movie . . . or a second-rate “A” movie, even if it is entertaining.

In the end, my opinion of “X-MEN” has diminished over the years. It is still an entertaining film with a decent story, and a mixture of solid and first-rate performances from the cast. And I have to give it credit for successful kick-starting not only the X-MEN franchise, but also spawning a reemergence of superhero films – especially from Marvel. However, I believe the movie is tainted by some very questionable writing and a style that nearly strikes me as slightly sub par. I still like the movie, but it has become my least favorite X-MEN film in the entire franchise.

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