Please join me in welcoming the site’s first new guest contributor, Ozzie Mejia, recovering Netflix junkie.
Logline: Charles Xavier teaches a class of mutants to learn to control their powers and live in a world where humanity fears them, while stopping mutant terrorist, Magneto, from waging war on humankind.
10 years ago, comic book movies were in a bad place. After the debacle that was Joel Schumacher’s “Batman & Robin,” comic book movies became a risky prospect. When thinking of comic book films, people no longer remembered Michael Keaton or Christopher Reeve. They could only remember Arnold Schwarzenegger delivering terrible ice-related puns and a Bat-costume with pokey nipples. So with that in mind, it was a bit surprising to see how well “X-Men” did at the box office. What no one expected was the snowball effect the movie would have.
While 1998’s “Blade” was a fun romp, it was Bryan Singer’s “X-Men” that got the ball rolling on the wildly successful modern line of films based on Marvel Comics properties. Once “X-Men” made its $150 million at the box office, studios began adapting more Marvel titles. The next ten years would see nearly every A- and B-list Marvel superhero star in a feature film, with still more coming. It all started with “X-Men,” the guy everyone remembered as Captain Picard, and a little-known actor named Hugh Jackman.
Is It Better Or Worse Than I Remember?
Worse. As your run-of-the-mill comic book movie goes, “X-Men” still stands up as a decent popcorn flick. But considering that comic book movies have constantly upped the ante over the next ten years, in terms of special effects and strong storytelling, “X-Men” doesn’t measure up to the best that Marvel would trot out in later years. In fact, this film’s sequel, “X2: X-Men United,” improved on nearly everything from the first one.
This movie set the standard for placing a movie about comic book superheroes into the modern world. These weren’t guys running out in spandex. These were real people with unreal powers venturing out into a real world setting. This wasn’t Richard Donner’s gorgeous Metropolis or Tim Burton’s Gotham City. There were real world venues out there and that helps give this movie a good sense of timelessness.
But after being spoiled by the much-better comic book movies that would come out later, it’s hard not to say this movie feels worse watching it later. It’s almost like enjoying a first-generation iPhone. Sure, it’s great, but the iPhone just made so many improvements with every new model that it’s hard to go back to the original. “X-Men” was fantastic for the time, but would you really watch it over “X2: X-Men United,” “Spider-Man 2,” “Iron Man,” or “The Dark Knight”? “X-Men” may be the prototype for modern comic book films, but it’s no longer the cream of the crop like it used to be.
That’s also a credit to Bryan Singer, who would outdo himself with the aforementioned sequel to this movie and the underappreciated “Valkyrie”. For the sake of argument, let’s give him a mulligan on “Superman Returns”.
What’s Better About The Film?
- The main actors are still an absolute pleasure to watch. There is no more compelling bond in comics than that of Xavier and Magneto and no duo captures it better than Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. Hugh Jackman launched his career with this turn as Wolverine and it’s not hard to see why. He does a fantastic job with his facial expressions and his ability to pull off Wolverine’s berserker personality. With a role like Wolverine, it’s easy to fall into the trap of becoming a caricature, but Jackman never crosses that line.
- The scenes that were supposed to evoke a reaction out of you still do just that. You still feel that uneasiness at the start of the movie with young Erik at the concentration camp. You still feel sorry for poor Rogue when she first discovers her powers. And the moments of comic relief from Wolverine’s interaction with Cyclops still get a good laugh. Hearing Logan call Scott a dick never gets old.
- Ray Park never hit it as big as he did in the span of 1999-2000. After turning heads as Darth Maul, Park followed up with a fun performance as Toad. It’s a small role, but the screen time he does get is a hoot. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to laugh at the dance he does as he approaches Jean Grey, but I still do. Park wouldn’t be seen again for a good while after this movie, but watching him as Toad brings back fond memories.
- Speaking of fond memories, remember the hoopla over Mystique? This was the absolute peak of Rebecca Romijn-Stamos’s popularity, as she became every nerd’s fantasy by donning blue body paint from head to toe. Like Park, the choreography is Romijn’s scenes are still gorgeous to watch and her fight with Wolverine near the end of the film is still the best thing you’ll see in this hour and 45 minutes.
- The ending. It wasn’t a guarantee at the time that “X-Men” would see a sequel. So the movie ended in such a way that would leave fans satisfied, while also leaving open the possibility of continuation. That’s something that’s gotten lost in recent comic book films. Ever since the plan became to create an ensemble “Avengers” film, comic book movies have lost the sense of tying up a film’s plot in favor of cynically setting up for a sequel. Both “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk”, as good as they were, had endings that felt like glorified trailers for the next chapter. “X-Men” at least has the sense to have an ending that ties up its own plot and leave it at that, possibly the one thing that the original did better than its sequel.
What’s Worse About The Film?
- Halle Berry. She was undoubtedly the worst actress of the entire ensemble. There are many reasons that “X-Men: The Last Stand” was critically panned and a major one was Berry’s inexplicably expanded role. Ten years hasn’t been any kinder to Ms. Berry’s performance as Storm. “Do you know what happens to a Toad when it’s struck by lightning?” That line is still funny for all the wrong reasons.
- Anna Paquin. Her role as Rogue was cute ten years ago. Watching her now, though, she gets those moments where she just sounds grating. Hearing her scream is a pain now and she does it quite a bit here. I’m almost wondering if the studio got the same idea, because her screen time seemed to diminish a bit in the two sequels that followed. But Paquin has as much time here as Jackman, Stewart, and McKellen do and watching her again served to convince me that she may have been in over her head here. I don’t know if it was the pressure of trying to keep up with two Shakespearean actors, but it feels like Paquin tried too hard at times. Screaming does not equal acting.
What Did I Learn From This Experience?
The comic book gravy train started here. Without a successful “X-Men” film, there would be no “Spider-Man” or “Iron Man.” Without Marvel taking this risk, Warner Bros. wouldn’t have dared take a chance on reviving the Batman franchise. It took the success of a quality “X-Men” film to pave the way for even-higher quality comic book movies. This one’s fun to watch for historical value, but if you’re looking for mutant action, there’s no reason not to pop in the superior “X2: X-Men United” instead.