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Should I Watch..? X-Men
What's the big deal?
X-Men is an action superhero film released in 2000 and is based on the Marvel Comics' characters of the same name created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The film shows a world under threat from a growing number of mutants displaying various superpowers. Two mutants, known as Wolverine and Rogue, find themselves caught in the conflict between Magneto's Brotherhood Of Mutants and Professor Charles Xavier's School For The Gifted. The movie stars Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen, Halle Berry, Rebecca Romjin-Stamos, Ray Park and Anna Paquin. Released to critical acclaim, the film went on to earn more than $296 million worldwide and launched the X-Men franchise which is comprised of numerous sequels, prequels and spin-offs.
What's it about?
In the near future, a growing number of mutants have appeared in society with countless superpowers developing between them. At a conference to discuss the situation, anti-mutant Senator Robert Kelly attempts to pass his Mutant Registration Act through Congress which would force mutants to publicly reveal themselves and their powers. Watching are old friends Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr, mutants who are on opposing sides of the debate as to how to react to the Act. Lehnsherr, known as Magneto, believes that mutants are the future and mankind must be eradicated to protect their future. Xavier believes that mankind and mutant can co-exist peacefully and must learn to tolerate each other.
With the public growing ever scared of mutants, 17-year-old Marie (later adopting the name Rogue) runs away after her powers are inadvertently exposed. Stumbling across fellow mutant Logan (known as Wolverine) in Alberta, the pair of them find themselves thrown into the conflict after being attacked by members of Magneto's Brotherhood of Mutants. Saved at the last minute by Storm and Cyclops, Wolverine and Rogue are taken to Xavier's School For The Gifted and informed that a war is brewing between mutants with mankind caught in the middle...
Logan / Wolverine
Professor Charles Xavier
Erik Lehnsherr / Magneto
Ororo Munroe / Storm
Scott Summers / Cyclops
Dr Jean Grey
Senator Robert Kelly
David Hayter *
Release Date (UK)
18th August, 2000
Action, Sci-Fi, Superhero
What's to like?
Despite the years since its release, X-Men remains much more than a simple superhero flick. The political subtext contained within the comics is still present in the film, turning the film into something intelligent and relevant - arguably, even more so today. But it can still be enjoyed as a slice of comic-book hokum, albeit a film that broke the mold with its polished look and impressive effects. Before this, comic book films were treated like disdain and plagued by low budgets and a lack of understanding from film-makers. Without this film, it is quite possible that Marvel would never have launched their ambitious Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and that's a world I can't bear to think about.
With a stellar cast, it's no surprise that the film is littered with quality performances from top to bottom. Stewart and McKellen have real chemistry between them (though their shared scenes are limited in number) but both brings gravitas to the material amid the explosions and fight scenes. But it's Jackman's unforgettable Wolverine that proves the most exciting as he has been inseparable from the role ever since. Paquin also does very well as Rogue, tortured by what she has become and isolated as a result. For her, being a mutant is a curse instead of being empowering.
- To help him get into character, Jackman would take ice-cold showers every morning of shooting at 5 in the morning. Not wanting to wake his wife, he realised that this was the perfect set-up for Wolverine - wanting to scream and lash out but having to hold his rage in check all the time.
- Stewart and McKellen became firm friends over the course of filming, much like Xavier and Lehnsherr were at one point. When Stewart married in 2013, McKellen performed the ceremony.
- According to Marvel, Wolverine is quite short and stands at 5'3". Jackman is 6'2" so Marsden (who is 6') had to wear platform shoes to appear taller than his co-star.
What's not to like?
There are places in the film where the effects are found wanting - this is especially noticeable in the scenes featuring Magneto's weird mutant machine and any kind of leaping about done by Park's Toad character. The story also felt a little weak, especially compared to some of the sequels. Of course, this film has the difficult job of compressing nearly forty years of material into a summer blockbuster film so there is obviously going to be some omissions - no Beast, Gambit or Archangel, for example. The film is a suitable introduction to the characters but for fans wanting more, they'd need to wait before the series started hitting its stride.
Other than minor niggles like Wolverine not wearing his distinctive bright yellow costume and a lack of character development, there isn't much to dislike about X-Men. Despite the goofy story, the film is both intelligent and exciting enough to appeal to superhero fans and without it, we wouldn't be enjoying the glut of superhero films currently flooding multiplexes the world over.
Should I watch it?
Not only is X-Men a well-paced and exciting action flick but it's also a powerful allegory about the perils of discrimination and extremism. As such, the film has become even more relevant today than it was back in 2000 with the worrying rise of populism and extremist ideology. The film was pivotal in getting superheroes onto the big screen properly, proving to studios that comic-book adaptations could be successful as well as critically acclaimed.
Great For: comic-book lovers, action fans, Hugh Jackman's career, political debate
Not So Great For: Marvel (who sold the rights to the characters in 1994), anyone who hates comic-book movies
What else should I watch?
Well, there's no shortage of X-Men movies viewers can choose from. Trouble is, not all of these are as solid as this first film. The first sequel, X2 (1), is even better with more characters and another brilliant storyline involving a scientist played by Brian Cox attempting to commit genocide. Other well received films in the series include the 2011 prequel X-Men: First Class (2) and its timeline-crossing follow-up X-Men: Days Of Future Past (3) which sees the younger cast from First Class uniting with the original cast in this film to face off against the mutant-destroying Sentinels.
Together with Spider-Man (4) in 2002, the platform was set for Marvel to launch their plans for the MCU - an ambitious series of films that would interlock with each other, crossing over and exchanging characters left, right and centre. With the release of Iron Man (5) in 2008, the films would slowly begin to build up towards the epic Avengers Assemble (6) which is just about the best comic-book adaptation ever made. And before I get stoned to death by nerds, anyone looking for a more grown-up superhero experience should look at Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy featured my personal favourite, Batman.