Much like Spider-Man, X-Men (2000) has suffered a certain amount of neglect owing to the existence of a superior sequel. In its case, though, it’s understandable since the sequel is vastly superior. Yet, it’s worth remembering that X2 (2003) is a sequel to a film that was pretty darn terrific in the first place. X2 very much built upon the groundwork of Singer’s X-Men — including the whole gay subtext angle that was brought to the forefront in the sequel. And now, after the disappointing X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) and Singer’s tepid Superman Returns (2006), X-Men is looking better than ever.
Historically, this is a significant work: The first truly serious comic book film since Tim Burton’s Batman Returns (2002), it ushered in the new wave of comic book movies that (for better or worse) are still with us. Few of the films that followed in its wake, however, were so intelligent, so politicized or so well made — and none of them, apart from the other X-Men films, boast a villain as complex, as multi-layered or as downright cool as Ian McKellen’s Magneto. This remains one of the few comic book movies that could be recommended to general moviegoers.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke
Original Review by Ashely Siegel: 3 Stars
In Bryan Singer’s last movie (1998’s Apt Pupil), Ian McKellen portrays a Nazi war criminal hiding out in the suburbs, crouched behind drawn blinds and passing himself off as an ordinary old man. In Singer’s new movie, X-Men, McKellen plays Erik Lehnsherr, the son of Jews murdered in Auschwitz. In the film’s first scene, a young Erik watches as his parents are led to the ovens — a crisis that unleashes his latent mutant powers: With a handful of Nazi guards in tow, the boy bends the gates of the concentration camp. But it seems that his powers can’t free the doomed, leaving him impotent on the sidelines, watching helplessly. Lehnsherr grows up to become Magneto, a malevolent mutant who knows his way around all manner of magnetic fields, and who devotes his life to destroying those who would squash mutants, he explains, simply because they are “born different from those in power.” It’s at this point (following this historical glimpse into Magneto’s inner pain) that Bryan Singer’s adaptation of Marvel Comics’ X-Men swings into gear. In the comics, as well as in the film, Magneto is a rotten-to-the-core baddie who is backed by a band of equally ruthless baddies: Sabretooth, played by former professional wrestler Tyler Mane; Toad, Darth Maul himself, Ray Park; and Mystique, top model Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, who is attired solely in blue body paint. On the other side of the cosmic tracks live Magneto’s archenemy, the mind-reading Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), and the X-Folk — Xavier’s band of peace-loving mutants who somehow manage to get through the day with their metaphoric monikers (Rogue, Storm, Cyclops, Wolverine, etc.). Seeking to deter the U.S. government from passing “The Mutant Registration Act” (which would identify all living mutants and curtail their activities), both the good and the evil mutants unite. However, we learn that each group prefers to handle this potential disaster in very different ways. And it is this inability to find common ground while dealing with conflict that saddles these futuristic beings with the same sort of challenges we face here in Asheville. And so, while not altogether different from you and me (although I would advise most of you against a dip in blue paint prior to a spree at Ingles), the X-People do have a movie about them (while our challenge of the week may center on figuring out what to put in our new blue recycle bins). Meanwhile, back in sci-fi-land, something even more tragic is happening to our heroes. Someone has forgotten to give them anything interesting to say, and therefore, we watch them fly through the air with the greatest of ease, but we don’t know who they are or anything about their inner lives. Oops. Not only do we not know what they are thinking, but X-Men also lacks for well-choreographed action sequences, quippy dialogue and compelling plot twists — the stuff we rely on to hook us into these kinds of movies. All in all, X-Men is gorgeous to look at — with killer special effects and set designs from heaven — but the film just isn’t that much fun. Instead, we’re assaulted by recurrent winks from the characters, which imply, “Hey, we know we are flying at half-mast, but save up your money for the upcoming sequel, when we guarantee we will fill in the blanks and offer more substantive character development.” Yo, dudes … sorry. You’ve got to give us something to want to sequel about.