Movie Review | X-Men
Movie summary: In a world where mutants (evolved super-powered humans) exist and are discriminated against, two groups form for an inevitable clash: the supremacist Brotherhood, and the pacifist X-Men. (IMDb)
It was only while preparing the page for this review that I realised X-Men turns twenty later this year, leading me to wonder if that's when we'll hear the first from Marvel Studios about their first mutant-related movie (not counting the still-not-released New Mutants as the remaining Fox X-Men movie to come) and how it will compare to this.
In all honesty, it should be pretty easy to surpass this movie, which was good for the time it was released but now feels wholly underwhelming. Even when X-Men first released, its sub-two hour running time and frantic pacing made everything feeling a little rushed, leaving you wanting to see more only because this movie was never particularly satisfying on its own.
Admittedly, there was the perfect casting of Patrick Stewart as Professor Charles Xavier, the equally brilliant decision to have Ian McKellen play Magneto and the inspired (if decidedly comic-inaccurate) casting of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine - three strokes of genius that eventually led to two of them combining for the incredible Logan seventeen years later.
The problem X-Men faces is one that I feel the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films also suffer from, is that while they may have been considered very good to excellent for their time, I believe that's because the average quality level for superhero movies was so low back then. Now, with the bar having been raised and the rose-tinted glass having been discarded, X-Men suffers especially from this shift in expectations.
Some may consider this unfair, comparing a movie from 2000 to similar movies from today, but any new audiences will be coming in with certain standards and levels of anticipation that X-Men has no chance of reaching, outside of the three characters mentioned above. It also needs to be remembered that X-Men wasn't actually that brilliant to start with.
Even though it may have easily cleared the quality bar for superhero movies upon release, it didn't really set any new standards itself. Blade (1998) and Spider-Man (2002) either side of it were both comfortably better movies and remain so to this day - albeit aided by only having one main character to deal with in their cases.
That's why the characters of Xavier, Magneto and Wolverine are spared criticism and not just because of the performances from the actors: they're the only characters given any real depth. Anna Paquin's Rogue is ostensibly the audience surrogate for the movie, but her performance can't match up to the more experienced cast members around her.
If anything, James Marsden's Cyclops suffers the worst, being given practically nothing to do and made to appear as boring as possible (despite being the X-Men's equivalent to Captain America) in order to justify Logan attempting to break up his relationship with Famke Janssen's Jean Grey and still have him across as someone for the audience to root for. The less said about Halle Berry's terrible wig, the better.
The villains of the piece don't fare well either, with Rebecca Romijn's Mystique the only member of Magneto's Brotherhood of Mutants even coming close to feeling equal to McKellen - and she's still nowhere near his league (not a knock on Romijn, McKellen's an acting legend for a reason). Tyler Mane and Ray Park are disposable henchmen, wasting a potentially terrifying opponent in Sabretooth with the former.
There were obviously limits at the time to what could be achieved on-screen with so many super-powered people sharing scenes, but that doesn't stop X-Men feeling like a terrible disappointment by today's standards. It's best to treat this movie like a time capsule: this is how things used to be, and look how far things can change in twenty years.
X-Men may have been good for the time, but time has not been kind in return. It all feels so small and almost lacking in confidence compared to modern superhero movies - almost as if the people making this movie were trying their best, but not expecting much in return. Enjoyable as a pit-stop in the evolution of comic book movies, but not much more than that.