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Retro Review: X-Men

Short Attention Span Review™

X-Men

4.0

X-Men PosterTo be honest, I enjoyed this movie just as much as Gladiator, and that's saying a lot. Excellent plot, believable characterizations, witty dialogue, outstanding acting, and amazing special effects earn X-Men a high rating and my utmost recommendation.

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The text below the break is part of a theatrical review originally published on July 11th, 2000*.

Here are some updated thoughts:  I admit it, I’m not a comic fanboy.  I don’t scream like a little girl every time a comic book based movie rolls into the theater or into my Blu-ray queue.  I went into X-Men back in 2000 knowing next to nothing about it other than the character Wolverine.  My expectations were low, as was my excitement level.  To me this was just another movie to go to and review as part of my second job/hobby writing articles and reviews about movies for people to read on the growing interwebs.

Needless to say, I was very surprised walking out of X-Men.  I think it’s the first comic based movie that changed my view on the genre, erasing the goofy Superman, Judge Dredd, Spawn, et al movies that had come before and making the genre viable as a way to tell a superhero tale that could be both dramatic and fantastical.  Yes, even 1989’s Batman hadn’t convinced me.

Still, it hasn’t converted me to a comic fanboy.  I enjoy watching them, but the ubiquity of them has caused me once again to become jaded with the genre.

I don’t often come across a movie based on a comic book that’s worth a rental or even worth the time spent watching it on TV. And there are even fewer worth owning on tape, laserdisc, or DVD.  Then there’s that rare gem that gets nearly everything right:  the characterizations of the heroes and villains are dead on target with their comic counterparts; the plot is actually an interesting, believable story with emotion, growth, and limited predictability; the dialogue is sharp, believable to the character, and, at times, genuinely witty; and the viewer doesn’t have to be familiar with that particular comic’s universe in order to enjoy the movie. Superman II, Batman, and Batman Returns were, until very recently, the only comic-based movies (in my opinion) to satisfy these criteria.  However, it is my extreme pleasure to introduce X-Men into this very limited set of comic book movie achievements.

It’s the near future, and there are mutants living among “normal” humans.  A powerful U.S. senator, Robert Kelly, has drafted legislation that would require all mutants to register with the federal government.  His immense fear and hatred of mutants makes him the number one target of a band of rogue mutants led by Magneto (Ian McKellen), a mutant Holocaust survivor that has complete control over anything magnetic.  He believes mutants are the next logical step in human evolution, and since he holds the view that humans and mutants will never be looked at as equals, his goal is to place mutants in charge of the government, and, ultimately, the world.  Having the opposite of that belief is Professor Xavier, a powerful mutant that runs the Xavier School for Mutants, an educational center for mutant children who have been ousted by their families or have run away from home.  These children are encouraged to learn how to control and focus their powers to better mankind.  What is kept secret about the school is that it doubles as a home base for Xavier’s X-Men, who are mutants trained to stop wrongdoings of rogue groups (like Magneto’s) and to educate the world population about mutants.  When Magneto captures the senator and a new student of the Xavier School, Rogue, it is up to Xavier and his X-Men to learn what Magneto’s plan is and stop him from carrying it out.

X-Men PosterThey are genetically gifted mutants — the world’s newest, most persecuted minority group.  Amidst increasing fear and bigotry, Professor Charles Xavier provides a safe haven for powerful outcasts like Wolverine, Rogue, and Storm.  But can the X-Men triumph over Magneto and his band of antagonists who believe humans and mutants can never co-exist?

X-Men
Director:  Bryan Singer
Starring:  Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellenn
Genre:  Science Fiction / Comic
Media:  Film, 104 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Year: July 14, 2000
4 out of 5 stars

The plot sounds simple, and it is, but what makes the movie fit is the way that the story is told. More importantly, the believability of all of the characters’ actions make the plot fit beautifully. It’s as much as a drama about the pain of being human (mutant or not), the strength it takes to overcome the pain, and the values we learn along the way as much as it is a superb action flick with some down right hilarious dialogue, eye-candyish special effects, and outstanding cinematography. Of course, characterizations by themselves don’t work unless the movie has actors that can pull it off.  And, partial thanks to outstanding casting, the ones in X-Men do a tremendous job.  If the X-Men were real people, then they would act and talk exactly as portrayed on the screen. They are that believable and stay true to their comic book personas. The comic book can come across as just angst, but the movie does not. You can actually sympathize with the pain and suffering that the characters, both ‘good’ and ‘evil’, go through, and on the flip side, most of the jokes in the movie (nearly all of which are hilarious) seem to fit seamlessly into the dialogue and situations that they occur in.

The movie runs by pretty fast. I was so totally engrossed into what was happening that I lost all track of time, and the movie actually seemed a lot shorter than it really is.  A lot of the fun, at least for my friends, was spotting cameo appearances by X-Men comic and cartoon characters. Watch for Jubilee, Shadowcat, and a few others.

To be honest, I enjoyed this movie just as much as Gladiator, and that’s saying a lot.  X-Men is an excellent movie worth waiting in line to see it on opening night in a big theater with loud speakers. I can only hope that the sequel (an inevitability) will be just as good.  Making it much better will be very difficult.

Excellent plot, believable characterizations, witty dialogue, outstanding acting, and amazing special effects earn X-Men a high rating and utmost recommendations.

*Note:   I’m revisiting and re-posting many older articles (almost 200) I’ve written (or contributed to) over the years, either for my own purposes or as contributions to other sites now long digitally decayed and dormant.  These reviews/articles will appear in their nearly raw, unaltered form, with a few updated thoughts at the beginning of each.

About Neal Ulen

Neal Ulen
Editor/Webmaster - Engineer by training, nerd by passion. Speculative fiction has influenced me since I was a kid, guiding me to the career I have now, and likely saving me from myself during times in my young life when the path was fraught with a minefield of choices. I dabble in tech, game, film, fiction, and writing. These are my true passions, and have been since the summer of '77.