X-Men Still

Director: Brian Singer
Screenwriter: David Hayter
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Famke Janssen, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, James Marsden, Ray Park
Release details: 20th Century Fox, USA 2000, 100mins
Full details: IMDb / view trailer (Quicktime)
Genre: Sci-Fi / Action
Rating: 8 out of 10

Although the fans of the comics and the animated series are legion, they still represent only a small portion of the total audience that Fox were chasing. The main aims of X-Men were clearly to find a wider audience and to test the waters for a possible franchise, while delivering a big summer action film which would deliver money and kudos. It's a tall order by any standards, but X-Men succeeds on all counts.

Because the X-World is a huge one (even in the cut-down version on offer here), there is a lot of clunky exposition in the opening third which prevents the film from opening up until well into the 100-minute running time. In one scene, Professor Xavier (Stewart) explains to Logan/Wolverine (Jackman) about his Westchester, New York, School for the Gifted. In this speech, he manages to introduce Halle Berry, Famke Janssen and James Marsden, detail their real names, their mutant names and their mutant powers, and explain that they were some of his first students.

Hugh Jackman as Wolverine

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In addition to establishing the background, the focus of this first instalment is the introduction of Rogue (former Oscar winner, Anna Paquin) and Wolverine into the world of the X-Men. They meet in northern Alberta, where Wolverine, who has an adamantium (ie movie science) skeleton grafted onto his own, is making a living winning bar fights. They are soon set about by a mutant but rescued by two X-Men, Storm (Berry) and Cyclops (Marsden).

Having been brought into the fold of the X-Men academy, they are enlisted in the fight against Xavier's nemesis, Eric Lenscher (McKellen), known as Magneto for his ability to bend metal and magnetic fields to his will. Unlike the peaceful X-Men, who want to co-exist with humans, Magneto wants an all-out war which will put mutants in power around the globe.

One of the attractions of the X-Men is that it is not just a straight fight between good and evil, as the other superhero movies tend to be. The mutants are an oppressed minority, reviled for their genetic make-up. When a leading anti-mutant campaigner (Bruce Davison) hits out against the mutants, stating that you wouldn't want them teaching your children or dating your daughter, you could substitute the word mutant with gay, black, Jew or whatever. The fear of the unknown is universal and still as current now as it was during the Communist witch-hunts of the 1950s or the US Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and X-Men taps into this. This isn't just a straight action film, it's action with intelligence.

Fans were supposedly worried that the 6'3" Australian Jackman would not be able to convince as Wolverine, who is a 5'3" Canadian, but they need not have worried. In addition to kick-starting the super-hero genre, which had been tarnished by two abysmal Batman sequels too many and dreck like Spawn, X-Men established Jackman as a major A-list star. The star quality which was glaringly apparent in Australian rom-com Paperback Hero and the West End stage version of Oklahoma! is here turned to spectacular - and darker - effect. His brooding presence towers over the film in every sense.

By casting two established English actors such as Stewart and McKellen in the pivotal roles of Xavier and Magneto, they bring a surprising gravitas to the proceedings. Given both the running time and the performances of the three already mentioned, the other X-Men don't have a great deal of an opportunity to shine, but Janssen comes off best as Jean Grey, the telepath who is at the centre of a romantic triangle with Wolverine and Cyclops.

Top all this off with some terrific action set pieces and perfectly judged direction from Brian Singer (The Usual Suspects) and you can see why X-Men reinvigorated not only the action hero genre, but the summer blockbuster as well.

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Also on US DVD: X-Men & X2 4-disk Special Edition


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