Let me start off by saying that X-Men is what made me fall in love with superheroes and comics. I really do love the franchise, and I want to do some looking back to the first movie which came out 14 years ago this July. Can't believe it's already that old! As much as I do love it, there are, however, several things that drive me crazy.
The movie really set the new standard for all superhero movies which came after. After the flop of Batman Forever (1995) and Batman and Robin (1997), both receiving a 5.4/10 and a 3.6/10 respectively on IMDB, and on RottenTomatoes a 41% and 12% also respectively. Soon after these flops were followed by X-Men and the Spider-Man franchise and reboot of Batman Begins, which was a much darker version of the character than the earlier Batman films. X-Men has an impressive 82% rating on RottenTomatoes, and a 7.4/10 on IMDB. The movie may seem underwhelming now by today's high standards but I do believe that based off the curve at the time it was released we owe a lot of our Superhero movie standards to this film, and to the franchise.
For those who need a reminder, check out this trailer:
So let's start out with talking about the casting; Hugh Jackman is what people think of when they first think of X-Men. With upcoming Days of Future Past he'll have seven movies as Wolverine under his belt, including the one line cameo in First Class. He was a nobody when he was cast, and it was the role that made his career but, ironically enough his wife had tried to persuade him to reconsider taking the role. Ian McKellan was excited by the prospect of the story because of the gay allegory, he really responded to the theme underneath X-Men of tolerance and acceptance. Angela Basset and Janet Jackson were briefly considered for Storm before Halle Berry was cast. I really don't have too many problems with the casting, I think overall the casting was really well done, I do have nitpicks about characters and story holes but I'll get to that, but those I do believe is out of the actor's control and more the fault of the writers and directing team. The actors chosen for this franchise are quite wonderful, and just as lucky as they are that these roles made or defined some of their careers we're lucky too because these roles and characters have helped define not only the X-Men franchise but also set the bar for the Superhero genre.
Like I said before Hugh Jackman is the X-Men franchise. He's the most consistent actor and character throughout the entire series. He's been in every movie, and to be honest he's probably the only thing I will be sad about when they finally do a reboot is that Hugh Jackman will be taking off the claws for good. I know there are already lots of rumors flying around about who will be the next to take on that role, and I think that says a lot about the role; we all are so excited and sad to see him leave the franchise that we're nervous and curious about who the next Wolverine will be. You don't see anyone worried and curious about who will replace Halle Berry as Storm, do you?
My biggest problem with Wolverine in this first movie is that he gets knocked out a few times and wakes up much later as time has passed. It seems like as the franchise goes on he just gets stronger and stronger and he's kind of weak in this film. When Sabretooth attacks Wolverine and Rogue, they're rescued by Cyclops and Storm, Wolverine is knocked unconscious and wakes up in New York at the Xavier Institute. It kind of bugs me that he can be out for that long of a time. I know the X-Jet is fast, but that's still longer than I would imagine Wolverine being knocked out for. Then at the end of the movie it happens again, he gives Rogue his power so that she can heal and live, he bleeds like crazy and then falls unconscious and wakes up back in the care of Jean Grey, AGAIN. This time it seems he's been out for a few days. I just don't buy it.
I also struggle believing the Jean Grey/Wolverine/Cyclops romantic triangle. I don't buy it. It just kind of happens without explanation, Wolverine is suddenly in love with her and in just what seems like a couple of days she's falling for him as well and forgetting that she's married, but in this film there is absolutely no chemistry between any of those characters. There's more chemistry between Jean Grey and Charles Xavier. It all just feels awkward and forced.
Cyclops & Jean Grey
Like I said I barely felt any chemistry between these two. If not for that scene as she's showing Wolverine to his room and she says that she sleeps with "Scott down the hall," leading to his line to Wolverine "stay away from my girl," you may miss that these two are actually married. He's even kind of a dick to her later on when Wolverine asks Jean if she's ever used Cerebro and Cyclops interjects by saying that Jean doesn't have enough control and it would be dangerous. True fact sure, which is actually proven when she uses Cerebro, but he still sounded like an ass! I think part of the reason she used Cerebero was just to prove her husband wrong! Lucky for us as the movies continue and the characters develop and most of this is forgotten. Even right in the beginning of X2, at the museum, Cyclops and Jean have a touching scene together, and you can feel that they love each other. We just didn't get anything like that in this first installment.
During the final fight these two basically sit it out because Toad has spit on Jean's face and she can't breath. Yup, you read that right. He spit on her face. Cyclops is trying to help her as she panics and the entire time Wolverine is fighting Mystique and Storm is fighting Toad it takes Cyclops to realize he can just blast the damn stuff off with his optic blasts. It's too bad they sat it out, Jean is one of the most powerful mutants in X-Men history she could have defeated all the Brotherhood on her own. Again, as the characters develop and move along we see her become more confident with her powers, it just feel like she makes more growth in those six years and three films than she did in all her adolescence as Xavier's pupil. Maybe I'm just really bummed we didn't get to see her fly. Cyclops did get the final blast that killed off Sabretooth, the blast that knocked him out of the statue of Liberty and apparently killed him.
I really like the casting of Halle Berry as Storm, i know a lot of people will disagree but I think she did a fantastic job. My biggest problem is we don't seen enough of her. She's always in the background. We only get to see her fly once in this film, and it's not even at the climax when someone needs to fly up and save Rogue from Magneto. (Didn't you just fly during your fight with Toad??) The other big problem for me with Storm in this film is the accent, it's somehow just completely forgotten in any other movie. She grew up in America at the Xavier Institute and never lost her accent but somehow living in America between movies 1 and 2 was enough time to catch an American accent.
I just can't say anything bad about his role, the character or the actor. He was amazing in this movie, and I really do enjoy Mckellan as Magneto. I really do like Fassbender's younger Magneto but Mckellan just does so much wonderful acting without dialogue, he's got these wonderful facial expressions and looks that do so much more than any dialogue would. He's a wonderful actor, and the character is done so well.
He is one of the reasons the movie franchise has done so well, without a strong and consistent villain through the series I think it would have been very hard to keep going and Ian Mckellan as Magneto is definitely that, but at the same time it's very clear that Magneto is not an evil man he just believes that humanity's time is over and it's mutant kind's time to rule. In this film he isn't trying to annihilate the world leaders, he is just trying to turn them to mutants so that mutant kind would stop being tortured, hated and killed all over the world, he figures that if there are more mutants that mutants would prosper, and that these world leaders would finally see things his way.
As a kid growing up watching Star Trek I was extremely excited to see Captain Picard become the leader of the X-Men, It's unfortunate though that in these early movies we don't get to see much more of his powers. Each movie he is subdued by some plot device and removed from the story. He's this extremely powerful telepath and in this film he couldn't even find Magneto or the Brotherhood. I know that's necessary plot point, and they hushed it by saying that Magneto had found a way to block Xavier's telepathy. Well what about the rest of the Brotherhood? They're not wearing shiny helmets, and for crying out loud Mystique is running around the Xavier Institute campus posing as one of the students and he doesn't even notice. Kind of disappointing. I feel like the writers look at the character as mandatory so they put him in, but because he's also in a wheelchair he becomes limited in an action film so instead he's knocked out by some mysterious liquid that Mystique adds to the gel packs of Cerebro. Don't quite understand how this dark liquid not only interferes with Cerebro but knocks him out for such a long time, and Jean seems to know exactly what to look for to fix it. Like I said, almost a necessary plot device because Xavier couldn't go to Lady Liberty with the rest of the team. Why? Well because there are stairs.
Two huge characters from the comics, when you think of Magneto's Brotherhood you definitely remember these two, so it makes them easy picks to be part of the movie. The most unfortunate thing for them was that they were killed in the final battles. Both characters have long lasting stories in the comics, and they even brought back Sabretooth to be part of Wolverine Origins, and I believe we'll be seeing Toad in the 1970s parts of Days of Future Past.
Looking back on the movie now it really is disappointing they killed both these characters off, but once you see X2 you really don't feel their disappearance. Magneto is imprisoned and Mystique escapes at the end of the first film, what would we have done with these two? Imprisoned them also? For what, they wouldn't have been released with Magneto in X2 and a second or even third prison break in X2 would have felt repetitive, so killing them off ultimately ended up alright. Just a few problems though: Why didn't Sabretooth recognize Wolverine? If he did recognize him why was nothing said? And second, what happens to a Toad when it's struck by lightning? Never mind, for some reason we covered that. Storm's best moment in the movie and it's ruined because of confusing/unnecessary banter. I kind of wish these two had been around for X3, maybe they could have been the villains that Magneto and Mystique release from the mobile prison instead of Juggernaut and Multiple Man.
Mystique is probably the most visually stunning of all the X-Men characters in this film, and I dont mean because of her blue boobs. It seemed that tons of the special effects budget was dedicated to her shape shifting. She got a great amount of screen time, and is another one of those most consistent characters in the X-Men franchise. Lucky for her Sabretooth and Toad both die in this film so she can have more dialogue and more story in X2.
The biggest thing I see as a missed opportunity here is having her find Rogue while she's on the run and treat her like a daughter, all the while knowing that she's just going to be used, and killed at the end by Magneto and his machine. I would have liked to see the Mystique/Rogue mother/foster daughter relationship that exists in the comics. The X-Men could still swoop in and rescue her and she'd end up at the Xavier Institute in the end anyway, but it would actually add depth to the Mystique character and we'd see how just evil she is by using this poor innocent girl. That is who Mystique is: hateful, angry and selfish. I wish she'd been more than just a special effects stunt.
In the comics Rogue is a complete badass, and one of the strongest X-Men on the team. I love Anna Paquin, and think she did an amazing job with the character but I wish we could have seen more of the badass and less of the whiny little girl.
If we'd seen Rogue/Mystique relationship as I suggested it would have added a depth to Rogue as well, so that by the time she joins the X-Men she's a little more angry, a little more grown up, and hopefully a little less whiny.
Over all the plot of this film by itself is really outstanding, and they did a really great job of not stuffing the movie too full of cameos, or unnecessary characters. The nerd in me wants to say that we didn't get to see much of Iceman, or other original X-Men such as Beast, Angel, Polaris or Havok, and we missed out on other fan favorites such as Colossus, Shadowcat, Bishop, Gambit, and Nightcrawler who are obviously missing. I'm glad they kept the cast small, and kept cameos to a minimum. This left it open for the future of the franchise to continue to grow.
One other thing I love them for doing is not doing an origin story. It would have been so easy to start out with a young Xavier and young Magneto and have them bring together their teams of mutants (basically First Class story line). I really like the fact that we got to see Storm teaching a class to the younger mutants and as the movies progress we see her and the other adults as mentors to the children.
I love the X-Men franchise, and am really looking forward to Days of Future Past in a little over a month. I may try to do these types of reviews for all the X-Men films as we get closer it'll just depend on time.