In anticipation or dread for X-Men: Apocalypse I recently purchased all of the X-Men movies (sans Deadpool). So for fun I thought it might be enjoyable to share my own thoughts and observations about each of the movies.
X-Men was directed by Bryan Singer of The Usual Suspects fame and featured an all-star cast including Sir Patrick Stewart, Sir Ian McKellen, Halle Berry and Academy Award-Winner Anna Paquin. The film also was the major audience debut of Hugh Jackman, an actor then known for his roles on Broadway. The film was released just after Blade had demonstrated that the superhero genre was not dead as some suspected after the abysmal failure of Batman & Robin at the box office. The film was made on a $75-million-dollar budget, and made $293 million at the box office and was critically well-received. I mention this to describe some of the context and history behind the debut of the X-Men film franchise.
The real question is: Did I care for the film? Well, I will comfortably say that the first X-Men film has aged well. The most pleasant surprise is the minimal amount of CGI in the film. Bryan Singer primarily relies on practical effects either by necessity or preference, which helps make the film look not as dated as poor CGI can. The film is also fairly comfortable in dropping new viewers into a well-established fictional universe, much like Star Wars the audience hits the ground running with mutants quickly and briefly explained before establishing the central conflict. Senator Kelly is attempting to introduce the Mutant Registration Act into Congress, which the mutant Magneto see’s as synonymous to the horrors he endured during the Holocaust. The best performances in the film and indeed the franchise are the brief and magnificent sequences between McKellen’s Magneto and Stewart’s Charles Xavier. Magneto has a righteous air in both his speech and inflection, while Xavier has a calm and weariness hoping always for peace rather than conflict. The two also clearly have had both a deep history with one another and still consider the other friends even if on opposing sides. McKellen and Stewart are both able to deftly transmit all of these emotions and gravitas in their brief scenes together with perhaps the best scene of an action film being a simple game of chess and repartee between Magneto and Xavier.
I must say that in hindsight it is surprising how much Singer gave mainstream audiences a film that X-Men fans would have expected for an X-Men debut movie. At its heart the film is simply a Brotherhood vs X-Men movie that has the themes of racism and prejudice that Chris Claremont immortalized put onscreen. Wolverine is the introductory and plot-dump character to the X-Men universe, with a mysterious past that even Logan (Wolverine’s other alias), but there is no attempt to genuinely answer where he comes from. The enigmatic character seems to be neutral throughout most of the mutant crisis and only chooses to side with the X-Men to save Rogue from the Brotherhood. However, Wolverine becomes firmly opposed to Magneto’s ideology by the climax. Logan angrily points out that Magneto is not truly righteous, as he would rather kill an innocent girl for his cause than sacrifice himself.
As I have drearily stated before most of the other characters are not very well-developed but they do seem to try making the characters be somewhat more than powers-display props. Famke Janssen’s Jean Grey has a fairly weak and visually unimpressive telekinesis and little to no chemistry with either Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine or James Marsden’s Cyclops. Making Cyclops the butt of most of Logan’s taunts is also somewhat strange and even borderline petulant, but it is not out of some interpretations of the characters. Halle Berry’s Storm does have a few dramatic scenes, but she herself never seems to make the character her own. As for the Brotherhood, they are wholly caricatures sans Magneto, which is what the script demands. Rebecca Romijin’s portrayal of Mystique is of interest as she has such an entertaining physicality in her movements and fighting style. Also, it is worth noting that unlike the regular Marvel Universe where Wolverine has slowly turned into an outright invincible killing machine Logan is bested in a simple hand-to-hand fight with Mystique. The portrayal of Sabertooth is probably the most surprisingly simple given that it would be very tempting to allude to Wolverine and Sabertooth’s shared backstory and Sabertooth’s abusive relationship to Logan. But it seems that Singer wanted to reduce Sabertooth to a brute-force character with no allusions to either a healing factor or any affiliation with Logan.
This movie is not perfect but it’s not uncomfortable to watch either as some of the older superhero films have sadly become. The first X-Men film is a good start and thankfully is going to vastly improve in the sequel.