Let us go back to the beginning of the franchise… but please beware this review contains spoilers for X-Men.
Release Date: July 14, 2000
Director: Bryan Singer
Writers: Bryan Singer, Tony DeSanto, David Hayter
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Anna Paquin, James Marsden, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, Rebecca Romijn, Ray Park, Taylor Mane, Bruce Davison
Basically like every superhero movie, this one had a lot of starts and stops in development hell before finally getting the green light. This one spent 10 years in purgatory and had names like James Cameron, Katherine Bigelow, Brett Ratner, and Danny Boyle attached to it. Bryan Singer originally turned down an offer to direct, but when he learned the comic started as an allegory for Civil Rights, he became intrigued. Eventually he re-tooled the Civil Rights aspect of the characters into one about Gay Rights that would make the story more in tune with current events and something he personally can relate to (Singer is openly gay).
Thankfully the pressure wasn’t too big on Singer’s shoulders to create an amazing movie, not like the pressure the new directors are facing now when tackling an MCU or DCEU project. The comic book genre took a huge hit in 1997 with the release of the horrible Batman & Robin effectively ending the Batman franchise until Christopher Nolan would revive the character in 2005. Spawn and Blade would do moderately well, but were not enough to get people excited over comic book based films anymore.
How does one approach a group of characters who do have a large and loyal following without it being too cheesy or too overly serious? How does one make a comic book movie that will appeal to all audiences with a group of characters with names like Mystique, Rogue, Toad, and Magneto that people are not as familiar with? Bryan Singer probably still can’t give you a full answer on that one, but somehow he managed to do it.
The first really bold move was Singer and Hayter chose to have the film introduce the origin of the main antagonist Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (McKellen) by showing him as a child being lead into a Nazi concentration camp and being ripped away from his parents when he discovers his powers. Next we are introduced to Rogue (Paquin) who discovers her powers while she is in the middle of her first kiss and nearly kills her boyfriend in the process. We find ourselves sympathizing with a villain and afraid of a possible hero.
The script for the film itself was a hodge poge of various scripts from people like Joss Whedon, Laeta Kalogridis, Ed Solomon, Christopher McQuarrie, James Schamus & John Logan, but overall a completely original story. Something completely unheard of now as all comic based films take storylines from the comics the characters are based on.
Professor Charles Xavier (Stewart) runs a school for the gifted where Mutants can learn how to use their powers in a safe environment. He is currently fighting a bill being pushed by Senator Kelly (Davison) to make Mutants register with the government. Charles’ old friend and current nemesis, Erik Lehnsherr has plans of his own to turn all of the world’s leaders into Mutants using a machine that gives off DNA changing radiation. But the machine causes the non-Mutants exposed to it to turn into water after a time. Cyclops (Marsden), Jean Grey (Janssen), Storm (Berry), and Wolverine (Jackman) must stop Magneto and rescue Rogue before it is too late.
Where Singer gets things right is in his cast. Most everyone is spot on casting. Several things about the characters had to be changed to do licensing rights or needs of storytelling. Stewart was straight fan casting. McKellen was perfect for the role of Magneto and could make the villain a more sympathetic character as McKellen is openly gay and is an active Gay Rights activist. In a wonderful twist of fate, Stewart and McKellen would become close friends over the years filming the X-Men movies together.
Rogue was made into a loner teenager so the younger viewing audience could have someone they could relate to. Her powers were changed from being able to fly, have super strength and invulnerability, and be super-fast with a 7th sense because 20th Century Fox didn’t have the license to use Rogue’s powers from the comics due to their relation to Ms. Marvel’s abilities and the studio didn’t own the licensing rights for her. So Rogue was given the ability to absorb a person’s life force so she could factor more into the plot. Paquin carried the vulnerability of the character well.
Scott Summers/Cyclops’ a-holeness was toned down and he is for the most part a likable character which generally can be attributed to the charisma of Marsden. Janssen would fly under the radar for the most part, but would be seen as the best fit for Jean Grey in the sequels.
Storm was also made into a younger character, though not as much as Rogue. Berry is the only big misstep in casting here. Not because she wasn’t right for the role, but because Berry only half committed to a Kenyan accent that was eventually dispatched of in the sequels. I was largely disappointed by the lack of screen time because Storm was one of my favorites from the comics.
Toad (Park) and Sabertooth (Mane) were underutilized but well cast for their purpose in the plot, but Mystique was perfectly used as the shape-shifting Mutant and Romijn looked perfect in all that blue paint. I’m pretty sure several boys hit puberty after going to see X-Men.
Of course all of that is good and well, but the entire success or failure of the movie would rest on the fans taking to Wolverine. He is a massive fan favorite and Hugh Jackman may seem like the embodiment of the character now, but his casting was initially a big hullabaloo with fans when it was first announced. Dougray Scott was initially cast, but had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts with the Mission Impossible sequel. Three weeks into filming, Singer brought the unknown Jackman in after Russell Crowe suggested him after turning the role down himself. Really the only major complaint fans had with Jackman was he was too tall for the role of the 5’3” Canadian hero. Jackman is nearly a foot taller at 6’2″. Fan boys quickly shut up when Wolverine made his appearance on the screen and nailed the gruff, but loveable hero. Jackman even managed to slip “bub” in his lines even though there were none in the script to stay loyal to the character.
Was the plot a little silly? Absolutely. Is it chalked full of action packed scenes? Nope. Singer had several months shaved off the production due to the film’s release date being bumped up from a Christmas time release to a summer one forcing him to not film various planned scenes. Do the effects hold up over time? Not even close. The first entry into the X-Men franchise is very flawed, but it opened the door to more comic book movies to build success on and lead to a stellar sequel.
What did you think of X-Men when you first saw it? Did you see it in theaters when it was first released like me? Or did you come around to it later? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below and come back next Friday as I take a look at X2: X-Men United.