X-Men: Not the mutants I know and love

I’m an X-Men fan from way back. My love of comic books was inadvertently encouraged on one of my work experience sojourns in school — Don’t touch anything while you’re here, kid, and to keep you out of our hair, here’s some comics. A delightful attitude on the behalf of the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission) but one that led to me discovering the X-Men all those years ago.

So being a fan, I’ve been exposed to — and actively sought out — a huge amount of hype surrounding this film from its production stages.

The film opens with a young Magneto [Ian McKellen] being separated from his parents in a concentration camp, crosses to the present with Rogue [Anna Paquin] discovering her powers when a first kiss puts her boyfriend in a coma, then to Jean Grey [Famke Janssen] addressing a committee on the subject of mutant registration.

The tie with the opening concentration camp sequence is there, but too diluted for my liking. On the other hand, the continuing theme of how all mutants are dangerous, is far too heavy handed. All mutants are classed as super powered, with no consideration for what would be the vast majority of mutants who have utterly pointless skills — Look at me, I can magically change my hair colour without the help of Clairol. Cute, but it’s not going to save the world now is it.

Wolverine’s [Hugh Jackman] meeting with Rogue and subsequent introduction to Professor Xavier [Patrick Stewart] and the X-Men works far better. Wolverine’s character is well developed, they’ve opted to keep his humanity and concern for the young Rogue instead of heading off into the darker realms of his dangerous past. That they left to Sabretooth [Tyler Mane], a growling, strutting, cardboard cut out with a nasty attitude.

Xavier’s School itself was far more of a pleasant surprise to me — as it actually is a school with a lot of students, mostly runaways, who are now learning to deal with their powers in a safe environment. The school scenes are probably going to upset a lot of the hard core fans. Jubilee [Katrina Florece] and Cannonball [Jon Davey] are in evidence, but so are a very out of place group of old favourites in Iceman [Shawn Ashmore], Shadowcat [Sumela Kay], Pyro [Alex Burton] and Colossus [Donald Mackinnon].

The X-Men themselves seem a little lean, with only four members and that’s with the addition of Wolverine. Jean Grey has the most depth of character, even if she has lost her much of her highly vaunted telepathic abilities, gained a doctorate and looks like a Julia Roberts/Sandra Bullock clone minus the charm and talent. Storm [Halle Berry] is played to wooden perfection in a truly hideous plastic wig. And Cyclops [James Marsden] is as anal retentive as ever, never really seeming to come off as a leader worth following — and really making me wonder why Jean Grey goes out with him in the first place.

Magneto’s brotherhood of mutants is a bit of a joke, as all of the characters seem lifeless. Sabretooth never seems truly dangerous, Mystique [Rebecca Romijn-Stamos] really looks wrong in her shiny plastic fetish suit and miraculously develops amazing fighting skills that allow her to stand her ground with Wolverine. Toad [Ray Park] is minor comic character that is at least played with a bit of fun.

As a fan, I found the inconsistencies between the X-Men I know and what’s on screen to be annoying. The age discrepancies and relationships between many of the characters are quite distracting. Most of the casting is atrocious, with nobody looking right for their roles, but fortunately the bimbo model aspect of the cast is kept in the background with their mouths firmly duct taped shut.

Hugh Jackman may not look the part — he’s a foot too tall, 15 years too young and has pretty boy good looks — but he does play Wolverine extremely well. Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen and Anna Paquin are the standout actors in the cast, these are the people that keep the movie afloat with their great acting and the depth they give to their respective characters. But it is Hugh Jackman’s performance that makes the film work — this is really his movie.

Ray Park looks like he’s having a ball as Toad. He takes one of the dullest comic book characters and makes him fun. If for no other reason, it’s worth catching the film for Ray Park’s performance.

The story moves along briskly. It’s standard comic book fare, but it has some added depth with the mutation of Senator Kelly [Bruce Davison], the attraction between Wolverine and Jean Grey, the brief look at the workings of the school and Wolverine’s protectiveness of Rogue. There are some nice references to the comic made in dialogue, most notably Wolverine’s disdain of the X-Men uniform and Cyclops comeback asking if he expected yellow spandex.

While some of the costuming is dodgy, specifically Storm’s hair, Magneto’s helmet and whatever that blue goop is that covers Mystique. The X-Men uniforms work well, Xavier’s mansion is excellent and Cerebro is spot on. The effects are amazing, really working for the movie instead of distracting from it. From Storm’s lightning and Cyclops’ force beam to the perfection of the sound of Wolverine’s claws being extended.

Bryan Singer hasn’t done too bad a job in his direction of X-Men, it’s nowhere in the league of The Usual Suspects, but it’s still not as bad I expected. I went into the theatre expecting a complete debacle, and while it’s not going to win Oscars, I did enjoy the film on an escapist level. It was fun and I enjoyed it immensely, but these guys are still not my X-Men.

Published Epinions — 15.07.2000
DVD available from Amazon US, Sendit UK and DevotedDVD AU

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