Reviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 07/17/00 09:27:24

"I Don't Think They Screwed It Up"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

There’s a good friend of mine who’s been waiting since he was born for the film version of X-Men. He’s a comic book lover and could tell you every last detail of who the X-Men are, their powers, origins, height, age and weight. He, along with the millions of X-manics out there, have had their hand on the nit-pick button ever since the first pictures of the costumes were published. And while nitpicking is in order for the majority of films that descend onto our local theater screens, I believe that most moviegoers, including the comic book clan, are going to really enjoy this latest effort.

For those void of comic book savvy, the X-Men deals with a group of evolutionally-enhanced mutants who are outcasts from society. As always there are two camps to the outsiders – Professor Xavier’s (Patrick Stewart) school and the dark side led by Xavier’s old buddy, Magneto (Ian McKellen). A McCarthy-like politician, Senator Kelly (Bruce Davison) is proposing for all mutants to register with the state so a close eye may be kept on them and their powerful ways. This does not pose well for Magneto, who being a child of the Holocaust, knows a little too much about human intolerance against certain races. So the war is on. But not before we’re introduced to fan favorite Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), able to project razor-sharp metal claws from his knuckles (the top of his hand in the comics) and Rogue (Anna Paquin) who is able to suck the lifeforce out of anyone who touches her skin. Their relationship (not romantic) is a starting point for a series of relationships which really fuel this film into more than just special effects. The rest of the home team consists of Dr. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) (who has psychic powers on a lesser plane than Xavier), Cyclops (James Marsden) (who shoots lasers from his eye(s)) and Storm (Halle Berry) (who can control the weather).

Comic book films like X-Men already have a built-in audience. So much so that the majority of people who like going to the show naturally cop the belief that X-Men is for “them, not me.” But such is not the case here. X-Men tells a very literate, adult story with interesting characters and some decent, if not spectacular, action scenes. This is an action film where character and performances stand out above the action. Patrick Stewart is the dream choice to play Professor X and he embodies him with the kind of cool reserve and quiet wisdom one would expect. His equal is met in a great performance by McKellen as Magneto, a villain that one can identify his motivation with. But the true star of this film is Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Commanding a tone that is part Clint Eastwood and part Russell Crowe, Jackman brings a wide range of emotions as Wolverine from his appropriate rage and standoffishness to true sympathy for the plight of Rogue, herself an embodiment of teenage isolation and misunderstanding. Jackman is going to be a moviestar. Other performances are fine, if cut a bit short. I’d like to know more about the relationship between Cyclops and Jean Grey (Janssen has said that there characters are engaged). Halle Berry and her limited acting ability is thankfully put aside for most of the first hour and I would have liked to have seen more of Davison as Senator Kelly, whose development will most likely disappoint most comic book fans.

Nitpicking will come into play on both sides. Being aimed at the comic book crowd, they are more likely to enjoy the film with its in-jokes and popular characters finally brought to life. Yet they will still be the ones that will nit-pick the little details and make blanket statements like “they screwed it up”. All my knowledge of the X-Men comes from my friend (and a single episode of a old X-Men cartoon where the characters were introduced and they fought the Juggernaut), so I went in with minimal inside material. I didn’t know how old or tall certain characters were supposed to be nor did I catch references to minor characters who apparently went on to superhero prominence in later issues of the comic series. But, like me, the average theater participant should enjoy X-Men as a fun summer excursion. Bryan Singer has once again proven that he is a true director. The Usual Suspects is a modern classic and no matter what you think of Apt Pupil and its story, it remains a well-directed drama. Although Singer still hasn’t proven he’s the right guy to direct action scenes, (James Cameron was attached to this project for a long time) it’s the material surrounding the action that makes the film a success. A little more action utilizing the full range of all the mutant powers is certainly called for and keeps the film from being a home run. But the potential success of this one will guarantee the sequel everyone’s signed for and we can keep our fingers crossed.

The rumors of the fabled 135-minute original cut of the film are true. In the 80s, many fantasy films were chopped for content for one reason or another and then went on to become box office and critical disasters (i.e. Legend and Supergirl). As it stands now at a mere 95 minutes, X-Men could have continued that trend, but Bryan Singer and his writers have done such a commendable job with setting up most of the primary characters, that they were able to lose 40 minutes of character development, perhaps pick up the pace a little, and still managed to come out on top with a very entertaining comic book translation. It may not be out of the park, but it’s a solid hit. One can hope though that the home run lies on a future 2-disc special edition DVD from Fox.

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