So here’s the deal. I like The X-Men. I like them a lot. Been a fan since I was knee high to a juggernaut, even before that 90s cartoon series. One of my favorite heroes when I was a small kid was Iceman. God knows why cos he kinda sucks. But that same kid liked The Ultimate Warrior and thought he was the best wrestler ever so that kid was dumb. Anyway, this weekend I shall be reviewing all of the X-Men films in chronological order of release. So tonight is obviously the turn of the first film in the series. For some reason I’ll even be reviewing X-Mn Origins Wolverine although I may need a stiff drink before approaching that one. Anyway, on with the show and all that.
So X-men was released in the space year 2000. This was the year in which was meant to start with planes falling out of the sky and every computer in the world crashing simultaneously. It was also to be the year in which comic book movies finally grew up. See with the exception of the first 2 Batman and Superman films no studio had ever had the balls to put decent money to a comic book movie along with a director of any sort of caliber. Then Fox, in a rare moment of genius, chucked Usual Suspects helmer Bryan Singer in the driving seat of their big X-Men movie. Not an enviable task. the last big comic book movie was Batman and Robin and confidence in making a decent movie based on any such material must have been pretty low in Hollywood. Fox threw a $75million budget at the film and hoped for the best. Now that seems like a small amount these days compared to the near $200million spent on all the big summer comic book movies this year and god knows what they’re spending on The Avengers for next year, but back then $75million would still have been fairly risky. The aforementioned Batman & Robin only took $5million more than it cost to make and believe me, that doesn’t mean profit by a long shot. Generally a film would need to make 3 times it’s budget in cinema tickets to match it’s budget. Did the $75million invested in X-Men pay off? You tell me.
Yup, $296million worldwide gross on a $75million budget. that’s pretty damn good takings. Especially when you consider it probably made more than double that in merchandise on top of that worldwide gross. What made it so successful? Probably the fact that it was actually genuinely good and didn’t look the slightest bit goofy. Batman and Batman Returns were the last serious adaptations of a superhero comic prior to this and they were plenty goofy. Only gotta look at just how immobile Keaton’s Batman costume was and just how over the top The Joker was to see that. X-Men took a more serious tone. Using a more grounded in reality setting and, most importantly, ditching the yellow spandex. Plus it had some real heavyweight actors to pull the film through as Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellon). It’s an old tactic of pulpy sci-fi films like this to use an older, generally theatrically trained, actor to help add a bit of gravitas to a role. Star Wars had Alec McGuinness, Superman had Marlon Brando and later Terrance Stamp and… Darkman had Liam Neeson? Ok so I struggled to think of a third there. I’m sure one will come to me later.
That’s not to say the film isn’t prone to some of the older cliches of the summer comic book movie. It still relies on a lengthy scene of exposition to bring you up to speed with the setting. It still has a series of near mute evil henchmen, or Mid-Bosses as I like to refer to them. Their sole purpose being to stand in front of a member of the X-Men and either take a beating, suffer the indignity of a bad pun or in Toads case both. God that lightning striking toads line is delivered poorly. Probably because Halle Berry is phoning this whole role in. To add to the cliches, that likely seem more apparent to a viewing today than it would have 10 years ago, the special effects are beginning to creak a little. There’s some fairly obvious blends where CGI shifts into live action, such as when Wolverine (fabulous dancer and Broadway musical legend Hugh Jackman) does a spin around a spire on the Statue of Liberty. As his CGI model comes back around to the top another spire moves in front of him and it’s literally used to hide a wipe to the actor landing on his feet. Once you see it you can’t unsee it. There’s quite a few sparkly particle based effects going on (Splashes of water, Iceman’s ice in a classroom scene) that look quite ropey now. Still these days films like this get double the budget and CGI is much farther along now than it was then.
The film moves along at quite a sharp pace. David Hayter is quite skilled at efficient storytelling and it shows here. The story just gets on with it’s task of introducing you to the forming team and getting to the big action finale. The action along the was is decent but largely unambitious. A lot of the fights are shot on a one move per shot basis which doesn’t cut it these days. It looks too choppy and because of the constant camera shifts it can appear a little confusing, especially a fight between Wolverine and Mystique pretending to be Wolverine. They appear to shift location in the room more than once during the fight and a lot of their moves are split over two separate shots. These days directors have adopted a more Asian style of shooting action by filming multiple sequences of moves in one take and only cutting where it makes sense. This is largely due to the influence of The Matrix which would have come out while X-Men was still in production so it’s understandable that the fights don’t show that progression. Also this was the first action film Bryan Singer had directed and it shows that he lacked a little confidence at the time. He certainly made up for it for X-Men 2. And then forgot what action was for Superman Returns, but that’s a story for another day.
The heart of the story is the relationship between Rogue (Anna Paquin) and Wolverine. She finds her way into a bar where Wolverine is fighting for money and she figures out fairly quickly that he’s a mutant. Not sure what tipped her off but it could have been that he was beating up loads of people without showing a mark, his interest in the news feature on the mutant registration act or possibly the big ruddy claws that came out of his fists. Random fact time! The trucker that drops Rogue off in the town is George Ruza who provided the voice for Dr Hank McCoy AKA Beast in the 90s animated series.Beast would later be played by Kelsey Grammer in one of the laziest pieces of casting ever
There’s not really a massive amount to truly fault this film on to be honest. Most of it’s issues are either due to it being a product of it’s time or, party because of that, the amount it’s aged over the years. The following summer saw the release of Spider-Man and that was truly when comic book movies went big budget and stepped up to being a staple of the summer spectacular we go through each year. I’d like to think that X-Men and Spider-Man’s success is what eventually led to the situation we’re in now where Marvel is spending billions producing a series of films to act as a forerunner to the biggest comic book geek fest ever. I do wonder if people will tire of this sort of film coming every year once The Avengers has been and gone. I’m sure Warner Brothers are too. they’re rumoured to be preparing for a Justice League movie that would be set up in a similar manner to which The Avengers is. It will be interesting to see if The Green Lantern makes any hints towards the Justice League. Anyway, got off tangent there. Watch X-Men, it’s good and Hugh Jackmans inability to hold an American accent in it makes for a fun drinking game. One shot each time he sounds Australian.
Max Von Sydow in Judge Dredd!!! There, i remembered another.