[To sort of piggy-back on the episode of X-Men: The Last Stand, I thought I would go back and revisit all five of the X-Men films.]
The X-Men comics have long been one of the most politically-charged series, giving the film franchise the potential to do the same. Released in 2000, Bryan Singer’s X-Men focuses on the origins and introductions of a handful of characters familiar to comics readers: Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen), Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Rogue (Anna Paquin), Cyclops (James Marsden), Storm (Halle Berry), Jean Grey (Famke Jannsen), among others. The plot of the film hinges on a plan by Senator Robert Kelley (Bruce Davison) to enact a Mutant Registration Act, whereby mutants are to be publicly identified or “outed,” if you will. Professor X and Magneto have opposing approaches on the advocation of mutant rights, echoing Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Singer grounds X-Men firmly in our reality by opening the film in a concentration camp in 1944. The scene – powerful and striking in its composition and execution – is a far cry from anything audiences had seen in a comic book film up to this point. The screenplay, by David Hayter, is for the most part complex and manages to distill decades of the comic books’ politics, philosophy, and social commentary. Singer, too, shows an indelible knack for this kind of material, balancing the gravitas of its politics with the inherent light-hearted nature of the Hollywood blockbuster. He sets up the opposing ideologies of Xavier and Magneto, as well as Senator Kelley, very well, careful not to delineate any clear lines in the film, creating a complex moral debate. Indeed, the first half of X-Men is nothing short of exceptional; the politics are compelling, the look of the film is sleek and unique, the casting is great (McKellen, Paquin, and Jackman in particular), characters and pacing are handled adroitly, and the film is easy to get into for those unfamiliar with the decades worth of dense and convoluted source material.
However, the second half of the film spirals into a mess of bad editing, poor pacing, and rushed special effects. Once the film remembers it has some big action spectacles to deliver and needs to come in at under two hours, the plot starts moving just a little too quickly, lapsing in logic, allowing for holes and inconsistencies. As well, Magneto’s scheme to exact revenge and level the playing field, as it were, on the human race borders on silly. Yet, despite these short-comings, Singer delivers a vastly entertaining and thought-provoking film with some thrilling action set-pieces – particularly Wolverine and Sabretooth’s fight atop the Statue of Liberty. Perhaps above all, seeing Wolverine go “snikt!” for the first time is a a comic book fan’s dream come true.
X-Men (2000, USA, 104 mins). Directed by Bryan Singer. Written by David Hayter. Starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Anna Paquin, James Marsden, Famke Jannsen, Halle Berry.