To put this into perspective, the first X-Men – to be made, not the “first” in this oatmeal of a timeline – came out in 2000. That’s eight years before Iron Man, two years before Tobey Maguire’s Spiderman, and a year before The Fellowship of the Ring. Was it the lightening that sparked this wildfire? Did it pave the way for a 21st century superhero movement? Call it what you will, but it’s pretty clear that Hugh Jackman’s calling it a pensionable career.
X-Men came out before there was a superhero formula, so I guess you could say the story is unique. Rogue (Anna Paquin) runs away from home after she hits puberty and, instead of acne, her skin sucks the life out of anyone she touches. Her high-fives pack a wallop. Rogue meets Logan (Hugh Jackman), a grumpy cage fighter with metal claws, when she hitches a ride in his trailer. After a quick PSA for seatbelts, Rogue and Logan wind up at Professor X’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Every student and staff member has a mutant ability that they’re learning to control between history, philosophy, and Phys Ed classes. Professor X (Patrick Stewart) is a strong believer in human/mutant co-habitation but he’s fighting an uphill battle against the government and his old friend, Eric Lensherr (Ian McKellen), a mutant who manipulates metal and has a serious superiority complex. Unlike Professor X, Eric believes that mutants are the future and all humans should kneel before them. His master plan to tip the scales involves a giant dreidel, the Statue of Liberty, and a teenage girl with violent hugs.
This isn’t the X-Men where Professor X gets kidnapped, evaporates, is shot, struggles with drug addiction, or is partially sucked into the body of an immortal Egyptian. Wow, he’s a pretty soft target for such a powerful dude. This X-Men sees Professor X catch a brain cold after he’s delivered all of the necessary exposition. More than anything, this X-Men introduces us to the characters we grew up with in the 90’s, with a little creative liberty around their abilities. What a different story it would be if Rogue was a flying, super strong, southern belle. Thankfully, almost all of our old favourites are present, including Storm (Halle Berry), Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), and Scott (James Marsden) who traded his blue and yellow spandex suit for turtlenecks and a stick up his ass. It’s a little on the nose, but in 2000 Marvel hadn’t cracked the code for making superheroes awkwardly cool and practically dressed. X-Men was the warmup.
Most of the characters are pretty one-dimensional. Logan clearly has a deep past shrouded in mystery which is why Hugh Jackman spends the next 20 years adding muscle to muscle for his character. The others, however, say what they need to say without much growth. They fight with flare and make things go boom which was perfectly satisfying in 2000, but in today’s standards it feels a little empty. Where’s the shell shock? What happened to the cliff hanger? No post-credit scenes? Everything is so… vanilla. If we look at X-Men as the father of 21st century superhero movies, it’s a great launch platform that deserves our respect. But given the choice, I’d rather watch a rocket blast into space and inspire our imaginations, not the pavement the rocket sits on for a brief while. Respect the platform but wonder, marvel, and dream of the rocket.
One thing X-Men does bring to the table is a kickass villain. Eric is a tricky, untrustworthy idealist and the inspiration for future Lokis. It’s hard to hate Ian McKellen, even while his character kidnaps little girls and preaches genocidal ideals. Eric is even more complex given his past bromance with Professor X. If X-Men prevails in one category it’s an excellent use of powerful superhumans with senior’s discounts.
X-Men took our cartoon and comic book heroes, clad them in black leather, and dropped them in an action feature. It’s a relatively tame movie with a fairly bland storyline, but it did spark the idea that there could be a market in this superhero business. It’s still not clear to me why Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) is butt naked in every scene, especially since she can produce clothes at will, but I guess with great power comes great resistance to cold. We owe X-Men respect as a trailblazer, and in that way it’s interesting to re-watch and see where it all began – or to pick up halfway through the storyline now that a series of prequels keep getting stuffed into the timeline. For a blast to the past/future/arc that may have been written out of existence, X-Men is a 5.5/10.