Sunday, January 1, 2012

Movie Review: "X-Men" (2000) by David Pretty

Greetings, X-Peeps!

I wrote the following "review" back in July of 2000 after seeing X-Men several times in the theater.  I'd like to preface this with a warning: it's not so much a review as a stunned fanboy verbally fellating director Bryan Singer for finally getting a superhero film right.

Please excuse the amateurish quality of what you're about to read...

"I just saw X-Men, and all I can say is: 'Holy X-crement, Batman!'  Singer just pulled a miracle out of his...hat.

All of the negative reviews I've read so far seem to be born of rank ignorance.  Although some viewers going into this flick probably don't know a mutant from Blinky, the three-eyed fish from The Simpsons, I'm still confident that most X-Neophytes will find something to enjoy here.

Let's look at a few common criticisms:

(1) 'The tension between Wolverine and Cyclops seems forced'.  Forced?  Damn right it's forced!  These two characters have always been like oil and water and both are competing for the affections of Jean Gray. What the fuck do you expect?  The lore captured by David Hayter's script is brought to glorious life by Hugh Jackman, James Marsden and Famke Janssen.  All of them are flawlessly cast.

(2) 'Magneto's concentration camp origin scene shouldn't be in a COMIC BOOK movie.  It's making light of a serious...'  Shut Up!  SHUT UP!  SHUT UP!!!  Whoops, *ahem*, sorry.  Again we're talking about pop culture lore here.  The whole point is that Magneto has developed a massive hate-on for humanity because they killed his friggin' parents!  In one perfectly economical scene Singer gives his villain all of the underlying motivation required to fuel his agenda.  To all of those people why decry this scene I'd like to extend my own blast of venom.  It's morons such as yourselves that have kept comic books and their subsequent film adaptation ghettoized as kiddie entertainment.  Can't they just see this as a movie and not discriminate against it because of it's supposedly 'low-brow' origins?

(3) 'The X-Men don't seem get off on their own powers very much'.  Hmmmm, well, maybe that's because most mutants consider their powers to be curse.  It's not like Superman using his x-ray vision to peek into the girl's shower room.  What kind of weak-assed nit-pickery is this?  If Singer was concerned that there wasn't enough special effects in the film, I'm here to re-assure him that whatever he did worked perfectly. By focusing (go figure) on a series of individual dialogue-driven scenes, Singer gives fans what they want: comic book icons walking, talking and acting like characters in any other normal action movie.  It's awesome.

God I hope these stupid, myopic reviews don't fuck with the box office returns and jeopardize a sequel from the same creative team.  I'll be pissed!

To the contrary, X-Men is filled with one fantastic sequence after another.  As a fan I expected (nay, demanded!) a requisite amount of respect but nothing like this!  Witness:
  • Magneto's Origin.  Suitably traumatizing and evocative.  Perfect.
  • Rogue's Origin.  Flawless.  Anna Paquin is a delight at first then totally tragic.  I had my doubts at first but she's good.  Rogue's southern accent and overt slinkiness have been nailed down cold.  
  • The Senate Hearing.  Bruce Davidson as Senator Kelly is well-cast and comes across as cold, smug, and bureaucratic.  If the film makes any mistake at all it's in killing him and Hank Gyrich since both of them are perfect foils for the X-Men.  No super-powers, but possessed of enough political clout to make our hero's lives a living hell.  Oh well, I guess it can't all be perfect.  Anyhoo...Famke Janssen, yet another great choice.  She's classy, smart as a whip (?) and sexy as hell!  Then we get the first scene with Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan together.  Watching these two debate is worth $6.00 alone!  ("Wow, remember when movies were $6.00?" - yer host)
  • Wolverine's "Pit Fight".  Crap on a cracker!  Hugh Jackman single-handedly makes every fan-boy (and fan-girl's) dream come true.  To quote Apone from Aliens: 'Absolutely badass!'  This as about as perfect a film debut as you could imagine.  
As great as all these examples are, a million more follow.  Such as:
  • Logan's newfound appreciation for seatbelt laws.
  • The scrap with Sabretooth.
  • The tour of Xavier's School For Gifted Youngsters, replete with appearances by Kitty Pryde and Bobby 'Iceman' Drake.  
  • Cerebro
  • Cyclops and Jean in training.
  • Wolverine's motorcycle ride.
  • The train station battle.
  • Storm's revenge.
  • Mystique in any scene she's in.
  • The police stand-off.
  • Wolverine's nightmare.
  • Toad's 'Darth Maul' homage.
  • Every one of Hugh Jackman's lines.
And so it goes.  I've already seen the movie three times and I'm unable to detect any crippling flaws.  A hearty 'thanks' go out to director Bryan Singer for having the guts to do this right.  He's really given fans a reason to rejoice..."

Wow...sorry 'bout that folks.  I did want to share this because it represents a sincere, first-hand emotional reaction from a movie fan who thought he'd never see a decent comic book movie made during his lifetime.  

Here's a more recent (and considerably more measured take) on the film.  But first, the X-trailer!

It's hard to believe that it's only been about eleven years since the world saw its first truly respectable superhero film.  As soon as I witnessed the sobering prologue detailing the origins of Magneto set in a Nazi concentration camp I shook my head and allowed myself a glimmer of hope that Bryan Singer was actually going to treat a comic book property with some semblance of respect.  When Hugh Jackman showed up as Wolverine I briefly threw a few hosannas skyward and then proceeded to enjoy the rest of the film as a humble masterpiece.

In light of even bigger revelations to come (such as its own superior sequel, Iron Man and The Dark Knight), the first pioneering X-Men flick hasn't held up quite as well.  But it's still pretty damned good.

The cast is impeccable.  I know Scottish actor Dougray Scott was originally tapped to play everyone's favorite cranky canuck, but can you really picture anyone else but Hugh Jackman as Wolverine now?  Striking the perfect balance between feral rage and blatant wise-assery, the character serves as a fantastic sounding board for all the silent objections audiences might be harboring towards the intrinsically silly concept of superheros.

He sparks nicely with Famke Janssen, who exudes her own quiet charisma.  She's brainy, willful and leaves no doubt as to why both Logan and Scott are butting heads over her.  James Marsden is also pitch-perfect as Scott Summers/Cyclops.  He's justifiably righteous but with a hint of pomposity to give Logan something to clash against.

Casting Patrick Stewart as Professor X wasn't so much inspired as it was a no-brainer.  I could only imagine what the equally accomplished Ian McKellen must have thought when he was strutting around the set as Magneto in his form-fitting helmet and bodysuit.  Regardless, he certainly has the acting chops to power though any potential distractions for the audience. 

Anna Paquin, playing a considerably younger-then-expected Rogue is charismatic, quirky and strangely vulnerable especially when you consider her incredible defensive powers.  Her scenes with Jackman are fantastic.  About the only cast member that seems ill-at-ease is Halle Berry, and it's telling that she jettisoned her African accent for the sequel. 

The supporting villains are all solid as well, with Rebecca Romijn as Mystique deserving a particular nod for her own mutant power to endure what must have been an agonizing (though greatly appreciated!) makeup job.  Bruce Davidson's hella-smarmy Senator Kelly also begs recognition for his brief but memorable screen time.

Bryan Singer's direction is a tad workmanlike, which probably reveals the pressure he was under to deliver something respectable without rocking the boat too much.  Although the script could be accused of being  "color-by-numbers" I'm kinda glad the film doesn't overstay its welcome.  The dialogue is also reasonably sharp with the exchanges between Cyclops and Wolverine standing out.  This makes Storm's groan- inducing final line to Toad all the more inexplicable.

Despite these minor quibbles, X-Men represented the first time that a comic book property had been brought to the big screen without a director using his "auteur" pedigree to somehow "legitimize" the otherwise "lowbrow" source material (Tim Burton, I'm looking in your direction).  Singer went on to lens a superior sequel but regrettably bailed on us to direct the otherwise turgid Superman reboot.  It's a shame because if he'd been on board for X-Men 3 I'm confident that we would have been treated the rarest of film accomplishments: the perfect trilogy.

Tilt: up. 

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