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X-Men (2000)
Director: Bryan Singer

review by Tony Lee

In Washington, a wily US senator demands the public exposure and registration of naturally occurring human mutants, as the first step in his political war against the new evolutionary offshoot of mankind, a race of homo superior that, he fears, will supplant sapiens as the dominant species.
   A girl in the Midwest nearly kills her boyfriend with a kiss. Later, she meets a Canadian drifter, Logan, who settles bar fights with blades that emerge like claws from his hands. Out on the road they are attacked by a hulking beast-man resembling the legendary 'Sasquatch'. The girl calls herself 'Rogue', her protector is dog-tagged 'Wolverine', their attacker is known only as 'Sabretooth'.
   "Sabretooth?" asks Logan, incredulously, of wheelchair bound psychic saviour, Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), and - "What's a Magneto?"
   "A very powerful mutant," replies the X-Men's physically disabled mentor with calm deliberation, effortlessly carrying the audience through the potentially embarrassing game of superhero names. Now we are there. In the Marvel universe, accepting that it's Halle Berry in a white wig as the weather-controlling 'Storm'; new Star Wars' villain Ray Park as whip-tongued, wall-walking hunchback 'Toad'; unknown James Marsden as ever-goggled, laser-eyed 'Cyclops'; model Rebecca Romijn-Stamos as (pivotal to the plot) blue-skinned shape-shifter 'Mystique'; ex-Bond girl Famke Janssen as telekinetic Doctor Jean Grey (even the X-Men comics stopped calling her 'Marvel Girl' long ago), and especially Ian McKellen - who needs no help from Stewart to make us believe he is the electromagnetic force wielding super-villain comics' fans know so well from Marvel's monthly four-colour X-Men adventures.
   The fantasy action directed by Bryan Singer is remarkably athletic, with fast cutting and impressively blended stunts and CGI ensuring noisily convincing fight scenes, which mostly involve the animalistic Wolverine (Hugh Jackson, looking uncannily like the comics' character). This is the first serious attempt to turn a Marvel comics series into a big screen success, and I'm happy to report that a success is exactly what it is. The impossibly agile sports jocks, talented prodigies and social misfits (so despised by Bruce Davison's witch-hunting senator, until...), that make up the secluded outsider community of Xavier's school for gifted children in New York state is just a front for Prof. X's super-team. The 'X-Men' aren't keen to fight for Superman's much vaunted 'truth, justice, and the American way' but they will make an effort to stop Magneto's clever plan to irradiate world leaders at a specially convened UN summit, and try to save mankind from its own self-destructive impulses - which is decidedly more pragmatic and honest than the woolly principles Krypton's last son upholds.
   Not everything in the garden is lovely, either. The new blooms have thorns - Wolverine's is on the inside. He's been surgically transformed into a formidable living weapon, and his memory's been wiped clean. Xavier and Magneto are old friends who cannot agree on the shape of things to come anymore. Rogue seems doomed to victim status; Wolverine is quite prepared to kill his enemies, and the rest of the X-Men are full of doubts and uncertainty - just like us regular folks!
   Missing from this version of the X-Men's redoubtably internationalist super-heroism is a Russian 'Colossus', Germanic 'Nightcrawler' and Irish 'Banshee'. But then this is a Hollywood movie, so are US blockbuster cinemagoers ready for such un-American characters yet? Sequels tend to signify pure commercial exploitation, usually tolerated only as a necessary evil of an industry that needs to keep the reels turning. Yet the comics format, unlike novels, short stories or plays as source material for movies would seem to demand a filmed trilogy, at least. I'm looking forward to as many X-Men sequels as they care to make.
previously published online, in the New Century of Cinema at Movies on Dowse
X-Men
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Related pages:
tZ  Making Sense of Wonder: Mutants Season: mutants in SF and comics - article by David Sivier

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