At a time when comic book movies were widely derided (yes, I am looking at you, Batman & Robin), X-Men pretty much came in a whiff of fresh air and pretty much resuscitated the whole comic book movie genre. With an ensemble cast and a storyline that was as serious as pandering to the fan boys, X-Men pretty much restarted the trend of comic books as hot box office properties.
The first movie in a trilogy is often the make or break. It has to set up the character, provide an intro to them, make us interested in the characters, develop a story and take it to its logical conclusion while at the same time, leave enough room for the sequels. X Men starts off with a pitch perfect opening during the Holocaust, in a concentration camp, where we see the first signs of mutant power manifesting in a young Jew Eric Lansherr who can control metal. Shifting to present day, the signs of paranoia about mutants creep in as there are calls for mutant registration as mutants can be dangerous while at the other end, the characters are introduced with their own mutant powers, all part of a mutant school run by Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Also introduced is our feral, mutton chop sideburn sporting Canuck, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), who pretty much carries the movie on his adamantium laced shoulder. The plot pretty much revolves around a plot by Magneto to convert all normal people into mutants and the X-men’s struggle to stop it.
But really what makes the movie stand out are simply the characters. Magneto is no one-note villian. Deeply driven by the persecution he faced as a Jew (for being different), he does not want the mutants to face the same and is willing to cross any line to prevent that from happening. Ian MacKellan is simply awesome. His voice and tenor are absolutely perfect. Haughty, domineering while filled with a sense of righteousness at his action, Ian Mackellan makes Magneto come to life. Patrick Stewart makes a fine Charles X Xavier. With an opposing idealogy to Magneto while believing in the better side of everyone, he carries his role with aplomb. There is a sense of regret when he interacts with Magneto, his once closest friend, on the course he is taking and he does believe that there is a chance that Magneto can be made to see things from his viewpoint. The best dialogs in the movie occur when both of them interact. Its infact a conversation of 2 close friends who still have a great respect for one another while opposing each other.
Hugh Jackman!!! Pretty much the movie and the character that launched a career for him. Playing a gruff mannered bad-ass with a kind heart, he simply steals the movie in whichever scene he appears. With the almost perrfect “Wolverine” hair-do and with nightmares in his past, he does have the terrified look of a man running away from his past, avoiding all attachments & while trying to determine his place in the order of things.
Another aspect of the movie presented perfectly as in the comic is the complicated triangle of Wolverine, Jean Grey & Cyclops. Wolverine & Cyclops right from the first scene do not get along well with one another while there is sufficient chemistry between Jean Gray & Wolverine despite Jean & Cyclops being a pair. While not overplayed, this relationship tangle just simmers.
Balancing a large cast is never easy but Bryan Singer does well, giving every character a moment to shine. The action is slickly executed while the screenplay rarely sags. Dialogs in this movie are neither clunky nor unnatural.
If, one has to really crib, the biggest flaw of the movie is the handling of the Wolverine-Sabretooth relationship. Wolverine & Sabretooth are mortal enemies who have had a go at each other for more than a century and yet neither recognizes each other.
But apart from that, a nice movie to revisit anytime.