Rewind Reviews – X-Men – The start of Marvel’s mutant mayhem

Posted on 24 June 2020
By Andrew Siddall
  • Share:

It’s hard to think of a time when big budget superheroes didn’t dominate the box office. In this Rewind Review, we take a look back at the one that properly kick-started the superhero juggernaut at the start of the millennium, X-Men.

Set in the not too distant future, mutant children are born with special gifts. The potential for these powers are brought into question by people who fear mutants and want to introduce a registration act. Magneto, a mutant with the ability to control metal, wants revenge for the horrors of his past, but his former friend, Professor Charles Xavier brings together a special group of mutants, called the X-Men, to stop him.

Acting as our entry point into this world is Anna Paquin (Vampire Diaries) as Marie/Rogue, a teenager with the dangerous ability to drain people’s life force and powers through skin contact.

Though not the main character, Rogue is pivotal to the themes of the story, with her becoming increasingly isolated when everyone around her get scared. She isn’t the most developed character in the film, and this version is a big departure from her comic counterpart, but Anna does a good job in the role.

Through Rogue we are introduced to Hugh Jackman (The Greatest Showman), in his first appearance as the one and only Logan aka the Wolverine.

It’s impossible to think of anyone other than Jackman at this point in time playing Wolverine, and his first appearance really shows off why. He is pitch perfect as the adamantium clawed mutant, showing off both the animalistic and caring sides in a believable way. Most of his backstory is kept a mystery which was explored in the sequel and spin-offs, but for an introduction, this was perfectly done.

Also making his first appearance as the telepathic Professor X is Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: Picard). Like most of the actors, Stewart is perfectly cast in the role. He has a natural warmth and calm authority to him, showing why the students and X-Men at Xavier’s School look up to him.

Making up the X-team are James Marsden (Sonic the Hedgehog) as Cyclops, Famke Jansen (GoldenEye) as Jean Grey, and Halle Berry (John Wick: Chapter 3) as Storm. They don’t get a great deal of development here, especially with the amount of characters being introduced, but we get a good idea of who they are and each of the actors are well chosen. They have good chemistry and do act like a team.

Starring as Magneto for the first time is Ian McKellen (The Lord of the Rings), who, like Patrick Stewart, is perfect for the role. The character is one of those rare villains that is completely understandable. You don’t necessarily condone his actions, but you can easily understand why he does what he does.

Aiding Magneto on his quest are the Brotherhood, made up of Rebecca Romijn (The Punisher) as shapeshifting Mystique, Tyler Mane (Halloween) as Sabretooth and Ray Park (Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace) as Toad.

They each look really good, with their abilities adapted really well for a live-action movie. They are really good choices for antagonists that provide a mixture of challenges for the X-men to overcome.

The story, while pretty straight forward, is very expositional, with most of the runtime dedicated to establishing the world and having to explain it. There’s a lot going on, from Magneto’s genetic altering machine to Wolverine’s introduction, and at times it can be confusing and complicated for newcomers as there is a lot of information being thrown out, some of which is just skimmed over.

Other than that, it’s a good story that manages to believably incorporate a lot of new characters without it feeling forced.

Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1963, the stories throughout both the films and comic books have often reflected real world conflict, such as racism, bigotry and prejudice. A large portion of humanity hate and fear the X-Men for simply being mutants.

These themes are engrained into the stories of the better movies, so much so it’s impossible not to mention them. A lot of the debates and viewpoints in the film are handled extremely well with all sides having actual substance. It allows the audience to understand how everyone feels within the Marvel Universe in a grown up and mature way.

The X-Men comics resonate with fans who relate to feeling different or isolated, and that’s one of the reasons why the X-men are some of the best characters in the Marvel Universe.

But the movie isn’t all political. There’s a suitable amount of comic book action throughout as well. Plot wise, the action fits well and never feels forced, but other than that it’s just fine.

Each character gets to show off their powers and skills, and we do get two pretty good fights with Wolverine on Ellis Island, but overall the action isn’t the most thrilling, especially compared to what followed. There is still a good amount of tension that comes from the stakes to create some urgency.

Compared to what followed, the movie plays it safe, keeping the stakes smaller and focusing on just a few characters. This was a good idea, especially back when it first came out and Marvel adaptations were only just finding their footing.

Coming out two years after Blade (1998), and two years before Spider-Man (2002), X-Men sticks with ‘realistic’ costumes made of black leather. They do seem resistant to embracing the comic book elements, such as the colourful costumes, but it works well for the tone and looks fine.

The real exceptions for this are the members of the Brotherhood, such as Mystique. Rebecca Romijn had to endure nearly 9 hours of make-up and prosthetics in order to become her. This really pays off though, as she looks incredible.

The effects are okay. They haven’t aged brilliantly and do looks very cartoonish, especially the CGI doubles. However, the effects work done with characters like Storm, Cyclops and Wolverine still look really good and believable.

The music by Michael Kamen (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) is good. It’s not as big and grand as you might expect from a big superhero movie nor very memorable, but sounds nice and fits the movie well.

X-Men really changed the game when it came to modern day comic book adaptations. It took a while for them to properly embrace their comic book origins, but there’s no denying that that wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for this.

Overall, this is a good start to the series that introduces multiple characters in a well-paced and believable way. The story is good and the casting is brilliant. This isn’t the best of the lot, but it’s a good beginning to a franchise that lasted 20 years.

Rewind Rating: 4/5. “You afraid you might like it?”