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With: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Bruce Davison
Written by: David Hayter, based on a story by Tom DeSanto, Bryan Singer
Directed by: Bryan Singer
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi action violence
Running Time: 104
Date: 07/13/2000

X-Men (2000)

3 Stars (out of 4)

'X' Marks the Spot

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

When I was twelve or thirteen years old, I read The X-Men comic book fervently. Even back then there was talk of a movie, and I used to daydream about it and imagine what it would be like. Now the movie is finally here, and while I watched it it enveloped me like the distant haze of a dream. But my grown-up critical mind kicked in as well, and told me to tell you that the new X-Men, though a fairly satisfying experience, is an enterprise designed for fans only.

For newcomers, X-Men is based on the popular and long-running (since 1963) Marvel comic book about telepath Professor Xavier (played by Patrick Stewart) and his school for gifted mutants. These mutants all have super powers that come with a price. Some are difficult to control, others have serious drawbacks, such as Rogue's (Anna Paquin), who draws the life force from anyone she touches. Xavier has banded his mutants together to fight for good, while another powerful mutant, Magneto (Ian McKellen) disregards the law in order to battle against the hatred and fear of mankind. His evil sidekicks are Sabretooth (Tyler Mane), Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), and Toad (Ray Park).

Directed by Bryan Singer, and written by David Hayter (from a story by Tom DeSanto & Singer) X-Men leaves out a few major characters from the comic book (my favorite, Nightcrawler, among them), skimps on the development of the remaining characters, and changes around Rogue's storyline for convenience sake--all so that the film can focus on the series' most popular character, Wolverine (played by Hugh Jackman).

This was fine with me. Wolverine, also known as Logan, is incredibly appealing. He has a mysterious past, he's a loner, and he has a bad temper. His mutant power is quick healing, plus razor-sharp claws that pop out of and retract into his forearms at will. I knew the other characters, Cyclops (James Marsden), Storm (Halle Berry), Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), well enough that I was able to fill in the blanks, but non-fans will no doubt get the full brunt of their emptiness. (Because the movie runs only 95 minutes, I can't help thinking that some character development was cut.)

The so-called plot is a little on the lame side. Bruce Davison plays a bigoted senator bent on passing a law that requires mutants to register themselves. In a flashback that opens the film, we see young Magneto in a World War II concentration camp (no kidding), so that we understand his bitter hatred of such a law. But the movie conveniently gives us "the largest gathering of world leaders in history," an easy and tempting target for a supervillain like Magneto, who plans to turn them into mutants. It would have been interesting to see what X-Men could have done with a simple story about racism, with shades of gray instead of the obvious good vs. evil. That's what the X-Men are usually about, which is what makes them such good reading.

I appreciated that the dialogue was fairly sharp and that Singer (who also helmed 1995's The Usual Suspects) was wise enough to keep the fight scenes silent instead of featuring the usual inane banter of most comic-book movies. In fact, most of the usual superhero banter and catch phrases are mercifully gone. The special effects and sets are some of the best I've seen this summer (which isn't saying much). And though the movie abandons the comic book costumes in favor of the much more fashionable black leather, at least there's a joke about it.

But what can one expect from a movie based on a comic book? Even the best ones so far, like Superman (1978), Batman (1989), The Crow (1994), The Mask (1994), and Men in Black (1997) have not been all that amazing, though not for lack of potential. Indeed, the writing in the comic books is often better than the writing of the movie scripts. Still, X-Men gets the job done and ranks squarely with best of its kind.

See also X2: X-Men United and X-Men: The Last Stand.

DVD Details: In an attempt to cash in on the upcoming X-Men 2, Fox has re-released the original movie in a double-disc special edition, called X-Men 1.5. It now comes with the option to view the movie with the deleted scenes intact. While watching, the viewer can also access 17 (count 'em) "making-of" featurettes corresponding to certain scenes. It also has a new director commentary track by Bryan Singer. The second disc has lengthy previews for "X2" and a whole bunch of behind-the-scenes stuff for the original "X-Men." Not much of it is anything to write home about, but the first movie still holds up, thanks to its stripped-down approach. Die-hard fans will want to plunk down the cash to replace the original DVD release with this new one.

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