X-Men is a fun but flawed film. Its extremely short running time is jam packed with so many characters that all but Wolverine and Rouge serve to simply appease fans with their mere presence. What the film lacks in character, it makes up for with an entertaining plot. This is the first Marvel film to truly feel like a comic book.
With the booming success of the animated X-Men series on FOX, and the dawn of the new age superhero film before them, Bryan Singer and the folks at Marvel decided to bring the motley crew of vigilante mutants to the big screen in a big way. The trailer heralds the big screen debuts of many beloved characters, and showcases what promised to be a non stop action thriller. While there are many loving references to the history of the franchise, and more characters than you can shake a stick at, the film winds up coming short and feels far too rushed and greedy.
Beginning in Nazi occupied Poland, a young boy is torn apart from his parents as they are herded off to a horrible fate. The boy panics and tries to run to them, but a guard holds him back. Utterly in the grip of terror, the boy miraculously begins to rip apart the gate separating him from his parents, using only his mind. The boy is subdued but not before he nearly destroys the gate. Flash forward to the present day, and many more people with powers like the boy’s begin to emerge and are branded “mutants” by a fearful public.
As the debate for mandatory registration of mutants rages among politicians, the boy, now grown and calling himself Magneto (Ian McKellen), begins to see the parallels between the budding laws and the tyranny he lived under during the holocaust. His oldest friend, a man named Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), also senses the rising tension. They both conclude that action needs to be taken, but where Xavier sees a world where humans and mutants can coexist, Magneto sees a world without humans where mutants can live without fear of oppression. They both begin recruiting mutants to their causes.
Meanwhile a young runaway calling herself Rouge (Anna Paquin) meets a gruff drifter calling himself Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). The two bond and cruise the Canadian wilderness until a violent encounter with a mutant named Sabretooth (Tyler Mane) nearly claims both their lives. The pair are saved by some of Xavier’s acolytes, Cyclops (James Marsden) and Storm (Halle Berry), and taken to Xavier’s school for outcast mutants. Here they learn of Magneto’s plan and band together to stop him and restore the fragile peace between all mutants and humans.
This film should have been a three hour epic, but instead all that plot and all those characters are crammed into a barely feature length film. This robs the film of some much needed character and leaves you feeling very unsatisfied by the climax. The only characters that are explored are the villain Magneto, Wolverine, and Rouge. All three characters are treated with fantastic performances and thorough backstory. It’s sad that the rest of the heroes and villains didn’t get this treatment.
Also, due to the pitifully short running time, the action scenes are swift and weak, with no room for tension building. Even the big finale is robbed of any excitement and is over way too quickly. This proves to be the Achilles heel of the film. The film does have a dark and realistic tone that suits the heritage of the franchise well, and the underlying themes of civil rights and morality do play well into the story and the character’s motivations.
All the X-Men are played well, and the movie gives each a fair amount of screen time. Of special note are the scenes between Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, who wonderfully play the roles of best friends who have become reluctant enemies. Each of their scenes adds a wealth of heart and thoughtful writing to this otherwise fairly bland film.
Also standing out are Hugh Jackman and Anna Paquin, who develop a father/ daughter relationship that feels sweet and genuine. These young actors hold their own with the great prowess of the older pair. Another positive note is Wolverine’s relationship with Dr. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). Their playful chemistry is a welcome treat against the lame testosterone fueled feuding between Wolverine and Cyclops.
Sadly, what could have been a truly awesome spectacle, becomes a rushed mess. It’s clear that 20th Century Fox wanted an X-Men movie to be made quickly so they could capitalize off the Millennial generation’s nostalgic love for the animated series. With a few less characters and some more heart, this film could have gone the distance.