X-Men started out as a comic book series, made the translation to an animated cartoon series [which is where I discovered it], and has now moved to live action on the big screen.
Background: "Mutants", some good, some bad, each have their own bizarre special powers: strength, telepathy, laser vision, shape changing, weather control, magnetism, whatever ... The good, lead by Professor Charles Xavier, fight the bad, mainly led by Magneto -- and both sides are feared by normal humanity for their differences.
What's good about X-Men is the characterisation, and the humour. In the cartoons [and I understand even more so in the comics] these are real people, caused great problems by their differences, and coping reasonably well most of the time. Even the bad mutants are complex characters, affected by their persecution by normal people. Oh -- and the fights aren't bad, either.
And I have nothing but praise for the translation -- except for the plot density. One twenty minute cartoon episode, by using plenty of quick cutting, flashback, and just not explaining everything (or anything, sometimes), manages as much plot as this entire film. The action scenes here, when they do appear, are excellent -- and manage to capture the cartoonish excesses of violence whilst maintaining a degree of plausibility. The casting is very true to the animated characters: I took only a few seconds to stop thinking of Patrick Stewart as Picard, and think of him as Professor X (and that man can deliver the most ridiculous lines with absolute conviction and gravitas); Wolverine is particularly good. My only reservation is Rogue, and then only because of her accent -- in the cartoons it is so distinctive that I felt its lack here. The film also captures some of the humour -- Cyclops' meta-joke about "yellow spandex", in particular, is great.
But the trouble with a film reaching out to a wider audience is the perceived need to explain all the back-story to that audience. Which slows it down somewhat. Personally, I prefer back-story to be introduced piecemeal, gradually illuminating the characters, making me change my preconceptions, making puzzling events suddenly fall into place, rather than having it presented to me all up-front in one large chunk. For example, it might have been much more effective for the audience to find out about Magento's childhood experiences after thinking him merely evil, then finding he really knows what happens when one section of humanity is singled out as different by another.
Never mind. What this film shows is that it is possible to translate X-Men to live action. Hopefully there will be further films in the franchise, and hopefully these will have a bit more plot, and a bit less set-up, whilst maintaining all the good features of this film.
reviewed 25 August 2000
More plot and less back-story this time, thankfully.
Frothing military maniac General Stryker has discovered about Cerebro, and plans to use it to kill all mutants. He raids the X-school and steals the vital component, and captures Xavier, brainwashing him into helping. But Storm, Jean Grey, and Wolverine escape, and foil his dastardly plan, with some help and hinderance from an escaped Magneto.
That's about it, really -- but it's all strung together with great action scenes, an ensemble performance not dominated by any one character, a drip-feed of Wolverine's backstory (now, that's the way to do backstory), and some interesting new mutants, resulting in a couple of hours of fun.
reviewed 20 December 2003
!!! spoilers for X-Men 2 !!!
So, Jean Grey dies at the end of X-Men 2, but is on the DVD cover for X-Men 3. That can only mean the Phoenix, which can't be good. And it isn't. The government appear to be accepting mutants, but then discover a "cure", made from a mutant who nullifies the powers of others who get within a few feet (but not himself, for some reason). This causes many mutants to queue up for the cure, but many others (egged on by Magneto, who claims the government will force them) to protest "we don't want no cure". With the Phoenix possibly on his side, mayhem swiftly ensues.
Swift cutting between several plot strands keeps the action moving along at a good clip, until the epic Last Stand at Alcatraz, with lots of plot developments along the way. Some minor characters get to play significant roles, but it's a pity that this means some major characters fade into the background. Lots of retconning will be needed for a sequel (but they're into prequels for the time being).
reviewed 25 May 2009