Thursday, May 8, 2014

X-Men Retrospective: X-Men (2000)

Director: Bryan Singer
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Anna Paquin, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Famke Jannssen, Halle Berry, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn, Bruce Davison, Tyler Mane, Ray Park
Rated: PG-13

Do you know what happens when a toad gets struck by lightning?

Now we quickly begin this X-Men journey as we count down to the hotly anticipated (and my #1 movie to see this summer) Days Of Future Past.  X-Men and Batman are easily my tops when it comes to superhero franchises.  The Marvel Avenger canon is awesome and a favorite, and I love love love those movies, but I can't say I was into or following those characters aside from name checking them and knowing some basics.   In the 90s I was allllll over the X-Men franchise.  It was the first non-Batman non-Superman non-Ninja Turtles comic characters that really intrigued me and I went all in with.  I'm going to credit (as I'm sure a lot of my generation does) the Saturday morning X-Men cartoon that aired on Fox when I was growing up as igniting my fandom.  Batman: The Animated Series was going on at the same time and was a masterpiece, but for a lot of its run, the X-Men cartoon was JUST as good.
The cartoon led me to the comics.  And holy crap, if a Marvel comic had X in the title I was reading it monthly.  There was X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, X-Force, X-Factor, X-Men 2099 even Wolverine had his own monthly series and I was on top of that as well.  So many teams, so many mutants, so many events, time was craziness and I was loving it and digging deep into it all.  I did fall away from comics in the mid-90s in general and later picked it back up for a few years from 2006-2009.  And at that time I was staying away from superhero books, but I made the exception in that I read the Joss Whedon-led run of the Astonishing X-Men.
Blade came out in 1998, and that was the Marvel film that tested the waters and opened the door for X-Men.  Many will credit this first X-Men movie or Sam Raimi's Spider-Man with launching the comic superhero frenzy we are still in the midst of today, but they're wrong.  As much a success as those movies were, it was Blade that truly started this run.  It's success showed that there was a potential audience for this type of film beyond that of the niche comic book geek.  As a side note, its also kind of interesting that the launch for the Marvel craze came in 1998 with a black comic hero and there would not be another in a Marvel film until 2014 with Falcon in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  UPDATE:  MY bad Don Cheadle (sorry Terrence Howard, but you never donned the armor), I totally forgot about you as War Machine/Iron Patriot in the Iron Man films.
When word of the film came, everyone was eager to see who would be cast as the X-Men.  And it was going to be damn near impossible to please as every kid had made up their own cast of an X-Men film before they even announced they were doing a movie.  Here's another interesting thing that may have originated with this film.  I, and others of my breed, get very tired of the uninspired, lame and extremely lazy fanboy"casting choices we see on the internet all the time (ie: the push for Bryan Cranston as Lex Luthor cuz he plays a similarly bald vicious bad guy on TV currently!).  Was giving us Patrick Stewart as Professor X in this film the start of feed this kind of monster?  I'll raise my hand as guilty back in 99 when casting was coming out as thinking "it just HAD to be, he's a dead ringer!"  If you were a kid then, Patrick Stewart HAD TO play 2 roles in his career: Professor Xavier and Mr. Freeze.  And of course, this film gives in and casts him to uproarious fanboy applause.  Stewart has been damn good in this role, but I want to mark this down as maybe the "giving in" that went a long way into fanboy casting demands.
It wasn't all like that though.  Most people thought there was no way Angela Basset WASN'T playing Storm.  Instead we got...Halle Berry?  Please note, at the time, Halle Berry was not at the stature she sit at in modern times. Before X-Men she was mainly a side character in action movies and had roles in some smaller dramas.  As a matter of fact, when this cast was announced there was a lot of scratching heads and thinking "who are these people"?  Wolverine was going to be played by Dougray Scott (we all lamely wanted Russell Crowe back then), but he had to drop out and was replaced by Hugh Jackman.  At the time it was more like "Who Jackman?"  Then they released this promotion images of all of them in character and the worries started to set in.  They kinda looked like crap.  All in black rubber/leather/whatever outfits, and the pictures were way too well lit.  I remember thinking...why is Magneto soooo old?  Uh oh...
But, worry not, the movie was quite awesome.  It was kind of a big surprise in the summer of 2000.  The thing many were taken with was the hell of a performance from the unknown Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.  The man just commanded the screen and owned it.  Not many times before had we seen such a devoted and committed performance like that in a superhero movie.  The movie just worked.  We peered into the world of X-Men through the eyes of both Wolverine and Rogue, but it never sat and played on too much exposition of an origin story.  It was also awesome seeing my #2 all time favorite Bond girl land a significant role in that of Jean Grey (is Famke Janssen one of the all time most successful Bond girls post Bond movie? Gotta be top 5 right?).  And she's also quite terrific as she sort of fills in for the lacking Beast role within the X-Men on top of being Jean Grey.  The film also provided us with a lot of memorable action set pieces at the time.  X-Men sort of elevated the comic book superhero movie.
14 years have passed since that first movie came out.  A ton of comic book superhero films have come since then and many times this film has been outdone.  But, I think its important to remember at the time this movie came out it was one of THE BEST comic book movies of all time instantly.  There was no question.  It was the best since Tim Burton's Batman easily.  Without argument it sat right behind the Batman and the first Superman as a top 3 greatest of all time comic book movie.  Some probably were willing to make a case that it was better than those two.  This movie was a big deal.  Its not huge in scale or anything, but it was fun and competent enough for people to take it seriously.  I don't think the film has a problem with "holding up" after all these years as some might accuse it of, I just think the films since have been able to have less restraint and the ability to go much bigger and do much more exploring whereas X-Men now in hindsight seems a bit safe and typical.  Regardless is still a good movie and you really can't take away Jackman's performance at all.  Its a top all-time "a star is born" sort of role/performance.  So haters gonna hate, yes the film contains one of THE WORST lines in film history, but that's also 12 seconds of a 104 minute movie.  I think this first X-Men film is still a solid film and a good start for the franchise.

NEXT TIME:  Double X-Men
greatness at 3:26

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