The final film in Fox’s long-running X-Men franchise*, Dark Phoenix, is hitting cinemas soon. And while I’m a bit behind, it’s still a good excuse to go back and review the various X-Men films.
*And yes, I know there’s also New Mutants, but until its a certainty that that film is actually coming out, then this, for all intents and purposes, is the end.
RELEASED: July 14th 2000
DIRECTED BY: Bryan Singer
WRITTEN BY: David Hayter, Tom DeSanto & Bryan Singer
PRODUCED BY: Lauren Shuler Donner & Ralph Winter
MUSIC BY: Michael Kamen
STARRING: Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Bruce Davison, Rebecca Romijin-Stamos, Ray Park, Tyler Mane & Anna Paquin
In the near future, two outcasts, Wolverine and Rogue, are drawn into the conflict between the heroic X-Men and the villainous Brotherhood, who are fighting to decide the fate of mutants relationship with a human race that hates and fears them.
Looking back at these early films, they’re a far cry from the superheroics we’re used to in the modern day. They seem quite quaint now, both in the scale of their storytelling as well as the way they’re produced. Unlike modern day blockbusters like Endgame, which features space and time-travel and giant purple men, X-Men instead takes time to focus on more human issues and decidedly smaller thrills like basic superpowers and the occasional blue person.
As such, some of the facets of this film still need some refining. What with this being at the start of the modern day superhero domination of the Box Office, it’s clear that those involved both in front of the camera and behind it are still adjusting to this strange new world. Sometimes it’s clear that the actors don’t know whether to overact or underact to the bizarre situations around them. Similarly, those producing the film dance the line between paying homage to the colourful comic book antics of the X-Men and becoming embarrassed by them.
However, while this film may leave a lot to be desired for those who want to see more bombastic variants of the X-Men on the big screen, the balance the creators do strike is quite a good one. They make up for the lack of comic book zaniness with an amusing collection of smarmy quips that reference the comics, as well as redefining the X-Men as modern and ‘cool’. The story is to the point, but with some interesting twists and turns along the way. It’s filled with strong themes of identity that are mostly lost in other superhero franchises.
People may bemoan the black leather costumes nowadays, but there’s no denying that they, and the rest of the costumes in this film, are very well done.
Not only is the production well done (especially for the time), but so too is the direction. I know Bryan Singer has turned out to be a bad bloke, but looking at his work from a completely professional standpoint, his visual style on this film really helps it stand out. Rather than leaning heavily into the goofiness that pervaded comic book films of the late nineties, X-Men takes a darker, more minimalist approach. It’s striking, and more serious, but without being overly grim and gritty (like Batman v Superman). There are some gorgeous shots filled with heavily contrasting colours, uncanny visuals and fascinating science-fiction set designs.
The film does fall down a bit when it comes to character work, as despite having a stellar cast, even by todays standards, they aren’t all given a lot to do. Instead, work is focused on introducing a more grounded take on the X-Men to audiences, with the character work to follow in later movies. For the most part, we focus wholly on Wolverine and Rogue, and unfortunately, other characters like Cyclops and Storm are relegated to just dropping the occassional one-liner.
Still, X-Men is a solid start to both a superhero franchise as well as the superhero boom that has overtaken cinemas in the past two decades. And despite the wealth of movies that followed, the movie retains its own visual identity and charm, and still is a solid watch.
All-in-all, I give it: