Fear the wrath of...Toad!
Blade was earlier, but I still consider the first X-Men to be the first superhero comic film of the modern era. Although the superhero movies that came out in the first several years of the new millenium don't entirely hold up that well, many still have a soft spot for X-Men. Me? Not really.
This is weird, mind you. I have about 3,000 comics sitting in my house and a fair amount of them are X-Men comics. I've dutifully seen just about every comic book movie while it was in theaters, including Ghost Rider. I'm squarely in the target market for X-Men, even if I always preferred Spider-Man and Batman to Marvel's team of mutants.
I remember not being that crazy about this movie when it first came out, which surprises me after watching it again the other day. Some of my original criticism of the film still applies, but it's still a really solid movie, and the first credible attempt to bring Marvel's characters to the big screen. It was my duty as a nerd to like X-Men! So why didn't I?
Let's check in on some of the things I disliked about X-Men 16 years ago and see whether they still apply today:
#1: The villains mostly sucked. This one holds true today. Mystique was good, but a little underutilized in what is actually a pretty fast-paced film compared to the more bloated superhero films we see now. But Sabretooth? Awful. Who decided that Sabretooth should speak primarily in grunts and roars? And Toad is a C-lister, not someone who should be able to fight off Jean Grey, Cyclops, and Storm at the same time.
|Halle Berry as Storm: 100% more enjoyable without the stupid accent she uses in X-Men.|
#2: Underwhelming special effects. Surprisingly, I've softened my stance a bit on this, even though special effects have only gotten better since X-Men. I remember hating how Wolverine's claws looked in the first film, for instance. Sure, some of effects work is a little lame (like when Senator Fantastic squeezes between the bars of his cell to escape), but I can overlook that stuff. A lot of the special effects actually do hold up well, too, such as when Professor X enters Cerebro.
#3: Mediocre casting. When the movie came out, I remember not approving of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Too tall, I said. Too skinny, I complained. Not hairy enough, I lamented. Sure, those things are true, and Jackman hadn't really hit his stride as Logan in this film, but since then he's grown into the role and now I take back that particular complaint.
I also didn't like Ian McKellen as Magneto when the film was released. In the comics, Magneto has gray hair, sure, but other than that, he's a beefy dude just like all the other bodybuilders masquerading as superheroes. However, he does a nice job in the role and since he was a child during the Holocaust, there's not much of a way to get around him being older. Some of my other complaints in 2000 were just as silly (Famke Janssen as Jean Grey...at the time I said someone "hotter" should have gotten the role. Not sure what I was thinking then, either), and they don't apply any longer.
|Ian McKellan after hitting the gym for a couple of months. Oh, and creatine. Lots of creatine.|
#4: The fight scenes were just okay. I still agree with 2000 Jon (Jon2000? Would have been a sweet rapper name in 1998). The fight between Wolverine and Mystique was pretty bad, honestly. Many of the action sequences in the film are ruined for my by the wirework in the film, which is really floaty looking and unrealistic. Even an otherwise strong intro for Wolverine early in the movie is marred by the corny "metal hitting metal" sound effects whenever Logan hits the other fighter. And why would a metal bone hitting a regular bone make that sound? That was a case of early comic movies not trusting us to know the characters.
So a lot of the things that made me dislike X-Men in 2000 don't really bother me so much anymore. Anyway, this film has a lot of classic moments, mostly involving the ball-busting between Wolverine and Cyclops. Between Wolverine leaving his middle claw up to flip off his longtime frienemy to telling Cyclops "you're a dick" to prove his identity later in the film, the rivalry between the two is pure gold. Patrick Stewart and McKellan are really good, Halle Berry...well, looks great, and the film tells a solid story that sets up the next movie nicely. I'm glad I watched this one again after not seeing it for several years.