Good lord, look at that poster. A movie that is ostensibly a metaphor for race relations and civil rights has a tag line of “trust a few, fear the rest.” Really? That’s the message you want?
This is the movie that “started the revolution,” if you will. Sadly, it hasn’t really held up well over the years. The appeal here is pretty much “holy crap, they actually made an X-Men flick.” Eleven years later and we’ve seen plenty of X-Men flicks. Oh well, what can you do? What we’re left with is a standard, if kind of cool, summer tentpole picture.
The biggest crime this movie commits is in assuming that everyone is quite familiar with the source material. I had a friend who once suggested to me that comic book movies were made solely to please comic book fans. Outside of lip service, this is demonstrably false, but if one was really committed to that argument, this is the movie to make it with. The primary characters are Rogue and Wolverine, the new recruits to the X-Men. Everyone else has an established role and motives, but the audience really only gets in the heads of the two “new guys.”
This would be fine except that Rogue really, really sucks in this movie. That’s not necessarily a problem, because most of the X-Men pretty much suck in this movie, but Rogue is the main character. The entire plot revolves around her: Magneto and his Brotherhood (made up of Mystique, Toad and Sabretooth) intend to use Rogue to infect humanity with radiation that, apparently, dissolves people into water. So they kidnap Rogue and Wolverine, Cyclops, Storm and Jean Grey have to go save her. Watching this, I thought “that’s stupid, save the people instead and let Rogue die.” And Rogue was my favourite character in the cartoon, so that’s not a great sign.
See, Rogue isn’t written like she is in the cartoon or comics. Instead, she’s shoehorned a little too hard into the role of audience surrogate. I understand that, because you can’t really have Wolverine be the super-cool bad ass and be audience surrogate, but in forcing Rogue to play that part, almost everything cool about her character is stripped away. The Rogue we get isn’t indestructible and can’t fly. We get a Rogue who takes everyone else’s energy and develop crushes on the cute boy in her class.
Wolverine is perfectly fine as super-cool bad ass and it’s easy to see why he’s the default favourite character for almost everyone watching this movie. Unlike X-Men: Volume 1, he has plenty of importance in the story, but the movie isn’t completely oversaturated with Wolverine the way X-Men: The Last Stand is. It does get a little comical watching Wolverine storm out on the team; it probably only happens once or twice, but it feels more like 20 walk-outs in a 100-minute movie.
Everything else here is either really under-developed or outright bad. X-Men starts the annoying habit in the movies of removing Professor X as soon as they can. Cyclops is completely useless and only acts as a foil to Wolverine. Storm and Jean are basically just there. Mystique is done pretty well and Ian McKellen is a fun Magneto, but Sabretooth and Toad range are laughably bad at best. The radiation effects are unintentionally hilarious.
The movie itself feels very small in scope next to, well, all of the superhero movies that came after it. The action sequences are really basic. But in a way, there’s something really endearing about the simplicity of this movie, and that’s probably it’s greatest strength. It’s fun to go back to the summer of 2000 when this was a mind-blowing film. It’s simple and small and has plenty of bad to go around, but X-Men is pretty cool nonetheless.