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"X-Men"

Directed by Bryan Singer ("The Usual Suspects").
Written by David Hayter.
Starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Halle Berry and Ian McKellan.
Release Year:  2000 
Review Date:  7/16/00

Folks--

What up?  I was in New York City this past weekend visiting my uncle Ron and a slew of friends, and on Friday while most of them were at work, I decided to go to a theater on the Lower East Side and catch a movie.  Being that only one movie came out this week, my choices for mainstream entertainment were quite simple.  "X-Men" is, by far, the one movie this summer that left fans like myself with the most questions; most of these questions started off with "Is this movie going to suck?" or "'Batman & Robin, Part 2?'".  Gordon "The Professional" Stokes, amongst others, correctly stated that the previews for "X-Men" were eerily similar to last summer's quasi-comic bomb "Mystery Men."  I never saw that movie because I didn't go to the theater in the two weeks that it was out last August.  But, I heard enough bad press about it to stay far, far away from it.

So, with much trepidation I decided that with Bryan Singer--the director of "The Usual Suspects"--at the helm and some real, actual, talented *actors* on board, including Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan, the movie could not possibly be a total bomb.  But, the risk of making an "X-Men" movie is high:  from what I understand, this is Marvel's most popular comic, and the number of fans that a studio risks alienating by messing up a property so highly prized numbers in the millions.  I don't know anything about the comic, besides what the Cappiello family has taught me about it through their undying love for the comic and the Saturday morning cartoon.  In that sense, I know very, very little about how the X-Men came to be or why they are fighting this war against Magneto or any of it.

It is that sense that made much of the movie version of "X-Men" very difficult.  The story involves Professor Charles Xavier (Stewart) and his personal battle to help Earth understand that not all mutants--human beings with extraordinary special powers--are evil.  Naturally, his archrival Magneto (McKellan)  disagrees, and his stable of evil mutants, led (at least in this movie--from what I remember, there are MANY other bad guys the producers of this movie could have chosen) by Sabretooth, Toad, and Mystique, create havoc whenever they have the opportunity.  So, Professor X has trained a number of his mutants to combat Magneto and his forces whenever they hit trouble.  In this film, those include Rogue, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Storm, and Wolverine.  The film spends its first 3/4 teaching us a bit about the X-Men and the bad guys, and then spends its finale watching the bad guys try and turn all of New York City into mutants...helpful, since all of the world's UN leaders are in town for a big summit about (you guessed it!) mutant laws!  Yes!

The endgame plot is just a reason to wrap up the first in an obviously-planned series of "X-Men" movies; one can only get the impression that the writers spend almost 90 minutes telling us who these guys are so they don't have to do that in future sequels.  Here is my thing.  The movie clearly sets up Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, professional bad ass) as the main focus of the story, along with Rogue (Anna Paquin), the girl that Wolverine saves to set up the initial part of the movie and becomes his only real friend.  So, we in the audience find out a lot about Wolverine and where he comes from, what makes him tick, how it came to be that he has these metallic claws shoot out of his knuckles whenever he gets sincerely pissed.  I enjoyed all of this, and I think it provided a lot of answers to his character...and, enough questions to make his future very interesting.

But, I wish I had ANY IDEA WHAT THE HELL THE OTHER X-MEN ARE ABOUT!  Cyclops (James Marsden) has this power to shoot some pretty powerful laser beams out of his red-tinted sunglasses; so, how?  Why?  When his glasses are taken off, is he blind?  It seemed to me that when his glasses get popped off in one scene, his power went up ten-fold; why is that so bad?  Storm (Halle Berry, awful in this film) can fly and control the weather, not to mention make *other* people fly when she wants to.  Storm is given so little attention in this film--not to mention being so often useless to the team--that I wondered if she was really an X-Woman.  And Jean Grey (Famke Janssen, Xenia Onatopp from "Goldeneye") has some kind of mind-reading power and can move objects with her mind; she has a lot of potential, but for what?  And, Jean and Cyclops are dating, but since they are dating when the movie begins, the writers decided it was not important enough to explain to me what Jean sees in Cyclops and vice versa.  Rogue is given a little bit more backstory, but only because she is so involved with Wolverine.

All of this leads me to my main problem with the film:  I don't read the comic, so I don't know these characters at all, and because I didn't, I didn't get all that fired up to watch the good guys do anything, except when Wolverine was around.  The other X-Men are so without personality that it is hard spending two hours with them.  You know what they say about good TV shows?  The most popular shows have characters that you want to let into your living room for an hour each week because you like them so much.  To bring this theory to the movies, in "X-Men" I really didn't care about any of the good or bad guys except one, because the movie had only given me a chance to like or dislike one character:  Wolverine.  The bad guys in this movie are a joke:  Sabretooth (Tyler Mane, one of a growing stock of former wrestlers turned actor) has no real special power except to throw people a long, long way across the movie screen.  Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) is a shapeshifter that is so strong she whoops every good guy's booty during the course of the movie.  How shapeshifting equals superhuman strength is beyond me!  And Toad, played by Ray Park (Darth Maul!), is an incredible fighter that also has a nasty tongue.  Again, none of the bad guys seem to have any personality...but, I guess no bad guys ever have  personality in the movies, so why am I upset?  Magneto can fly AND seems to be able to move, shape and otherwise manipulate metallic objects...but, he seems to get tired after using his powers.  I'm anxious to see how his character develops over the future films, since he is the only bad guy worth talking about.

The special effects are pretty cool, and since I love sci-fi and comic book movies, I admit to liking the guilty pleasures of watching superhuman characters throw other superhuman characters through walls or across a field.  This was done 10 times better in probably my second-favorite comic-book movie of all time, "Superman II," featuring General Zod and his cohorts tossing Superman all across Metropolis in that epic battle in the last half-hour.  Sure, the special effects suck now, but back then, they were straight phat.  And, in "X-Men", I am hopeful that future movies give the other X-Men the "Wolverine Treatment," since right now I only know one of the good guys!  Its cast of no-name actors beyond McKellan and Stewart are pretty good, the Xavier mansion and the other sets are visually pleasing and there are a couple of pretty funny lines that (naturally) Jackman gets to spout off that keep this movie interesting in the early going, where the action is a little thin.

A better name for this movie would have been "X-Men:  Wolverine," since that way, I would not have felt so let down that Singer and his writers totally left the backstory of the other characters out.  This is a film better suited to a theater than your living room, so check it out if you love fluffy sci-fi; this is really the last major fantasy/sci-fi blockbuster due out this summer besides "The Cell."

Rating:  Matinee

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09