Not many people know this, but the hit-movie Men in Black with Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith actually started life as a comic book, published by an underground comic house. Men in Black had it easy because its characters didn’t wear brightly colored tights, but sported black suits, shades, and odd-shaped weapons instead. The aliens of the movie were all cgi, and similarly a lot of comic book-turned-movies benefited from the advancement in technology. Men can now fly as easily as they walk onscreen. The same with “super powers” — easily rendered with computer assistance. Comic book movies are now as part of mainstream America as say, Rambo and the Terminator, all thanks to computer innovation.
Bryan Singer’s X-Men is another long-time comic book series finally given a chance at the big screen. The premise of the movie is that there are “mutants” among us — mutants are ordinary men and women made extraordinary because of a mutated gene in their DNA that gives them odd powers, and sometimes deforms them physically.
One of the most powerful mutants out there is Magneto (Ian McKellen), who has the power of magnetism (he can control anything with metal in them). Because of his experiences as a child in Nazi Germany, Magneto feels humans are getting ready to use mutants as the scapegoats for all their problems. To combat this future aggression, Magneto has assembled a force of “evil mutants” (although they don’t see themselves as evil) to take their place as a “superior” species among man — they want to rule humanity, and failing that, destroy them.
Determined to stop Magneto is Xavier (Patrick Stewart), a wheelchair bound mutant with ESP who has faith in humanity. Xavier, or Professor X, has assembled his own team of “good mutants” called the X-Men. The two groups are destined to clash, with humans caught in the middle. Into this confrontation walks Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), a loner mutant with metal claws embedded in his hands and a young runaway mutant name Rogue (Anna Paquin), who becomes attached to Wolverine.
X-Men, like Batman before it, got over the question of rather audiences can accept a man running around in colorful tights in the real world by altering the uniform. Instead of tights, the men and women of X-Men run around in dark (black) rubbery foamed costumes that cling to the body. Of course the characters’ individual powers are still quite “out there,” but with the help of cgi, each person’s superpower is rendered believable and effective.
Because X-Men was intended as a franchise, the first movie is more of an “origins” episode, which means we’re introduced to the world of the X-Men and its rules. The rules are quite simple: Mutants are everywhere, humans hate mutants but the good mutants don’t hate the humans back, except the evil mutants, being “evil,” wants the humans dead, so it’s up to the good mutants to stop their evil counterparts. That, in a nutshell, makes up most of X-Men’s “plot.”
Actually, for a comic book-inspired movie, X-Men strangely lacks in the Wow Factor. There are two main fight sequences between the good and evil mutants, one at a train depot and another at the Statue of Liberty. Curiously enough, for a movie filled with men and women who can teleport through air, read minds, and make lightning bolts appear on a clear sunny day, X-Men is not all that action-packed. There are brief intervals of action sprinkled between the two action set pieces, but the film is otherwise too concern with plot exposition and introductions to be really exciting.
This, of course, is a complaint coming from someone who has read the comics and knows the “world” of X-Men. From my perspective, the film was geared too much towards those who have no idea what a “mutant” is, which leaves the rest of us to sit through one boring explanation after another. Luckily, the film is short at around 90 minutes, and boredom never quite sets in before something “superpower-like” happens.
Except for newcomer Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, the rest of X-Men’s cast is not nearly as interesting as their characters. Anna Paquin, as Rogue, is very good as the young girl who discovers that the first time she tries to kiss a boy she nearly kills him, and is now afraid to touch anyone, physically or emotionally. As her reluctant mentor and friend, Wolverine and Rogue’s scenes provide the movie’s best character interactions. On the other hand, when Wolverine and Rogue interacts with the rest of the cast, it all feels like filler material.
The “look” and “feel” of X-Men is strangely subdued. As previously mentioned, the movie oddly lacks the Wow Factor — that something, a scene or a character, that when you see makes you go, “Wow.” The movie has a very down-to-Earth feel and Bryan Singer’s direction is curiously muted, as if he was afraid of going “too far” with the superhero elements. Even when bright red lasers are shooting out of a character’s eye the movie still has a very low-key vibe, which lends to the film’s overall understated qualities.
Which leaves me to wonder if Bryan Singer, the man behind such slow and character-study films as Apt Pupil and The Usual Suspects, was right for X-Men’s directorial chores. Another director might have punched up the action some more, or at the very least bring some energy to the film. Singer, as he’s shown in all of his previous films, is a man who lacks energy.
As it stands, X-Men feels too much grounded in reality, and who wants or needs that in a superhero movie? Superheroes in movies, like their comic book counterparts, are supposed to be bigger than life, not boring “like us.”
Bryan Singer (director)
CAST: Patrick Stewart …. Professor X
Ian McKellen …. Magneto
Hugh Jackman …. Wolverine
Anna Paquin …. Rogue
Famke Janssen …. Dr. Jean Grey
Halle Berry …. Storm
James Marsden …. Cyclops
Tyler Mane …. Sabretooth
Ray Park …. Toad
Rebecca Romijn-Stamos …. Mystique
Bruce Davison …. Senator Robert Kelly