Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Anna Paquin, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen
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You may not have noticed but superheroes are kind of a big deal right now. Why? You’d have to go back 14 years to find that one out. The answer is a franchise that went back even further in time with its latest entry, Days of Future Past. Yes, X-Men.
Bryan Singer’s take on the Marvel comics snuck into cinemas in 2000, way before anyone had heard of The Amazing Spider-Man or The Dark Knight Rises. It was far from the first superhero movie, but it certainly proved that costumed crusaders could cut it in the 21st century. How do you kick start a blockbuster trend? With a young boy in a Nazi concentration camp in 1944 Poland, of course.
It’s a strange decision from Singer and screenwriter David Hayter, but it’s one that set the tone for a daring adaptation. As Erik Lehnsherr is separated from his parents, he reaches out to them – causing a metal gate to bend in half. It’s an emotional moment that combines character and CGI spectacle, a knack that X-Men continues for another 100 minutes.
No sooner have we seen one kid’s turmoil than we jump straight to another: a teenage girl played by Anna Paquin, who kisses a boy… and nearly kills him. Unable to come into physical contact with others, she runs away to Alaska, where she finds Logan, aka Wolverine, (Hugh Jackman), whose skeleton has been fused to adamantium.
“When they come out, does it… hurt?” she asks, gingerly. “Every time,” he growls.
Singer introduces his key mutant players with a minimum of fuss, letting the cast and costume designs do the talking. Then he lets them interact, gradually forming the X-Men team known so well by fans. A girl who can’t touch people? A man with claws? While conflict and torment is the order of the day for our outsiders, Hayter laces the dialogue with a knowing humour.
“What would you prefer? Yellow spandex?” snarks team captain Cyclops (an enjoyable James Marsden, who is fantastic at being a dick) when Wolverine eventually suits up. There are slips in the script – one line from script doctor Joss Whedon involving toads and lightning sees Halle Berry (as weather-controlling Storm) amazingly outperformed by her own wig – while Ray Parks’ villain Toad feels about as threatening as Jigglypuff. But overall, X-Men an dazzlingly impressive origins movie, precisely because of how un-dazzling it is.
Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart play old friends and rivals Magneto (the gate-bender, all grownup and evil) and wheelchair-bound psychic Professor Charles Xavier with credibly straight faces and Michael Kamen’s score (nodding to the original cartoon series theme) brings gravitas to the whole affair. Paquin and Jackman’s interactions, meanwhile, carry an emotional weight that balances out the humans-vs-mutants political subtext.
The result is a comic book flick that manages to have a guy with claws for hands fight a hairy assassin on top of the Statue of Liberty, yet remain surprisingly low-key and believable. A blockbuster with the feel of a small character piece? When the claws come out, you feel it every time. Superhero movies of today could learn a thing or two.