X-Men (2000) Directed by Bryan Singer. With Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Halle Berry, James Marsden, Anna Paquin.
There might come a day, when Bryan Singer is called the wise old Grandfather of superhero cinema. Of course, Richard Donner might have something to say about that, but there’s no denying Singer’s influence on the modern boom of comics on film.
His X-Men film, while maybe not as revered as Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, or as much straight-up fun as Joss Whedon’s Avengers, nevertheless set the blueprint for the modern age. Dark and full of dry humour, with equal servings of spectacle and drama, Singer created a blockbuster tradition, aimed to engage not only comic book devotee’s, but made in a way that was accessible to everyone.
Anyone familiar with the X-Men comic series, won’t be surprised to discover Singer’s film employs a big, ensemble cast – plus Stan Lee. Not only is Singer successful in balancing a broad range of characters, in just 104mins, it could be argued that film is told from four different perspectives. The film begins as the back story of Magneto (Ian McKellan), but then shifts to the modern day story of Rogue (Anna Paquin) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) by way of Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Narratively, it’s a very ambitious move, but then again, Singer is the man who brought the twisty brilliance of The Usual Suspects to the silver screen, with such certain aplomb.
The good news for die-hard fans, is that the film is produced and directed with a tone that takes the subject matter seriously. It also features three fine central performances from Jackman, McKellan and Stewart. What’s more, the central plot thrust, dressed with engaging action sequences, is the adaptation of ideas stemming from persecution and racial intolerance. Being an ‘X-Man’ isn’t as plain sailing as you might guess. Not only does it add a fascinating undercurrent to the narrative, it also shows how intelligent and thought-provoking superhero films can be.
While the musical score might not raise the same iconic images to mind as John Williams did so well with Superman in the 1970’s, this is a film that aims to score big by creating a harder edged tone, with the deep-set human problem of racism posing as the films dividing, overarching enemy. The climax might feel a little muted, but then Singer does such a fine balancing act throughout, that you have to work hard to feel let down, and when the end does come, there is a distinct feeling that it is just the beginning. 4/5