Rated PG-13 for intensity, violence. 1 hour, 44 minutes.
Publication date: Jul. 14, 2000
Review by Jeanne Aufmuth
Its comic book predecessor, created in 1963 by Marvel Comics guru Stan Lee, has assumed cult status near biblical proportions for decades of devoted fans. Those same fans have been tracking the film's production with the wary scrutiny of the keenly obsessed. Having no comic history to back up my opinion, I can only say that this movie rocks.
Bigotry and self-esteem are just two of the subtly underlying sociological themes. The story centers around a group of mutants, Homo superiors who are the next link in the chain of evolution. Each was born with a genetic mutation, which manifests itself in extraordinary powers.
Leading the mutant charge are Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Erik Lehnsherr, a.k.a. Magneto (Ian McKellan), former colleagues and friends turned bitter enemies. Xavier, the world's most powerful telepath, runs a school for gifted mutants, who learn to harness their powers and utilize them to benefit the greater good of mankind. Magneto believes that humans and mutants cannot co-exist, and that mutants are the rightful heirs to the future. Xavier and Lehnsherr's alliance is a dangerously uneasy one, a battle cry of burgeoning proportions. Each controls a small band of supporters with uncanny physical and physiological abilities.
Battling for the virtuous camp are Storm (Halle Berry), who can manipulate all types of weather, Cyclops (James Marsden), whose unusual eyes release forceful radiant energy beams and Dr. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) who possesses telekinetic and telepathic skills. Joining their ranks unexpectedly are Logan, a.k.a. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), a rebel without a cause whose startling healing powers and killer admantium claws are raw life forces, and the teenage Rogue (Anna Paquin), who absorbs the powers of anyone she touches and is ultimately cursed with a life devoid of intimacy.
Their nemeses, Magneto's henchmen, include a mammoth Sabretooth (Tyler Mane), the sultry metamorph Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) and the sprightly, gnome-like Toad (Ray Park), whose 10-foot tongue is utilized with revolting alacrity.
Whew. What could have been a crazy patchwork of superhero pandemonium has been pared down to an accessible adventure encompassing greed, tolerance and heightened emotion. The mutants, accustomed to feelings of unhappy alienation, are sensitive to the needs of others, rendering them refreshingly sympathetic. Interpersonal relations are handled deftly, particularly a love triangle involving Grey, Cyclops and Logan. Xavier's warmth, Magneto's rage and Rogue's confusion are finely developed. U.S. Senator Robert Kelly (Bruce Davison), a staunch, McCarthy-esque anti-mutant, provides a nicely contrasting human element.
The effects, long speculated upon by X-Men geeks, are remarkable. Their hand-in-glove connection to the storyline is a persistent bonus. Mystique's smooth morphing from sinuous blue snake into illusion, and back again, is thrilling. Toad's oral protrusion boldly goes where no tongue has gone before. Sets, all 80 of them, are equally wondrous.
Performances range from the star-making Jackman's sexy animal magnetism to the artistically challenged Berry's wooden rainmaker. Plot and editing are snappy, photography lush. And its manageable length manages to keep the viewer in the moment. Kudos to director Bryan Singer ("The Usual Suspects") for walking the fine line between pacifying the die-hards and creating a fantasy that is eminently satisfying for the uninitiated core audience.