The earth had made three trips around the sun since Joel Schumacher almost destroyed comic book cinema with Batman and Robin. The genre was on a downward spiral and the character who had been the champion for earnest live-action comic-book adaptations now had rubber nipples on his Batsuit.
But then a film that had been in development for over a decade came along and changed everything. This is the beginning of the modern age of comic book movies.
It’s easy to look back in hindsight and lay the credit mostly at the feet of Hugh Jackman who would become the star of the franchise that discovered him. Apart from being far larger than his comic-book counterpart, Jackman embodied the character. Despite what critics say, his charisma earned he and the most popular character in the X-Men universe all the movie love they have received.
Still, in my book (or article), the casting of Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart is what sold this movie to non-fans. They brought gravity and legitimacy to their performances and to the film as a whole. On the backs of those three men and director Bryan Singer, comic-book movie history was re-written.
So, if this movie was so important and those characters were all perfectly done (Jackman’s tallness aside), why isn’t this movie much higher on the list? Two reasons: First, there are other films in the franchise that tell better stories and second; X-Men did a disservice to a few of its most important characters – most specifically the female characters.
After writing the Spider-Man review, it occurred to me that a logical explanation for this is simply that having Storm and Rogue flying around and capable of lifting cars and even buildings would have cost too much money, especially in the early days of CGI. But it sure is a bummer that two of the most powerful characters from the source material get relegated to sidekick “girl” parts.
I don’t blame either actor. Halle Berry and Anna Paquin aren’t exactly Viola Davis and Kate Winslet, but they performed admirably considering what they were given. Rogue remained an interesting character because of the “affliction” nature of her mutation, but my most charitable interpretation is that technical limitations completely ruined Storm. The worst part about this is, seven movies into this universe and the problem has still yet to be rectified. The casting of X-Men: Apocalypse has me excited that this streak may finally be coming to an end.
Though it set some unfortunate trends – including the ones I’ve mentioned – and continued the trend of telling a generic story not derived from the comics, X-Men still nailed the heart and soul of what these mutant freaks are all about. Often credited as a remark on gay rights because of the time it was released, the X-Men have always been about inclusion in the face of all kinds of xenophobia.
The movie opens with a young Eric Lensher discovering he can bend metal when he rips apart a gate with his mind trying to save his family from being sent off to concentration camps during World War II. We then cut to modern-day Jean Grey, testifying in congress about what it really means to be human and to have rights.
All of these other things I’ve mentioned are important when comparing one work of art to another, but in those first two scenes, Bryan Singer’s X-Men saved us all.
Complete 35-part list for best comic book adaptations ever!
Part 1 – Daredevil / Part 2 – The Dark Knight / Part 3 – V for Vendetta
Part 4 – The Flash / Part 5 – Sin City / Part 6 – The Crow
Part 7 – Agent Carter / Part 8 – X-Men: Days of Future Past / Part 9 – Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Part 10 – Guardians of the Galaxy / Part 11 – X2: X-Men United / Part 12 – Iron Man
Part 13 – The Avengers / Part 14 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) / Part 15 – Superman (Richard Donner)
Part 16 – Hellboy / Part 17 – The Incredible Hulk / Part 18 – X-Men: First Class
Part 19 – Spider-Man 2 (Sam Raimi) / Part 20 – Thor / Part 21 – Ant-Man
Part 22 – The Dark Knight Rises / Part 23 – Spawn / Part 24 – Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Season Two
Part 25 – Avengers: Age of Ultron / Part 26 – Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan) / Part 27 – Captain America: The First Avengers
Part 28 – Batman (Tim Burton) / Part 29 – X-Men (Bryan Singer) / Part 30 – Spider-Man (Sam Raimi)
Part 31 – Smallville: Season One / Part 32 – Hellboy II: The Golden Army / Part 33 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2, 3
Part 34 – 300 / Part 35 – Man of Steel / Extra Part – Final Thoughts