X-Men (2000)
Directed by Bryan Singer

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * *

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Some time in the near future, mutant human beings with differing but always incredible powers begin appearing across the world. Many ordinary people fear this new variety of mankind and persecute them, prompting one of the mutants, Magneto (Ian McKellen), to devise a plot to attack the world's leaders preemptively. He is, however, opposed by another mutant, Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who believes that ordinary humans and mutants can live together in peace, and who has formed a school at which mutants are trained to use their powers. When Magneto sets his plot to destroy those who would harm the world's mutants in motion, Professor Xavier and a group of mutants he has taught at his school called the X-Men fight against him.

Bryan Singer's X-Men is a fun, exciting film filled with strange events, a fascinating, sympathetic villain, and countless action sequences. Unfortunately, the movie is never particularly innovative and is burdened by such a plethora of characters that it is difficult for the viewer to engage with any of them.

In fact, the film's single greatest weakness is its huge cast. X-Men is absolutely packed with a variety of characters, each of whom has some backstory and some special power. Because there are simply so many such persons, however, the viewer is given little time to get to know more than a handful of them and, consequently, is never really able to involve himself in their lives. Over and over again, the director brings some character to the screen, states his name, allows him to show off his special powers, and then largely forgets about him. The character may make one or two more appearances, but generally nothing will be done with him. The only persons who are revealed to the viewer in greater depth are Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Rogue (Anna Paquin), Magneto, and Professor Xavier. While none of these four is developed with any great subtlety, at least the viewer is given some insight into their minds. Other mutants, as Cyclops (James Marsden), Storm (Halle Berry), Toad (Ray Park), and Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), may intrigue the viewer, but they take center stage so infrequently that his curiosity is never satisfied.

The costumes in which Singer dresses his characters are often strange or quirky, and many do, consequently, help to keep the viewer's attention focused on the movie. Sadly, the director does little to bring to the screen much else from the graphic novels on which he has based his work. With a few exceptions, such as Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy, most of the films made in the West that are derived from comic books do not retain the visual style of their source material, and Singer, I am sad to say, has not created such an exception. He has transferred characters and events from one medium to the other, but he has left the stylistic conventions found in comics behind. While X-Men is well made, it is visually banal and completely forgettable.

Despite its failings, X-Men is an exciting and entertaining film. It may never be particularly inventive or emotionally involving, but it does include a number of truly riveting action sequences. Although the movie's characters may not be memorable, they are provided, in these scenes, with numerous opportunities to show off whatever strange skills or abilities each of them has, and, thanks both to the inclusion of such elements and to the skill with which these fight sequences have been choreographed, the film is rarely slow moving.

While I can hardly claim that I was awed by X-Men, I will say that it is a fun film and can provide a pleasant diversion for a quiet afternoon.

Review by Keith Allen

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