Rating: 3.5 Stars
The following review contains spoilers.
Mutants are like regular humans, but born with special abilities. Because of these abilities, there is a congressional initiative being discussed called the Mutant Registration Act, looking to register people like one would weapons. For Magneto and the Brotherhood of Mutants, this move is the last straw, and terrible action is needed to stop the humans. Only the X-Men, an organization of mutants dedicated to co-existence with humans, have the power to stand in their way.
The X-Men comics are such a big, crazy, rambling universe of characters, the filmmakers were wise to focus on the relationship between Wolverine and Rogue (and, to some extent, between Magneto and Xavier) for this first outing. Wolverine has a long history in the comics of mentoring teenage girls, and pairing with him a young, inexperienced Rogue, cursed with the “power” to drain the life of any living thing she touches, really works. There’s a reason why Hugh Jackman was the break-out star of this movie and this franchise.
There are a lot of great effects scenes in this movie, such as the final fight between the X-Men and the Brotherhood on Liberty Island, but I want to highlight Magneto facing off with the police outside of the train station. First the effect of him raising the cop cars and dropping them back on each other looks great. Second the standoff, with him pointing all of the cops’ guns back at them, while Professor X mind-controls Sabretooth’s hand around Magneto’s throat, is wonderfully tense. The bullet slowly pushing its way into the officer’s forehead is kind of terrifying. The resolution, with Professor X unwilling to either kill Magneto or sacrifice any of the police officers to hold him, is a great dramatic way to reveal character, and to delineate the differences between these two guys.
The early scene of Jean Grey testifying before congress about mutants does a terrific job of setting up the central philosophical conflict of the movie (and, really, of the X-Men as a concept). On the one hand we’re with the X-Men, naturally, because it’s their movie, and we don’t necessarily think it’s right to put people on a government list simply because of how they’re born, but, on the other hand, how would you feel if your neighbor could burn down your house with a stray thought? Would you still have chosen to live there if you knew? Maybe that’s the kind of information people need to protect their families.
“Don’t give up on them, Erik.”
“What would you have me do, Charles? I’ve heard these arguments before.”
“That was a long time ago. Mankind has evolved since then.”
“Yes, into us.”
“Storm! Fry him!”
“Oh yes, a bolt of lightning into a huge copper conductor. I thought you lived in a school!”
Magneto’s actual plan is pretty ludicrous. Somehow his control over magnetic fields allows him to stand in a gyroscope and turn regular humans into mutants. And somehow he’s aware of Rogue enough to both understand that she could absorb some of his power, run the gyroscope, and die in his place, and to track her down to a random truck on a random road in Canada, despite not having any psychics or Cerebro or whatever on his team. And his big move to stop Xavier from getting in his way is to sabotage the magic liquid that apparently runs Cerebro, turning it a different color, and temporarily putting him in a coma. Not the magic liquid!
And, even more importantly, the crucial irony of Magneto’s character is that, because he’s a Holocaust survivor, he is unwilling to stand back and allow humans to put mutants in camps and wipe them out, and yet, because he’s a terrorist/fanatic, he has no problem putting humans in camps and wiping them out. But in this movie, Magneto wants to turn the human leaders of the world into mutants so they will be forced to see his point of view. While that’s not exactly the actions of a “good guy,” it’s still more about assimilation and co-existence than Magneto ought to be.
When I first saw X-Men I thought Halle Berry was playing Storm as American. Watching it again, there are a few scenes were she seems to be half-assing an African accent. I don’t know what’s going on there. Ultimately do you blame her for giving a bad performance, or do you blame the filmmakers for casting her? Yes, she’s bad in this movie, but she’s bad in the same way she is in all of her movies, and so maybe you can’t really hold it against her.