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Wayback Wednesday: X-Men (2000)

Am I the only one who secretly hoped to grow up and discover they were a mutant? 

After watching this week’s Wayback, X-Men (2000), I did something I don’t normally do. I had such a blast revisiting a movie I used to watch all the time when I was younger, that I immediately watched the sequel, X2: X-Men United (2003), right after. The last time I did this was when I reviewed Scooby-Doo (2002) – check out my review, here – and wasted no time in popping in the DVD for Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed (2004). Funnily enough, as much as I like X-Men and Scooby-Doo, I think I prefer their sequels more. Just go ahead and give both the first and second instalments a back to back viewing and you tell me which one is the better movie. However, we wouldn’t have those stellar sequels with outstanding originals and X-Men is outstanding in every sense of the term.

Credit: / 20th Century Fox

X-Men follows the titular group of heroes who because of their extraordinary abilities, are distrusted by regular humans and branded as “mutants.” Professor Charles Xavier and his X-Men valiantly fight against the radical Magneto and his Brotherhood of Mutants who plan on wiping out the entire human population. In the process, two new mutants, Rogue and Wolverine, are brought into the ongoing fight between good and evil.

Look, I know that the Marvel Cinematic Universe (2008 – present) is all that and a bag of chips, but in my opinion the era of standalone superhero movies is the golden age of the genre. There’s something equally soothing and exciting about knowing that the heroes in THIS movie are the only ones you need to be concerned about. I realize I’m probably in the minority on that opinion, but I much preferred the days of Batman Begins (2005) and Spider-Man (2002). Yes, they were the beginnings of trilogies, but the stories were self-contained and you could enjoy them over and over again without having to stop and question if you’re missing any crucial plot points that was outlined in another movie in the cinematic universe. But I digress. The point is, I fucking love X-Men

I’ve loved this movie ever since I was four-years-old. I have fond memories of watching the VHS copy with my family over and over and over again and being obsessed with what, along with Batman (1989), was probably my introduction to the superhero genre as a whole. And just think, 2000 was a time when superhero movies were still scarce. Isn’t it funny to think that there was a time not so long ago that a new superhero movie wasn’t a monthly occurrence? You were lucky if you got one, maybe two, every couple of years. Thanks to the masterful execution and overall success of X-Men, superhero movies were saved from the hole that Batman & Robin (1997) had dug. The genre was revitalized and once again able to be seen as profitable, action-packed, and most importantly, cool. And man, is this movie cool. Sidenote, I will always hold a special place in my heart for the atrociously wonderful camp masterpiece that is Batman & Robin. 

For diehard fans of the comics as well as the wildly popular X-Men: The Animated Series (1992 – 1997), I can only imagine how satisfying this big-screen adaptation of the famous team is. X-Men has a remarkably consistent tone, one that walks the fine line between gritty live-action reboot, and enjoyably cartoon-y action-movie. There’s an edge to the movie but I love that it never causes X-Men to take itself too seriously or waste precious screentime brooding or lamenting. There’s an appropriately winning mix of realistic, thrilling action, as well as comic book fun. Part of that comic book fun comes from the special effects which oh my God, hold up incredibly well. Like, shockingly well for 2000. I don’t mean to be hyperbolic but Wolverine’s claws and Mystique’s shapeshifting look as good if not better than some of the special effects you see nowadays. Speaking of effects, I’m a fan of the decision to keep the CGI and other effects strictly limited to the mutant’s abilities. The movie reigns in the over the top colours and wild effects and substitutes a more muted, grounded, atmosphere that I think helps sell the realism of the story. Flashy effects and sets are great in the right movie, but having that more subdued tone gives X-Men the touch of reality the story requires. It makes it easy to imagine a world in which beings with extraordinary abilities are walking among us. It’s a great introduction to a franchise whose quality may ebb and flow from sequel to sequel, but boasts consistently stellar performances from the main cast.

Can you say, “iconic casting?” Because X-Men delivers some of the most definitive performances in the history of superhero movies. The whole cast is a perfect match for their comic book counterpart, but it’s Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, and Hugh Jackman who are the scene-stealers. As Professor Charles Xavier, Magneto, and Wolverine respectively, these three look and sound like they jumped straight from the pages of a cmic book and onto the big screen. That’s one subtle thing thing that X-Men does so cleverly. It takes recognizable elements from the comics or the animated series and puts their own live-action spin on it to make it feel totally believable. I mean, look no further than the styling of Jackman’s hair!

Every scene between Stewart and McKellen is mesmerizing.These two fantastic actors approach the characters as through they’re Shakespearean rivals or opposing chess pieces come to life. They brought their A-game to X-Men and their level of commitment to these roles only adds to the fun of the movie as a whole. These three are untouchable. From the flawless characterizations to the near-perfect makeup and styling, the trio bring these heroes and villain to life with ease. Stewart, McKellen, and Jackman are so talented at playing these characters that they went on to do so for over a decade. Isn’t that wild? For me, these performances rank up there with Christopher Reeve in Superman (1978) or Michael Keaton in Batman as the definitive iterations of these characters. In fact, just like those two movies, X-Men is in my opinion, the definitive adaptation of the comics. This is the movie I would advise any interested party to see and I wish the MCU the best of luck when they inevitably try to reboot the series. They have to at least TRY to bring back Stewart, McKellen, and Jackman, right?

During this viewing I was surprised to discover that X-Men is only an hour and a half long. I had no idea that it was that short. It certainly doesn’t feel that way because this is a tight 90 minutes that uses every second of screentime to its advantage. The movie is clear and concise, never feeling overlong or bloated with too much going on. In every conceivable way, it works. I don’t think there’s a singe part of the movie I feel the urge to skip over, or anything that’s a lacklustre swing and a miss. Okay, well MAYBE Storm’s toad line. Look, I recognize that its not sensational writing but come on, it’s not that bad!

X-Men is awesome. After 21 years that simple fact remains the same. Must-see viewing for anyone who is a comic book fan, this classic is top-tier when it comes to superhero movies. And if you find yourself wanting to watch any of the other 12 sequels and spin-offs, my recommendation is just to watch X2: X-Men United and the prequel, X-Men: First Class (2011). Seriously. That’s the most enjoyable and least overwhelming way to watch these movies.

Are you a fan of X-Men? Which movie is your favourite?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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