(GIF source unknown [if this is your GIF please let me know].)
Have I seen it before: Yes
Did I like it then: Yes.
Do I remember it: Yes.
Did I see it in theaters: No.
1) Xavier’s opening monologue is not only a great way to set up this individual film, but the now-17-year-old franchise which followed.
Prof. X: “Mutation: it is the key to our evolution. It has enabled us to evolve from a single-celled organism into the dominant species on the planet. This process is slow, and normally taking thousands and thousands of years. But every few hundred millennia, evolution leaps forward.”
2) The very first scene in this film is young Magneto in a Polish concentration camp and I have to say it works absolutely fantastically.
For one thing it creates immediate sympathy for what is essentially the villain of the peace, but more than that it sets the tone for the entire series. Not just the dark tone but the idea that mutants are representative of the oppressed. When the comics were first released in the 60s the parallels were between the Civil Rights Movement, nowadays you can see parallels with the gay community and islamophobia. That is because oppression, intolerance, and bigotry are essentially the same no matter who it is directed at.
3) The introduction to Anna Paquin’s Rogue continues to set the dark tone of the film, as well as Rogue’s key conflict in a simple and understandable way.
4) The government hearing.
The hatred, fear, and oppression seen in this scene should not be as relevant in 2017 as it is. Senator Kelly’s arguments about, “Well we do license people to drive,” is based on fear and fear alone. He is scared but justifies his fear by making other people afraid. Asking a human being to register for being different is undeniably unconstitutional. And the filmmakers are aware that America has seen this play out before.
Senator Kelly: “I have here a list of names of identified mutants…”
Senator Joseph McCarthy [an actual historical figure who instigated the Red Scare in the 1950s]: “I have here in my hand a list of 205—a list of names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party”
Good, just wait until I do my recap for Good Night, and Good Luck. I’ll have some things to say about Joseph fucking McCarthy then.
5) The relationship between Charles and Erik is - like all the best elements in this film - clearly established from their introduction to the audience.
Erik: “I’ve heard these arguments before.”
We understand that they’re friends, we understand that they both think they have the best interests of their people (mutants) at heart, but most painfully we understand exactly WHY they both go about their revolution through different methods. It is a relationship which will remain consistent and interesting throughout the series.
There are a number of standout casting decisions made in this film which will stay strong even in the weaker entires of this series, and Ian McKellen is definitely one of them. Unless you’re The Joker, a good villain does not see himself as the villain. Magneto does nothing out of cruelty or malice, he does so for one clear end goal: the superiority of mutant kind. You understand why he goes to drastic measures, even if you don’t agree with him. McKellen is able to consistently make Erik human. The sadness, the determination, the focus, everything that makes this character amazing in the comics, McKellen carries onscreen. A truly brilliant choice which will give us many great scenes to come.
7) Anna Paquin as Rogue.
Rogue is markedly more different than she is in the comics, but I don’t have as much of an issue with that as others do (at least, not in this film). She’s a bit more timid, a bit more scared, which is very human of her and helps the audience sympathize with her. Paquin plays the part remarkably well, carrying Rogue’s pain and conflict well in her performance.
8) Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.
Hugh Jackman is the standout element of this film and one of the most perfect examples of comic book casting in the history of cinema. The guy played the part for SEVENTEEN years. Even in weaker X-Men films Jackman’s Wolverine is remarkably consistent. He IS Wolverine. The aggression, the ferocity, the isolation, the pain, the instinct, Jackman captures it all beautifully. But more than that, we explore who Wolverine becomes when we throw him together with other people. We see who he becomes just as he learns who he becomes when he has other mutants relying on him. It’s a remarkable journey to see him not only go through this film but all seventeen years of playing this character. You are not watching Hugh Jackman, this is not a performance. This is Wolverine. Living, breathing, pure, Wolverine. And whatever shortcomings the X-Men series has had throughout its years, Jackman’s Wolverine has always been perfect.
This relates very well to the pain Wolverine deals with everyday. Most living creatures go through enough pain they do. Wolverine’s mutation means he lives with his pain on a daily basis. He HAS to. Dying is not an option for him. That is very defining for his character.
10) The fight with Wolverine and Sabretooth does a lot of things well. To start, it’s the first action scene of the film and - while brief - it establishes the strong choreography to come. Second, we immediately see a juxtaposition between Wolverine and the rest of the X-Men as he is more feral in his fighting style while Cyclops and Storm are much more uniform. Finally, it establishes the rivalry between Wolverine and Sabretooth. Something which is a staple of the comics, this rivalry doesn’t get too much time to develop in the film but it is established in small yet meaningful ways. I’m glad they at least did that as opposed to nothing.
11) Logan trying to escape Xavier’s mansion is actually wildly clever. It establishes the geography of the school without letting the audience know. Instead we follow Wolverine as he’s trying to escape this strange place and in the process get the layout of the new world he’s in. Very clever.
12) Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier.
Similar to McKellen’s Magneto, we are able to see the complexities of Xavier’s character through Stewart’s performance. We understand the pain he went through as a child, we understand how he has/is searching for hope for the future. We see the soft sorrow he carries mixed in with this optimism and the struggle he carries to put stock in hope over pain. It’s a wonderful character who - like Jackman - Stewart will get to play for 17 years.
13) If you want any further proof that Hugh Jackman is great as Wolverine:
Logan [after Xavier gives exposition about the X-Men and such]: “Sabretooth? Storm. What do they call you? Wheels?”
At least the last part of that line was improvised, but it is so perfectly Wolverine it fits.
14) The introduction to the Xavier school from a storytelling standpoint (as opposed to just a geography standpoint) is very slick and clean. We’re getting a lot of exposition about Professor X, the X-Men, and the world of mutants in not a lot of time. But it doesn’t dog down the film and we are not bored by it.
15) Ah, the future continuity issues begin…
“When I was 17, I met a young named named Erik Lenscher…”
They seem a little older than 17 to me…
16) Rebecca Romijn as Mystique.
Romijn’s part as Mystique is largely a physical performance, but that does not mean it isn’t an iconic one. Before Jennifer Lawrence would put on the blue skin paint, Romijn would define who Mystique was on screen for all to come. She is able to portray the character’s passion, focus, physical strength, and shiftiness with just a movement. She doesn’t have many lines, but the ones she does have leave an impact.
Mystique [to Kelly]: “You know people like you are the reason I was afraid to go to school as a child.”
17) Magneto knows what’s up.
Magneto: “Mankind has always feared what it doesn’t understand.”
18) Famke Janssen as Jean Grey.
Janssen plays Jean well not only in this film but as she develops over the trilogy. Despite not having the flashiest/most aggressive of powers like Wolverine or even Cyclops, she’s able to hold her own with the rest of the team. She’s confident, competent, but still able to be vulnerable when the story calls for it and has no ego. A strong character actress with a strong character to fit her roll, I am glad for Janssen in this film.
Okay, so I’ve got a handful of issues with how Cyclops is handled in the original trilogy. Not through Marsden’s performance or through his characterization, but more because of a lack of things to do in the plot. However, those issues do not pertain to this film (wait until I get to my Last Stand recap). Although Marsden’s Scott Summers/Cyclops is largely used as a foil to Jackman’s Wolverine, we get to see him in action and lead the X-Men later in battle (like he does in the comics). This film doesn’t peel back too much more than, “Wolverine pisses me off,” but we do get to see Marsden play a caring and competent leader when Wolverine is not in the picture. How he searches for Rogue, the way he handles the team on Liberty Island, Marsden plays all of this great. You understand why Scott is the leader of the team through his conduct and confidence, both things Marsden shows off very well.
20) Hey, remember back when Stan Lee cameos in Marvel movies were, “blink and you’ll miss it?”
21) So Logan straight up kills Rogue when she wakes him up from a nightmare. Like he’d be dead if it weren’t for her mutant ability. And after she does it to save her life she is met by fear and caution from her fellow students initially. And then Mystique disguised as Bobby comes to her and reprimands her. Tells her students are afraid of her, that Xavier is furious and looking to kick her out. How much must that hurt? Like, “Here’s a place where I can be me. Where other people are as weird as I am and where I can be accepted.” And then that’s taken away from her. It’s pulled out from under her feet because people are afraid of her, a feeling which is importantly all too familiar to her at this point. She let her guard down and - even though it wasn’t true and it wasn’t really Bobby - she was so ready to believe the world had turned on her AGAIN. That just…sucks.
22) Charles acting like he doesn’t know how Erik is hiding from his telepathy takes on new meaning in a post First Class world. It is probably easiest attributed to another error in continuity, but my head canon is that Charles is covering for Erik a little in the never dying hope that he’ll do the right thing.
23) Halle Berry as Storm.
I have never loved Berry as Storm, but that’s more because of The Last Stand than anything else. I think I like her best in this film, which is unfortunate because it is where she has the least to do. She’s a bit kinder, a bit more even tempered, wiser and more soulful than she comes off in the sequels. And the keeping of her original accent is a nice touch (I was disappointed to lose that in the sequels). But again, that’s all there’s really to say about her because she doesn’t get much time to shine in this film.
24) The relationship with Wolverine and Rogue is one of my favorite things about this film. These are the two most isolated characters in the film and they’re able to find solace in each other. Logan acts as the big brother/mentor to Rogue, familiar with the loneliness she feels for 15 years. Meanwhile Rogue finds comfort in someone who’s actually going to look after her. This is best seen on the train after Rogue runs away, where Logan leaves the decision up to Rogue. He’s not there to bring her back, he’s not there to pressure her into doing something she doesn’t want, he gives his two cents but will go wherever she wants to. He’s got her back.
Logan: “Come on. I’ll take care of you.”
If there’s one thing I miss most as the series progresses, it is this wonderful relationship between the pair.
25) According to IMDb:
The scene in the train station where a young boy smiles at Cyclops and he smiles back was unplanned. The boy was a huge X-Men fan, and Cyclops was his favorite. The scene originally called for Cyclops to look at the train schedule, but according to Bryan Singer, the boy could not stop smiling at James Marsden. Finally, during one shot, Marsden just looked back at him and smiled, much to the boy’s delight. Bryan Singer liked the idea so much, he kept it in the film, and told the actress playing the boy’s mother to react the way she did.
(GIF source unknown [if this is your GIF please let me know].)
26) And so it begins…
Magneto [upon encountering Wolverine]: “That remarkable metal doesn’t run through your entire body, does it?”
27) The scene with Magneto, the police, and Charles in the background is something I really enjoy. This is primarily because it is more a conflict between Charles and Magneto than anything else. I was taught in an early film class that if one character can walk away and not be devastated, the stakes aren’t high enough. I think that is the key to this scene. It’s all about stakes. What exactly are Charles and Erik willing to do, willing to sacrifice, all to get what they want? Seeing that play out is wonderful.
28) The fact that Storm stays with Senator Kelly while he dies, holds his hand, talks with him, even after all he’s done, speaks to a wisdom she has that is totally lost in X-Men: The Last Stand (but more on that when I get there).
Kelly: “Do you hate normal people?”
Storm: “I suppose I’m afraid of them.”
The fact she can admit that she hates those who oppress her sometimes is great. Because of course you would hate those who ruin your life! But not letting that hate define who you are is an incredible thing.
29) There is a brief moment where Cyclops is seen distraught over a comatose Professor X, which I think is very telling of their relationship in a way we will (unfortunately) not see again in this set of three films. It speaks to the depths of admiration he has for what is essentially his father figure.
30) One thing the Marvel Cinematic Universe can learn from this film: how to create a great villain in two hours.
Magneto [with Rogue, upon seeing the Statue of Liberty]: “I first saw it in 1949. America was going to be the land of tolerance. Of peace.”
Magneto [about the Holocaust]: “Women and children, whole families destroyed just because they were different than those in power.”
31) I love this.
Wolverine [about the uniforms]: “You actually go outside in these things?”
Cyclops: “Well what would you prefer? Yellow spandex?”
32) This is one of my favorite scenes in the entire franchise.
I was about twelve when I saw this film for the first time. I really got comfortable using my middle finger after this scene. And too this day, every time I extend my middle finger, it is just SO cathartic. I may or may not be exclusively typing with only my middle fingers now.
33) Ladies and gentlemen, one of the greatest bloopers in cinematic history.
34) Logan’s fight with Mystique is incredible and reflects some of the incredibly strong solo choreography he will get as the film continues. It is fast paced, enticing, and plays with the concept of a shapeshifter very well (even giving us some GREAT misdirection right before Logan defeats Mystique, since at first we think he’s Mystique when he stabs Storm only to have Storm be Mystique all along).
35) You know how X-Men never stay dead? No? Well Toad does.
Toad [after thinking he killed Storm]: “Don’t you people ever die!?”
36) Oh boy…
That is a line crafted by Joss Whedon after Fox asked him to help iron out the script (one of only two lines of his that made it into the final film). According to the famed writer, he had intended it to be much more tongue in cheek than it was finally delivered as. To this day, it is considered one of the worst cheesiest lines to grace a superhero film ever. Moving on.
37) This was the other line of Whedon’s which made it into the film, and I fucking love it.
Wolverine [returning to the team, only for Cyclops to point his eye beams at him]: “Hey, hey. It’s me.”
Cyclops [thinking he’s Mystique]: “Prove it.”
(GIFs source unknown [if these are your GIFs please let me know].)
38) You know what trope I love more than any others? At least, I’m pretty sure it’s my favorite. When the antagonist’s self righteous behavior gets called out.
Wolverine [to Magneto]: “You are so full of shit. If you were really so righteous it would by you in that thing.”
39) The final fight between Logan and Sabretooth is another strong action set piece in the film, with the use of place (the top of the Statue of Liberty) used greatly. These two are very similar in styles, in ferocity, and it’s fun to see them duke it out.
40) The final dialogue between Charles and Erik is powerful for a lot of reasons. It harkens back to the core conflict of their relationship/dissonance in philosophies, while also reminding the audience that all the problems of the world have not been solved and will have to be dealt with in the future.
Magneto: Does it ever wake you in the middle of the night? The feeling that one day they will pass that foolish law or one just like it, and come for you? And your children?
Xavier: It does, indeed.
Magneto: What do you do, when you wake up to that?
Xavier: I feel a great swell of pity for the poor soul who comes to that school… looking for trouble.
X-Men is a strong start to what would end up being one of the defining franchises of the 21st century. With great performances all around - specifically Jackman, McKellen, and Stewart - as well as reverence for the source material and a powerful tone, X-Men stands up to the test of time because of it’s characters and (unfortunately always) relevant themes of bigotry and bias. A film everyone should try at least once.