This film came out one year before Spiderman did, and my god, it put Marvel movies on the map. I have read some X-Men comics, but before seeing these films, I had little knowledge of the premise of X-Men. Before I watched the Lord of the Rings films, this was my favourite film series and this was also the best superhero film until its sequel came out. X-Men has everything that makes a superhero film great. The film has a wonderful cast, a well-paced story, fantastic (for their time, now they may be a bit dated compared to the other films) effects, and it proved that a superhero movie can be intelligent and thoughtful while still being consistently entertaining.
Every single one of the X-Men is a beloved character and Brian Singer could have easily screwed up and pissed off a lot of comic book geeks. Thankfully, he didn't and we have the two movies he did in the series to show for it. I don't know what involvement he does or doesn't have in the upcoming fifth film, but if he's involved, especially in the director's chair, then I know it will be great. I will still see X-Men First Class regardless, as it's one of my most anticipated films of the year, but we shall move on to the actual movie. X-Men is about Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and his school for mutants. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Rogue (Anna Paquin) are rescued from Sabretooth (Tyler Mane) and are taken to the school where they learn what it's all about.
The X-Men are also facing Senator Kelly (Bruce Davidson) and his Mutant Registration Act. The Act really pisses off Magneto and he plans to attack a UN summit and mutate world leaders with a machine he created, which he needs Rogue to power. See, Rogue's powers consist of draining people's energy or life force (and in the case of mutants, temporarily their powers) and Magneto would pass his powers onto Rogue so she could power the machine and it would kill her instead of him. However, the mutations the machine creates are not natural, so the mutated people die soon after they receive their powers. So it's up to the X-Men to save Rogue's life and stop Magneto's plan.
Among those plot threads is also the plot thread about the origins of Wolverine and why he doesn't have any memory of what happened to him. His origins are more of a story focus in the second film, but they are lightly touched on in this film. Professor X tries to help Logan uncover secrets of his past, and why his skeleton was covered in metal and what Magneto wants with him (which is nothing, Magneto wants Rogue). The characters are all very memorable and played fantastically by the film's brilliant ensemble cast.
The strengths of the acting lie on the shoulders of the Sirs. Namely, Sir Patrick Stewart as Professor X and Sir Ian McKellen as Magneto. They both play their parts beautifully and are easily, but arguably, the best actors in the movie. Hugh Jackman is also fantastic as Wolverine, and who knew that an Australian Broadway singer could play him as badass as he did. Needless to say, I can't picture anybody but them playing their roles. There are also a ton more actors in the cast and many more performances to mention, so I have to move on. Storm is played wonderfully by Halle Berry and Cyclops is played just as brilliantly by James Marsden, a horribly underrated actor in my opinion. Anna Paquin also proves her acting talents as Rogue, and the rest of the young cast is just as good.
The villains are also extraordinary, some of the most memorable in cinema history. Of course there's Magneto, and he's one of my favourite villains because he's evil for a reason. For those of you unfamiliar with the story and characters, Magneto is a Holocaust survivor, and that's what makes him hate humans so much, because he has seen what they are fully capable of. He is brilliantly acted and very well-written. There are also the auxiliary villains, namely Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) Toad (Ray Park) and Sabretooth (Tyler Mane). Their performances were all okay, nothing great but nothing terrible. Mystique was definitely my favourite out of the auxiliary villains in terms of character, because Toad and Sabretooth were just okay.
The film was decently written, and featured some clever quips as well as very intelligent interplay between Stewart and McKellen. The visuals in this film were fantastic, from the art direction to the special effects. For 2000, these special effects were extraordinary, but since then they have become a tad dated and the effects in the later films are much better. The school is designed beautifully, and the comparison between the low-tech upper levels and the high-tech lower levels is wonderful. It really shows the duality of the school and it's outer face vs inner face. Needless to say, the special effects were fantastic.
This is also a consistently entertaining movie and has great action scenes as well as a great story. The story could be seen as having some parallels to hatred of Jews in WWII (fitting because Magneto is a Holocaust survivor) and fear of communists during the Cold War, and it is very well-paced and put together. The final action scene on Ellis Island is pure action gold and will entertain from beginning to end. Other than that, the action scenes are rather minor, giving the audience time to breathe. Plus, this film has something that is a foreign concept to most action films nowadays, and that thing is character development. Through this trilogy, we come to care for these characters and this is where that started.
I would definitely recommend this film and its sequel. This is also a good starter franchise (like the Spiderman films) if you are a novice and would like to get into comic book movies. If only more superhero films could be like this, then the comic book world would be happy and at peace. I have high hopes for X-Men first class, and I really enjoy this entire series (even the third one and Wolverine). All in all, one of the greatest superhero films ever made and one of the finest ensemble casts ever. It's not one of the greatest films ever made, but one of the greatest of its genre and a great rental.