November 29, 2003
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Tyler Mane, Ray Park, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Bruce Davis, Matthew Sharp, Brett Morris, Rhona Shekter, Kenneth McGregor,
If Batman and Robin (1997) didn’t nearly kill off the comic book super hero film, it did a great job of reducing the genre, in the public’s eye, to the stuff of silly camp. After such an embarrassingly awful effort, the only way to go was self-parody with Mystery Men (1999), a film that delighted in sending up all the cliches of these films. And then X-Men came along as a serious and credible entry into the genre. The film was a huge commercial and critical success, paving the way for the even bigger triumph of Spider-Man (2002).
Set in the not-too-distant future, a new race war is brewing. One between normal human beings and those who are born with mutations that gives them super powers. Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) is a wealthy mutant with incredible mental powers. He runs an affluent private school that trains mutants to deal with and control their powers. Xavier believes that mutants can co-exist peacefully with the rest of humanity. Magneto (Ian McKellen), an old friend and fellow mutant that can manipulate metal and magnetic fields, believes that humanity is inferior to mutants and must be destroyed.
To this end, he has assembled a group of a like minded individuals called the “Brotherhood of Mutants” to carry out his evil plans. Caught between these warring sides are two colourful mutants: Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), a gruff, violent loner with indestructible metal lacing his bones and uncharted regenerative powers, and Rogue (Anna Paquin), a young runaway who can absorb the life-force of anybody she touches. These two characters play pivotal roles in the conflict between Xavier and Magneto whose outcome could have disastrous global repercussions if the good guys don’t come out on top.
Like most comic book movies, the plot of X-Men plays out a simple tale of good vs. evil while using the fear and hatred directed towards the mutants in the film as a metaphor for the problems of racism and xenophobia that plague our own contemporary society. Clearly the two central characters, Wolverine and Rogue, who are filled with so much angst and mistrust of their elders, appeals to teenagers experiencing the same feelings. On some level, everyone has felt like they didn’t belong at one point in their life and can relate to the characters in X-Men. It’s canny marketing that made the comic book so popular in the first place.
X-Men works because director Bryan Singer and his team of writers have stayed true to the comic book and wisely made Wolverine (easily the comic’s most popular character) the central focus of the movie. Then unknown Australian actor Hugh Jackman is more than up to the task of portraying the mutant as he snarls and glares with intense ferocity and yet also showing compassion at certain moments as well. The way he is introduced – crunching an arrogant drunk’s hand in a bare-knuckle fight – is nothing short of drop-dead cool. There is no mistaking that he IS Wolverine. It’s a flashy, scene-stealing role that Jackman pulls off effortlessly.
X-Men ranks right up there in the comic book super hero film pantheon alongside the first two Batman and Superman films as a great example of filmmakers who got it right, for a change, and made the successful jump from the comic book panel to the movie screen.
Like the film, the X-Men DVD was rushed into release. Bryan Singer felt that the making of the film was not adequately documented and decided that after some time had passed a more detailed version should be released. To this end, he brought the producers of the special edition DVD of The Usual Suspects (1995) aboard to work on this new version and they have produced an excellent 2-DVD set.
Disc one features an audio commentary by Bryan Singer with his friend Brian Peck. Singer talks at length about the themes of the film and how he got involved with the project. Of interest to film buffs, Singer mentions that Wolverine’s first appearance in the movie was inspired by the Nepal bar scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Peck keeps things from getting too dry by cracking the occasional joke and prods Singer with questions when there are lulls in the commentary.
There is also a branching option that allows you to view 17 behind-the-scenes features and 6 deleted scenes at certain points during the movie. When the commentary is enabled, it also plays over the deleted scenes. While this is a nice feature, you cannot watch the deleted scenes or the featurettes separately. This is a disappointing aspect of the DVD and rather odd because the other branching features on disc two can be viewed separately or with the featurettes.
Disc two contains the bulk of the supplemental material. The centerpiece is the “Production Documentary Scrapbook,” an hour-long look at the making of X-Men from pre-production to the final day of principal photography. Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart speak candidly about working with Singer while Hugh Jackman talks about how nervous he was on his first day of shooting and the pressure of X-Men being his first big Hollywood movie. It’s these parts of the documentary that are the most interesting and the lengthy sections that show sets being built and locations being scouted that tend to be a bit on the boring side.
“The Uncanny Suspects” is a collection of interviews with the cast. Surprising ly, none of them had ever read the comic book before doing the movie but this didn’t seem to stop them from producing a fairly faithful adaptation to the big screen.
The “X-Factor” featurette focuses on the look and design of the characters. The goal was to take the two-dimensional comic book characters and make them as realistic as possible. Jackman talks at length about how he achieved the look of Wolverine and tried to incorporate many elements from the comic book.
“Special Effects of X-Men” and “Marketing the X-Men” are obligatory featurettes that document the visual effects and the advertising campaign of the movie, respectively.
Lastly is “Reflection of the X-Men,” an interesting retrospective look at the first movie from the cast as they start work on the sequel. At the time they were too burnt out from a grueling schedule to even worry about whether it was going to be a success. Since then they are all gratified at how well received it has been from fans and non-fans alike. Jackman, especially, seems grateful and rightly so as the movie launched his career in Hollywood.
Despite the awkward X-Men 1.5 moniker, Singer and co. have produced an excellent 2-DVD set that is a vast improvement on the old version. While none of the rumoured meltdowns by Singer on the set of the movie are addressed and the supplements have the vibe of those cheery, fluffy electronic press kits, there is still enough substance on the various featurettes that covers nearly every aspect of the film. A lot of hard work went into making X-Men and the result is a great comic book film that doesn’t miscast the key roles (Daredevil) or substitute flashy style for substance (Batman Forever).