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Fortune Favors the Bold

Dec 5, 2000
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:A stylish, exciting action adventure; excellent f/x that actually involve the story

Cons:Awfully crowded for a simple actioner; some implausibilities; if you're a fan of the original comic, you'll probably pick it apart for inaccuracies

There, finally! How hard is it? Someone finally made a comic book superhero film that's exciting, full of creatively staged, compelling action sequences, features a strong cast, believable characters, and a healthy dose of style. My favorite of this subgenre is still Batman Returns, an underrated expressionist masterpiece from Tim Burton, but Bryan Singer's X-Men is quite a piece of work, and it moves like wet soap on porcelain.

Yes, okay, it's not greatness in a bottle. But aside from the fact that X-Men is a member of a major marketing franchise that it never transcends, there really isn't much you can fault it for. Well, that is, unless you followed the series, in which case you'll be apt to pick apart every little thing you find inconsistent with the Original Vision of the storyís universe. ("That guy wasn't never part of the X-Men." "Man, Wolverine's claws lot longer than that.") But if you're in the mood for a good time, some amazing sights, and a solid story, here you go. I don't read comics (not trying to be stuck up; I simply donít read them and thatís that), so I didnít have a score card to mark down inaccuracies and untruths. As a result I was quite pleased with what I saw.

For anyone who's familiar with the Marvel Comics story, the screenplay is like basic arithmetic. The good guys are Dr. Xavier, Rogue, Wolverine, Dr. Jean Grey, Cyclops, and Storm. The bad guys are Magneto, Sabertooth, Toad, and Mystique. They are introduced. They fight. The good guys win. (Umm, Warning: This review contains spoilers.)

Thatís the content Ė nothing terribly avant-garde about the timeless story of Good Guys buffing the linoleum with Evildoers. What I liked best about X-Men was its sense of flash, exuberance, and restraint in the face of the temptation to submit to laughable excess. It is smart in a studio-run film industry that views intelligence as unhip, freakish, or too problematical for the moviegoing masses. It has majesty and verve in a way that makes other comic-book franchise entries, such as the hideously outdated Superman films of the seventies and eighties, or the third and fourth Batman films from Joel Schumacher, seem earthbound, flat, devoid of air. I may be giving the impression that X-Men is a rich, profound piece of art that accidentally made hundreds of millions of dollars. Not really; the artistry Bryan Singer, the director (who also made the cult classic and college film fest staple The Usual Suspects), brings to the production is shallow and prefab Ė strut, vogue, and lighting, half a face shaded by a hatís brim, the solemn intonations of wizened older superheroes, etc Ė but thatís a good thing. The meat and gristle of the mutant action-f/x pic lies not in its posturing, although the posturing is pretty to look at, but in its ultimate success, as an action-f/x pic. Style without substance is like gravy without potatoes, and a successful action film, which this is, keeps us interested not only in how a sequence will progress, and how cool it will look, but how a story will turn out.

For which successful story we have to thank not only the screenwriters, who somehow find a way to adapt the Marvel Comics epic series in such a way that itís suitable for younger teenagers (and even respectful of them, considering Rogue, a rather ingenious case study in alienation and loneliness; she cannot touch another person with bare skin, or she will absorb their life force and leave them comatose), but also for grown-ups who will appreciate a well-written piece of pulp craftsmanship. We should also thank the director first, for bouncing back from his sophomore slump, 1998ís stylish but repellent Stephen King adaptation, Apt Pupil, to show us that his studio hack jobs (and I mean that in the nicest possible sense Ė itís not like we can be expected to believe Singer had a lot of room to breathe with this project, but itís also obvious he cared very passionately about the finished product) are head and shoulders above those of his brethren. And there are also several members of the cast who make the experience memorable, namely Oscar-winner Anna Paquin (as Rogue), new guy Hugh Jackman (Wolverine), Patrick Stewart (Dr. Xavier; yeah, okay, itís Picard all over again, but who cares), and Ian McKellan, who as Magneto manages not to be monumentally silly in all sorts of grotesque outfits and headgear, and also has a great delivery. If I donít mention any other cast members it isnít because they didnít do a splendid job with what they had, but simply because this movie is (and this is maybe one of its miscalculations) so overstocked with mutant types that it gets to be a little crowded with characters who could aptly be called main or supporting.

X-Men has no aspirations beyond being a slam-bang good time, and Iím glad Ė it doesnít confuse its priorities. But at the same time I enjoyed its lyricism, its haunting beauty, which does not seem fresh from the microwave, but hewn with care and respect for cinematic poetry.


Miscellany: The opening scene takes place in a concentration camp, understandably leading audiences and critics to view the mutant struggle against ďnormalĒ humans as being a metaphor for the Holocaust. This is valid, but much more interesting are the parallels between that selfsame struggle and the HUAC reign of terror of the 1950s. Furthermore, if you consider mutation as socialism or Marxism or Communism or whatever, the Magneto Vs. Xavier debates and everything else makes for interesting thought food.

Recommend this product? Yes

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