Post Batman & Robin, back when superhero movies weren't quite as common and quite as expensive as they are today, Marvel decided to take advantage of Batman's irritating demise and kick-start their own rise with the X-Men franchise.
Being an X-Fan myself, this was a big deal and, although the result wasn't quite as mind-blowing as I had expected, there was still a lot to enjoy in this first instalment. For one thing, the character introductions were excellent: whether it was Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) cage-fighting or a young Magneto prying open the doors of a concentration camp, the pieces were perfectly set and the show was ready to begin.
Only, it doesn't so much begin as it does... go on.
This first movie really is just one slow build-up to the X-Men finally becoming a team. And, for the most part, director Bryan Singer does get the characters right: Patrick Stewart makes a spot-on Xavier, Jackman is great (if tall) as Wolverine, Ian McKellen's turns Magneto into a fascinating Shakespearian villain and Cyclops (James Marsden) looks the part and plays the role earnestly. Sadly, several characters are tossed aside and left underused to prioritise the plot, which is fair enough, but the film does leave you wanting more. Why tease us with Iceman and saddle Halle Berry (Storm) with a couple of lame, poorly delivered one-liners? It's also a shame that we spend so much time focusing on Rogue's (Anna Paquin) backstory only to have her become just another damsel in distress by the end.
Singer does a really good job adapting the characters and their out-there powers to film and making them feel as convincing as possible. No yellow spandex here. He doesn't over-stylize things and creates a team of heroes we do want to see again but... if possible, doing interesting things. Not that they don't have their work cut out here what with Magneto plotting to turn people into mutants and all but the climax, on the Statue Of Liberty, is frankly underwhelming. You've got a big story with a big problem needing to be resolved and yet the plan never comes to fruition so there's no real danger there: you really feel like Magneto is outgunned from the start. His plan should have come to fruition early on, at least partially, Magneto using the new mutants to fight the X-Men while Xavier and Jean Grey attempt to figure out a way to reverse the effects of Magneto's doomsday machine.
Something like that.
X-Men is still a decent and fun superhero flick just not the definitive, epic X-Men film I was hoping for. Alas, I'm still waiting for that one. This isn't the type of movie that should be restrained at all, a Sin City-style layered storyline with the scale and budget of The Avengers would probably work much better. Put a couple of giant robots together, add in one crazily powerful villain and have everyone fighting it out in some neon-lit futuristic city with a cool cast leading the way.
This first movie does a fine job bringing those iconic characters to life, now all we need is for something thoroughly unpleasant to happen to them so they can show us what they're made of.
X-Men 2, anyone?