So, another comic book adaptation that seems to have been in development hell for decades finally makes it to the big screen. I always thought that bringing Marvel Comics' X-Men to life in a film was going to be difficult because its a superteam thing and how are you gonna get all of them in, give them some half-decent characterisation, and find time for a plot? The scriptwriters' solution was to remove some of the characters to make space for the four remaining, Cyclops, Storm, Wolverine and Dr Jean Grey to develop. The most promising aspects of this film during pre-production were that Shakespearian (and all-round excellent) actor Patrick Stewart was announced very early on as Professor Xavier (great casting) and that Bryan, The Usual Suspects, Singer would direct. Top quality talents in their respective fields behind a comic book adaptation - this was almost unheard of. It then became a task to try and suppress one's expectations.
The final product is pretty good but could have been much better. With a great Wolverine in young Australian actor Hugh Jackman, some very witty dialogue, good production values (although the colourful costumes of the comics have been changed in favour of a black leather 'stealth' approach) and very strong, ensemble cast (including another English quality stalwart, Ian McKellan as Magneto) this had a great deal going for it.
Once again, the trailers before the film opened were misleading in the extreme. They hinted at epic fight sequences, global catastrophe, total comic book fodder basically. But what was delivered, although great in small parts, comes very much in fits and starts. Just as the plot begins to gain momentum it comes to a grinding halt and this pattern continues throughout. It's perhaps churlish to complain that the characterisation gets in the way of action (if it were the other way around, chances are I'd also be moaning) but you just get that feeling that it could have been so much better if the whole thing had gelled a bit more.
Whilst in one sense a welcome attempt at introducing something serious into a comic-based film, the idea of mutants as social outcasts is taken to extremes. The parallels with the ethnic cleansing programmes of the Nazis during World War II, which although have the conviction of both scriptwriters and director, sit uncomfortably within the rest of the film. Ultimately, particularly when the film leaves audiences with a substantial cliffhanger element, it's surprising how much the experience feels like you've just watched a 104-minute trailer. Perhaps X-Men 2 will manage to get the balance right... we can but hope. Good, not great, but worth seeing.
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