FILM OF THE MONTH
Also reviewed: Road to El Dorado Recommended

From September 2000
Film Review

Film Review Hotline
X-MEN
5 Stars; Excellent

XXX talk in this issue with Halle Berry, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, James Marsden and more!

STARS: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman,
Ian McKellan, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Anna Paquin

DIRECTOR: Bryan Singer
SCREENPLAY: David Hayter
CERTIFICATE: 12 TBC • DISTRIBUTOR and Picture copyright: 20th Century Fox
RUNNING TIME: TBC
OPENING DATE (UK): August 18

Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, X-Men
The unusual suspect

Thank god for Bryan Singer. Just when it was starting to look like the worst blockbuster season in years (excepting Gladiator, obviously), he delivers the smartest, wittiest and most delightfully down-to-earth superhero adventure since Superman.

Everything that has been so wrong with recent comic book adaptations is so right on this occasion: strong, believable central characters; sharp dialogue and plausible plotting; and most significantly, an absence of flashy camerawork, overstated production design and superfluous digital effects. Don’t get me wrong – there are visual flourishes to knock your socks off. But, in a faith-restoring exercise, they are here purely for the benefit of Singer’s story-telling skills.

Okay, one great example of the film’s intelligent approach: rather than trying to skimpily cover the origins of every mutant hero/villain, the plot basically centres around just two: Wolverine (Jackman, the film’s real find) and Rogue (Pacquin). The former is ‘blessed’ with indestructible metal claws and remarkable healing ability, the latter with the gift to absorb powers from anyone she touches, which can prove unfortunate to normal folk.

Taken under the wing of the wheelchair-bound Professor Xavier (the perfectly cast Stewart) at his mutant school – which also doubles as the X-Men HQ – these assorted outcasts of a vaguely futuristic society try to figure out why the nefarious Magneto (McKellen) has designs on Wolverine. Or do his true attentions lie elsewhere…

Handing over the most popular comic book characters in the world to the edgy director of The Usual Suspects and Apt Pupil is a gamble that has really paid off. A harrowing opening scene declares his against-the-grain intentions, as one of the protagonists discovers his powers while being separated from his parents in a WWII concentration camp.

It’s one of many unexpected sequences, in a fantasy movie that’s just as interested in character development and relationships, as it is in superpower skirmishes. Even these, though featuring the kind of athletic butt-kicking and pyrotechnic dynamism that the genre demands, are almost understated. Somehow the emphasis still leans towards the emotional charge of each situation, even if it is easy to be distracted by the balletic beauty of near-naked villainess Mystique (supermodel Rebecca Romijn-Stamos).

But the greatest compliment of all is that the two elements that make this such a superb slice of summer entertainment have nothing to do with visual tomfoolery – the performances and the script. Although to a certain extent Berry, Marsden and Janssen seem to have been chosen for photogenic reasons, all the central roles are brilliantly filled. The irritable Jackman lights up the screen (and looks fab with claws), Pacquin is heartbreakingly vulnerable and British heavyweights Stewart and McKellen convey the power and wisdom of their protagonists, while remaining 100% ham free.

And the script is fantastic. There’s hilarious antagonistic repartee between Wolverine and Cyclops, several joyous in-jokes and even the most heroic situations are written in a unusually human style, with Jackman viewing all the superhero weirdness with the same degree of disbelief as we probably would. Wolverine’s reaction to being told his colleagues’ names and his relentless ridiculing of the X-Men lifestyle are moments to cherish, in a genre usually lacking a sense of its own absurdity.

Jason Caro

Read our massive reviews section in this month's Film Review
Reviews © Visual Imagination Ltd 2000. Not for reproduction.

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Also reviewed online this month:
4 Stars
THE ROAD TO EL DORADO • released August 4

FULL DETAILS AND REVIEWS OF ALL THESE AND MORE IN THIS ISSUE

5 Stars; Excellent
The Color of Paradise • August 4
Ring • August 18

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La Veuve de Saint-Pierre (The Widow of Saint-Pierre) • August 4

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August 18 • Himalaya
August 18 • Siberia
August 18 • Time Code 2000
August 18 • Those Who Love Me
Can Take The Train
August 25 • Rules of Engagement