The reason that X-Men works as both an introduction to the series and as a standalone movie is because of the character of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). Without his character, or one that is similar, it would be very difficult to set-up some of the things that have already been established before the film begins, without it sounding redundant to the other characters. However, since Wolverine starts the film off as a blank slate, people can tell him, and us, things that everyone else already knows, and it serves a purpose within the plot.
One day, a high-school runaway named Rogue (Anna Paquin) runs into the aforementioned Wolverine, and the two set out on the road together. They’re attacked by a big, hairy man named Sabretooth (Tyler Mane), but are saved by a man who can shoot lasers beams out of his eyes, named Cyclops (James Marsden), and a woman who can control the weather, Storm (Halle Berry). They are both brought to a school for mutants — people with special powers — with Rogue becoming a student, and Wolverine sticking around because the professor, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), promises that he’ll help Wolverine recover some of his lost memories.
See, for reasons that are not explained at this point in the film, Wolverine has little to no memory of a large portion of his life. Xavier’s can then explain to him anything that we, the audience, need to know, and it sounds natural enough inside the film. One of the things that Xavier tells him is that Sabretooth was ordered to attack him by a mutant named Magneto (Ian McKellen). The reason for this attack is revealed later on in the film, but suffice to say that Wolverine had something that Magneto wanted.
The “X-Men” that are mentioned in the title are the oldest and most experienced people at Xavier’s school. The two people who saved Wolverine and Rogue near the beginning of the film are part of it, but they are also joined by the school’s doctor, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). She has telekinesis and some telepathy. (Although her telepathy is nowhere near as strong as Xavier’s, we are told). Wolverine’s power is an accelerated healing rate, and the fact that he can make three claws come out of his knuckles whenever he wants. Rogue, well, whoever she touches ends up knocked out. And if she touches a mutant, she gets their ability for a while.
Have I covered every mutant in the movie yet? Definitely not, because there are still the villains to talk about. Sabretooth seems to be able to take a lot of punishment without damage to his body, although his powers aren’t explicitly mentioned. Magneto has the ability to move anything that is made of metal, while the other person he hires, named Toad (Ray Park), has an extra long tongue and is very flexible. There’s also Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), who has a blue body when in her “natural” state, but can shape-shift into almost whatever body type she wants to. It seems to me that the names of these characters were all very easy to come up with. But maybe this is a good thing, because when we see them use their powers, we instantly recall their names, because of how directly correlated the two are.
Speaking of powers, most of them are done through CGI. Not all of them, because things like Wolverine’s claws are easier to make molds of, but things like Cyclops’ lasers, Storm’s lightning or Toad’s tongue were all computer animated. The result is actually quite good. There’s only one part that looked fake, and that was Storm’s lightning strikes. They look quite bad, and you can easily tell that lightning wouldn’t work that way. The rest all looks believable enough though, which is quite impressive considering that X-Men came out in 2000.
Even though the special effects do look quite good, the action scenes without them are less impressive. There are two hand-to-hand combat scenes in the film, both occurring near the end. To put it bluntly, they are poorly done. Firstly, it barely looks like the characters are hitting one another. Secondly, the choreography is lacking. Finally, characters fly way too far for how hard they’re supposedly hit. When CGI is flying at one another, this kind of makes sense. You get hit with a Cyclops’ laser, you might fly back ten feet. A punch wouldn’t do that, and when it barely looks like the punch connects anyway, it feels really fake.
I’ll always maintain that X-Men‘s cast is very good. The cast plays their roles well, but that’s to be expected when the cast consists of Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman and Halle Berry. These actors all put a lot of work into their characters, and it was nice to see that translating the X-Men from the comics to the big screen didn’t make the series lose energy. They may even take their characters too seriously, but that’s hardly a problem in my eyes. No, it’s not a 100% faithful adaptation, but really, what is? To me, everyone did an excellent job, both in terms of actors, and the people who put the film together.
X-Men was clearly opening the franchise for more film adaptations. In that regard, it did an excellent job. We learn some things about the characters, but just enough to make us intrigued enough to want to learn more. The plot only really gets going in the last 30 minutes, but we need the first hour to give us the information we need in order to care about these characters, as well as to give us enough back-story so that the next film won’t need to have as much explaining. All of the actors played their roles well, and it’s just a shame that a small bit of CGI felt out-of-place. Ultimately though, that’s not enough to stop X-Men from being a great film.