Time affects all things, especially superheroes (well, most of them). The genre has grown beyond not only our margins of expectations, but it's own as well. It’s developed a levitated formula though, and for those who've become tired of the lightheartedness of superheroes, go back and watch Bryan Singer’s “X-men.” A film where the jokes are almost non-existent, but so is the depth for the characters as the origin story is, usually (A la Deadpool, A la Wolverine, not well-known origin stories for either) the most integral tale for a superhero.
We need to understand their reasons, their growth, their cause for justice or injustice. “X-Men” seems to forget the significance of origin. Despite spending almost half of the film on flushing out the characters, we only learn surface level things about most, if not, all of the characters.
Luckily, Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto/Erik Lyncher (Ian McKellen) are flushed out through long stenches of monologues and superb performances. Erik (Ian McKellen) is the son of Holocaust victims whose unique belief, sparked outrage from Nazis, much like the uniqueness of mutants sparks outrage from humanity. He seeks to change everyone's mind by mutating them, forcing them to evolve at a rapid pace that is both unhealthy and unlikely. It’s a bit unthought out, but sociopathically it makes sense. He’s a man that came to the simple conclusion that it's hard to be racist towards the same race that your apart of. Xavier (Patrick Stewart) in on the opposing side of the spectrum, attempting to save those caught in the crossfire of his and his oldest friends’ differing ideologies. He thinks that humanity will evolve with time and with undying faith, he manifests a team that stands in front of the tyranny of Magneto (Ian McKellen).
Beginning with Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), a telepathic and telekinetic being who seems to desire a continuing of her training, I think, it's kind of only hinted at in one or two scenes. Wolverine/Logan (Hugh Jackman) is enjoyable to watch as a younger man, and he is the most charismatic and intriguing member of the ensemble, but he’s never given time. We primarily follow him as a man looking for answers and purpose, but he’s only given one or two scenes to extenuate upon that desire for intent. Cyclops/Scott Summers (James Marsden) and Storm/Ororo Munroe (Halle Berry) are primarily crafted by their powers, so guy with laser beam eyes or inter-dimensional, ruby colored, concussive force beams which are the technical terms, (Nerdy, I know) and a girl with weather controlling powers.
The character that embarks us in discovering all of these characters though is Rogue (Anna Paquin), a young teenage girl whose mutation becomes a curse more than a blessing. With the ability to absorb another’s mutation, memories, and personality, she can drain the another of all their powers through physical contact, which can become more of a defense mechanism than an offensive one. For example, she stumbles into Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) room when he’s having a nightmare. Out of rage, he awakes and extracts his claws in a fury, stabbing Rogue (Anna Paquin) in the chest. In a flight or fight response, Rogue (Anna Paquin) slowly places her hand on Wolverines’s (Hugh Jackman) cheek and absorbs his healing ability to restore the punctured holes in her body.
It’s scenes like this and the continuously unfinished themes that bring “X-Men” to a jolting stop on more than one occasion. The story has fascinating, building block, topics involving marginalization, grief, depression, and unity. Each one of these themes is introduced wonderfully but never built upon. They are pyramid designed themes with only the bottom block attached, being used as a finished project. I appreciate the ideas and their meaning, and their use in a superhero genre film, but I can’t help but become bored from the lack of depth given to each of these emotionally investing themes. They are dripping with potential, that the X-Men cinematic universe explores later on, but this was the time to do it. Start strong, not soft.
Bryan Singer strongly delivers though, providing a remarkably created, visually evocative world that feels almost tactile. Unlike comic book films before it (Batman (1989), is excellent but feels and looks fake, same goes for “Superman”), “X-Men” has a great deal of atmospheric realism attached to its story, primarily because of Singer’s direction. The visual effects have aged, but that look far better than they should due to Singer underutilization of them. The practicality stands out magnificently, like a window to an older and wiser soul. The action, what little there is, is produced efficiently and when it does finally arrive, it’s well worth it. I needed more action in this superhero movie though, “Logan” is dark and dour, but it blends it's characters and story together with action and great comic book filmmaking, as does “The Dark Knight.”
Sadly, “X-Men” did not have these films to learn from, but setting blazing a path for greater films was the best gift “X-Men” could have given us, a path that eventually led to “Deadpool.” (I heart that) The direction is fantastic, and the visual imagery is tactile-like, but the characters and story are mere facades for deep emotionality that is trapped by its own ambitions. I respect “X-Men” more than I love it, but the story’s maturity, well performed characters (whenever they are well-depicted), and necessary questions pushed the genre farther into today’s prime time of success. I enjoy watching the film, but I can’t say that I am ever invested in it. I love seeing a mature comic book story (“Dark Knight Returns,” “Old-Man Logan,” “The Killing Joke,” “Infinity,” or any “Thanos” comic almost), but they only work if you provide time and depth to your characters so that they can become something for us to invest in. After rewatching “X-Men,” the only thing I’m invested in, is the idea of watching and reviewing the awesome sequel.