The first of a whole series of films made, including a prequel set. It has a stellar cast, helmed by Patrick Stewart (Captain Jean Luc Picard of Star Trek: Next Generation, John Gaunt in Hollow Crown, he voiced the Pharoah in Prince of Egypt, he appeared as King Richard at the end of Robin Hood: Men in Tights and an overall acting career that dates back to the sixties) as Professor Charles Xavier and Ian McKellen (Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies [the director, Bryan Singer, even adjusted the filming schedule so Ian could travel to New Zealand], Cogsworth in the live action Beauty and the Beast, Sir Leigh Teabing in The Da Vinci Code, and a career as long-spanning as Stewart) as Eric Lensherr/Magneto [the two actors are friends in real life and it’s adorable]. This was Hugh Jackman’s first major role (he had done a recorded stage production of Oklahoma before this and was known elsewhere for his singing, but most American audiences knew him from X-Men first) as Wolverine (he goes on to star in Australia, Kate and Leopold, Van Helsing, The Greatest Showman, and Les Misérables, and is now on Broadway in The Music Man). Halle Berry (Jinx Johnson opposite Pierce Brosnan in Die Another Day, the titular Catwoman in the 2004 film, and she won the Oscar in Monster’s Ball) is Storm, James Marsden (Prince Edward in Enchanted, he appears in Hairspray and 27 Dresses as well) is Cyclops, while Famke Janssen (Xenia Onatopp in GoldenEye, so that’s two Bond women in this movie) is Jean Grey. You kind of can’t tell, but that’s Rebecca Romijn (Eve Baird in the Librarians series) as Mystique and Ray Park (you can’t recognize him in his other role either, but he’s Darth Maul in Phantom Menace) as Toad.
The film opens with narration on mutation and evolution, explaining that in this universe, mutants are the evolution of humans. Then we’re in 1944 Poland, at a concentration camp as evidenced by the yellow stars the prisoners are wearing. A family is torn apart and the mother cries for her son; he reaches out to her, despite guards holding on to him and pulls the metal gate back before he’s knocked out. Time jump to the “not too distant future” in Mississippi. A teenage couple is discussing the girl’s desire to go on an adventure. When she kisses the boy, he becomes paralyzed and non-responsive. She screams at her parents “don’t touch me.” Meanwhile, there is a Senate hearing going on about a mutant registration act, headed by a Senator Kelly, who views all mutants as dangerous while Dr. Jean Grey is trying to explain that they are still people and often their mutations are brought on at puberty by heightened emotions. After the hearing, two older gentlemen have their own conversation. Charles is in favor of hope, while Eric views humans as lesser beings; “we are the future,” he tells Charles and warns him not to get in his way.
The teen girl has made her way to Canada where she enters a bar with a cage fight going on and meets “the Wolverine,” a champion fighter. She warns him afterwards of a man threatening him, but Wolverine has claws that extend from his hands, so he’s got it covered. Later, Wolverine, whose real name is Logan, discovers the girl as a stowaway and his heart is kind enough to not simply leave her on the side of the road. Her name is Marie, but she goes by “Rogue” now. They get in an accident and Logan is thrown from the truck. He faces off with another mutant, while Marie is stuck in the truck, about to go up in flames (thanks to Logan’s cigar). They are saved by two other mutants, one who controls the snow storm and one with laser eyes.
When Logan wakes up, his first instinct is to escape, though there is a voice following him and leading him to…Professor Charles Xavier. And his school for the gifted, a cover for mutants. His primary instructors are Storm, Cyclops (real name is Scott), and Jean Grey. Marie is attending classes and hopes to fit in with the other wayward students. Charles explains about their counterparts, led by Magneto, who foresees a war involving mutants. Magneto was an old friend of Charles’, when he went by the name Eric Lensherr. Charles also knows that Logan has lost his memory of his life before the incident that gave him an adamantium skeleton. He makes a deal with Logan; give Charles forty-eight hours to discover Magneto’s plan and then Charles will use his skill at mind reading to help Logan discover his past.
In the meantime, Magneto has Mystique kidnap Senator Kelly and he uses a machine to expose the Senator to radiation. Kelly ends up a mutant (whose body can now squeeze through bars), just like the Brotherhood of Mutants. Afterall, humans fear what they don’t understand, so Magento is changing their minds about mutants. Back at the school, Marie visits Logan when he has nightmares [why, not explained, and someone really ought to be asking that question]; he’s startled awake and accidentally stabs Marie. Before she collapses, she touches Logan and heals herself, but knocks Logan out. Charles explains once Logan wakes, that Rogue’s gift drains the life force of someone, and in the case of mutants, borrows their powers for a time. Outside, Rogue’s new friend Bobby tells her to leave. Except it’s not really Bobby; the yellow eyes give her away as Mystique. Charles introduces Logan to Cerebro, the machine he uses to find other mutants, since their brainwaves are different. He sends Cyclops and Storm after Marie, but Logan also goes. Then Mystique gains access to Cerebro and plugs in a poison.
Logan is the one to track Marie to the train and comforts her. He suggests she gives the school another chance because the Professor is one of the few people who understand what is going on and may be able to help her. Logan also promises to take care of her, managing to give her a hug without skin contact. But Magneto and his goons find them, Sabretooth and Toad taking on Cyclops and Storm while Magneto tears apart the train and throws Logan back so he can take Marie.
Logan intends to go back out to find Rogue, while Storm urges him to fight with her and Scott. That’s when Senator Kelly shows up at the school, begging for help. Charles reads his mind and finally realizes what Eric’s plan is. To use his machine to turn the world leaders gathering at a U.N. Summit on Ellis Island into mutants so that the mutant cause becomes their cause. And since the machine weakens him, he’ll use Marie’s power to transfer his power through her to power the machine. However, a side effect of the machine causes Kelly to dissolve into water. Charles attempts to use Cerebro, but is poisoned. So the four adults have to work together to take on Magneto and his Brotherhood and rescue Marie. Logan makes a crack about their suits and Cyclops comes back with a joke about wearing yellow spandex (apparently what they wore in the comics).
It’s an interesting fight since Mystique can transform into anyone on the team, so at one point we have two Wolverines fighting each other. Storm eventually electrocutes Toad, Scott saves Jean, and when Logan returns, Scott knows it’s the real him because he calls him a name. But Magneto pins the team and raises the machine. Logan eventually stabs himself with his claws to get free, then takes on Sabretooth. He helps the others get free and has them raise him up to Marie. Cyclops gets a shot at Magneto, distracting him enough for Logan to slice the controls. Marie now has a white streak in her hair and isn’t breathing at first. Logan takes off his glove and attempts to siphon his power. There’s a delayed reaction and Marie starts breathing, but Logan’s wounds begin bleeding.
Charles recovers and gives Logan a clue that there is an abandoned facility at Alkali Lake in Canada that may hold some answers. Mystique survived and is posing as Senator Kelly so now he’s changing his view on the mutant registration law. And Charles visits Eric in a plastic prison to play chess. Eric asks his old friend if he stays awake at night, worried that someone may come for his children? Charles responds: “I feel a great swell of pit for the poor soul who comes to that school looking for trouble.” They’re still on opposite sides of the war, but they’re still old friends.
I have to admit, after watching the later X-Men and other superhero movies, this one feels a bit slow. I understand that it sets up a lot of what takes place in later movies, but I had trouble getting back into the film after several years. Of course, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen are excellent. I think Hugh Jackman’s performance gets better over time in the movies. Jean is a bit flat and Cyclops and Storm are almost relegated to sidekicks. As for the “love triangle” between Logan, Jean, and Scott; there is absolutely no chemistry between any of them and the only reason Logan is at all interested in Jean is because she’s pretty. They have no interaction before he’s interested. I do appreciate how they all work together at the fight at the Statue of Liberty at the end. Also, looking back at the relationship between Rogue and Wolverine, it doesn’t sit quite right. You can clearly tell that Rogue has a crush on Wolverine, but due to the age difference and the fact that they had only just met, it’s a bit awkward. Now, it is sweet that Wolverine is concerned about Rogue and even persuades her to return to the school and promises to take care of her.
Up Next: X2: X-Men United