It is exceedingly rare for a Sci-Fi movie to work on several levels. All too often they depend only upon the skills of the masters of special effects. Even rarer is for a movie derived from a comic book to contain drama, social commentary and an actual coherent plot. The X-Men manages to do this and not is a small way. The special effects are there but they augment the plot, not control it. The story basically follows two mutants, people in possession of extraordinary powers. There is Logan, better know as Wolverine (Huge Jackson). He has an incredible ability to heal himself and somewhere in his past his skeleton has been augmented with an indestructible alloy further increasing his strength and giving him the ability to have metal claws extend from his hands. In a North Canadian bar he meets Marie, also know as Rogue (Anna Paquin). Her mutant power is the ability to transfer the very life force of others by the slightest touch. Each of these very powerful people are lonely beyond belief. They are isolated from everyone until they are brought to a special school for mutants run by Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). The enemy of this group of X-Men is Erik Magnus Lehnsherr (Ian McKellen) better know as Magneto due to his power to create magnetic fields and control metal. Magneto and Professor X are old friends but they disagree strongly on the treatment of mutants. A U.S. Senator Robert Kelly (Bruce Davison) wants to register mutants to protect society. This is far too familiar to Magneto, a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps. Add to this a romantic triangle, allegory not only to the genocide of the Nazis but the communist paranoia of the fifties and you have a script that is intelligent and well constructed. Writers Tom DeSanto and Bryan Singer did an amazing job of elevating this film far beyond the typical Sci-Fi special effects genre.
For a film to truly excel it needs more than a great script, it needs real acting talent. X-Men has that in good measure. Stewart as the telepathic Professor X may seem a bit too much like Captain Picard, after all, he is still sitting in a special chair giving orders, but he brings a rare skill to the role. I also personally like the idea of a physically challenged main character in a film. Those of us that live in a wheelchair finally have representation in film. McKellen plays Magneto not as an evil villain but rather as a man that has suffered great loss due to the prejudice, hate and discrimination of others. He sees the Mutant Registration Act as the start of a slippery slope to what he suffered under the Nazis. This morality play supports this story line with a thought-provoking theme that has been played out in human affairs time and time again. Paquin as Rogue is an innocent, a shy, gentle young girl that is in possession of great power yet cut off from all human contact. There is a certain quality about her character that forces the audience to really care. Jackman as Wolverine successfully walks the thin line between brute force and a very sympathetic character. Even the other parts are played perfectly. Halle Berry as Storm, a young woman that can control the weather, is played well despite the lack of real screen time. Model Rebecca Romijn-Stamos plays Mystique, a blue shape shifter that brings some erotic martial arts to the production. The character of Toad is played masterfully well by Ray Park. He was not only the martial arts standing for the headless horseman in Sleepy Hollow but he was also Darth Mall in Phantom Menace. In fact, after he throws Storm down an elevator shart he picks up a metal bar, swings it around and poses in a pose used in Star Wars episode one. A nice little homage. The real scene stealer in this movie is Huge Jackman as Wolverine. I felt he had a bit on the vocal inflection of a Gary Sinse. He projects the tough guy attitude tempered with a man that inwardly really cares.
Bryan Singer is not a novice to the art of direction. His resume may have only a few films on it but they are notable. The Usual Suspects and Apt Pupil are among his previous works. Singer managers to combine the very different genres extremely well. His direction is fairly straight forward, little in the way of arty cuts and fades he presents the film without unnecessary distraction. He lights and frames each scene with great care and an understanding of just what makes a film work. Singer is a true master of the craft of direction. His stylistic approach to this film is far different from Usual Suspects but is every bit as well timed. Take a look at the interview with Charlie Rose in the Special Features section. Although a little short they give a good idea of this man's creative process. A young director, Singer has a lot going for him and a lot more excellent films in him. As with Usual Suspects, he brings to X-Men characters with moral conflict and deeper meaning then usual in the genre. This holds for Suspect in the crime genre and X-Men in the Sci-Fi/Action genre. Singer has an gifted eye for framing a scene. This film wil be visually lost in 4:3 aspect ratio. He pays attention to the details shown in every centimeter of the frame.
The disc itself is of the highest quality. The Dolby 5.1/THX audio is clear and makes excellent use of the surround speakers without relying on them too much. The subwoofer does not get quite the workout as you would expect. This is especially noticeable in the scene where two police cars crash to the ground. The gain on the audio is not overwhelming. Again, unlike most films of the special effects Sci-Fi genre this film does not assault your ears. The anamorphic 2.35:1 video holds together without artifact throughout a wide range of dark and light scenes. Extras are a bit light but the ones there are enjoyable. There is a mock TV special for Senator Kelly in his fight against mutants that is so well done I had to look twice when I first saw it on TV. There are also several deleted scenes that can either be viewed within the movie thanks to (non) seamless branching or on their own. Mostly, the deleted scenes were expository in nature. They fill in a little of the relationships between Jean, Scott and Logan as well as foreshadow the intent of Magnetos plot. This is definitely a DVD to get and enjoy many times over.