Does the First X-Men Movie Still Hold Up?

Twenty-three years. Good lord, I’m old.

It might be hard for some younger people to remember, but super hero movies weren’t always the oversaturated nightmare genre we know it as today. There was a time where super powers and spandex were box office poison. Big cinematic universes weren’t a thing. You’d be lucky if you get a stand alone story with one hero to work!

Even still, a few of them did. The original Spider-Man trilogy is still held in high regards, even today – even with the hilarious mess that was the third one. Even back in the 70s, we got a pretty good Superman movie.

Then, of course, there’s the subject of today’s review. The kings of the comic book back in the 90s: the X-Men.

After accidentally putting her boyfriend in a coma with her mutant abilities, teenager Marie – going by Rogue – flees. On her run, she meets Logan, the Wolverine, another mutant. They’re both picked up by the X-Men, a group of mutants determined to protect their kind and earn rights from the normal humans. But with mutant extremist Magneto and his Brotherhood standing against them, plotting a mutant uprising that will result in countless deaths, that’s a difficult task indeed.

It feels weird to go back to a comic book movie that actually tries to take itself seriously. Nowadays, they’re all full of quips and self-aware nods. X-Men actually treats itself like a movie.

Which… doesn’t always work. It tries to make fun of comic book campiness while simultaneously being a silly comic book movie. Such as when they joked about yellow spandex, or when Logan made fun of all the X-Men for their names. Bro, you call yourself Wolverine, you’ve got no room to talk!

A good chunk of the dialogue is also just… bad. Storm’s infamous line about toads and lightning lives rent-free in my head. And that’s just one example!

The ensemble cast is also an issue. It’s just too damn big! The movie doesn’t have the time to flesh out characters like Storm, Cyclops, Mystique, Sabertooth, or most of the others, so it just… doesn’t. They’re all just there. Doing things for no reason beyond the fact that things need doing.

For all its issues, however, the story really isn’t that bad. It still manages to capture the metaphors for hate and prejudice core to the X-Men, the very concept that made the franchise so popular back in the 90s. Sure, it’s not necessarily good, but it isn’t like it’s offensive or painful to watch. It’s dumb, it’s campy, and it definitely shows its age. But it’s still decently fun, so long as you go in with low expectations.

Magneto makes for a great villain, if nothing else. But I attribute that more to the casting than anything else. Sir Ian McKellen is amazing as Magneto, Patrick Stewart is an excellent Charles Xavier, and of course: Hugh Jackman as Wolverine is a highlight. Nothing to complain about there.

Visually speaking, this movie definitely shows its age. Early 2000s CGI looks rough and the cinematography is just okay. The costumes are the worst part for me; Mystique hasn’t aged well, and all the black leather jumpsuits are just bland and boring.

Yes, Cyclops, I would prefer yellow spandex. That would be fun. Give me that!

X-Men is a fine enough movie for what it is. It’s aged, it’s dumb, and it’s enjoyable. If it wasn’t supported by the excellent metaphor of prejudice core to the X-Men as a franchise, it would just be a dumb action movie with weird powers, flat characters, and goofy comic book stuff.

Does it still hold up? Not really. But it’s charming.

X2, on the other hand… Now that’s a good movie! Or at least, I remember it being. I ought to take off my nostalgia glasses and check that out sometime.

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