Pan & Scan Welcome to PAN & SCAN where you will find film reviews of some of Hollywood's latest productions.

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XMen   Director: Bryan Singer

  Genre: Action / Drama / Sci-Fi

  Running Time: 104 Minutes

  Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi action violence.

  Tagline: Join the Evolution.

  Video Release: November 21, 2000

The X-Men, created in 1963 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, began as a minor superhero group in the shadows of the more successful "Fantastic Four." Thanks to the advent of the "new" X-Men in 1975, these ‘mutants’ evolved into a universe onto itself with hundreds of characters, a series of spin off titles, and now a Hollywood motion picture. Director Bryan Singer was given the laborious task of creating a film with a fan base spanning nearly four decades. And did he ever fill the bill!

The opening weekend gross for X-Men was $57.5 million making it #8 of all time for an opening weekend. The film is now approaching the $300 million mark worldwide and talks of sequels are quickly making the rounds. [Another $50 million was made during its first weekend of VHS/DVD release for rental/purchases.]. Not since the initial Batman film has a superhero movie made such a splash. Yes, Blade did well but that's another type of film altogether.

The story opens in an oppressive concentration camp with a young boy's heartbreaking separation from his parents who are being lead to the ovens. Here we witness for the first time the disturbing powers that lie within this boy, who will grow up to be the mutant called Magneto (Ian McKellen).

Fast forward to the 'not so distant future' where there’s a brewing conflict between Homo Sapiens and Homo Superior (mutants) whose powers range from mental telepathy, shape shifting, and indestructibility. These mutants have fallen into two camps: the good, led by Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and the evil, led by Magneto.

The wheelchair-bound Xavier runs a school for gifted children, in upstate New York, where he assists them in developing their budding powers. His team consists of Cyclops (James Marsden), Dr. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), and Storm (Halle Berry). His philosophy is that man does not understand the mutant society and only wishes to see both sides coexist in relative peace.

Magneto does not see it this way. Scarred from his concentration camp days, he sees himself and other mutants as outcasts of society and the only way for them to have their place is by altering all mankind into mutants. He and his cohorts, Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), Sabretooth (Tyler Mane) and Toad (Ray Park), concoct a scheme to alter the genes of the world leaders at a United Nations summit meeting on Ellis Island. This puts them in conflict with Xavier's team and leads to the inevitable clash between good and evil mutants.

Adapting a comic book into a film presents a double-edged dilemma. Such a production has not one but two audiences to appease: those familiar with the characters and the general public. Coming in at a slim 104 minutes, X-Men was "rumored" to have an additional 45 minutes of footage but was abandoned on the cutting room floor. In this 104 minute version, we have several characters "filling" the screen, yet little development is provided. Singer and company though have wisely focused on two outside characters, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Rogue (Anna Paquin), to serve as audience surrogates. By unfolding the story through their eyes, Singer allows the necessary exposition to take place without burying the rest of the tale in mini-biographies.

Keeping the movie grounded is why this film succeeds. Instead of a slew of far-fetched battles, Singer explores the relationship between Wolverine and Rogue and how they find a place for one another in their otherwise barren lives. The social commentary is also well developed as Senator Kelly (Bruce Davison) reminds many of the early years of Hitler. Finally, Singer does not condemn Magneto as an evil entity but instead portrays him as a misguided individual which creates a sympathetic antagonist for the audience.

Appeasing both audiences is key and X-Men prevails by combining a realistic tone with its "bigger than life" characters and not resorting to pyrotechnics and wasted eye-candy. Sure, the film features an array of CG effects and some great stunts but the heart of the film is the characters and why they are different. This has been the trademark of Marvel comic books from "Spider-Man" to the "Incredible Hulk." A tale of a hero who is an outcast because of their "abnormality." An outcast who is guilt ridden because of their actions and is continually tortured over their responsibilities.

Being a comic reader/collector for 20+ years, I refused to see X-Men in theaters in fear it would never live up to my expectations. I was pleasantly surprised. Considering the success at the box office and the endless vault of tales at Marvel, I eagerly wait the sequel. Give it a 3.5 for general audience but a big 5 for fellow Marvelites.

© Terrence J. Brady

The ratings for "Pan & Scan" are broken down into a simple 1-5 scale as follows: 5 = "Forget renting it - BUY IT!"; 4 = "Definite Must Rent"; 3 = "Coin Toss" (Rent it OR wait for cable); 2 = "Wait For Cable"; 1 = "Ignore It!" (Even when it's on network TV).