In 1963, Stan Lee wanted superheroes who got their powers from within themselves, rather than through accidents, like being bitten by a spider or bathed in cosmic rays. Thinking about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, he thought perhaps the human species would begin to evolve through mutation. Naturally, the ordinary humans would hate and fear the mutants, bringing in the interesting themes of segregation and racial conflict. He reasoned that the mutant powers would appear at the onset of puberty and came up with a School for Gifted Youngsters under the tutelage of Professor Charles Xavier. The first X-Men consisted of Cyclops, Beast, Angel, Iceman, and Marvel Girl. They wore yellow spandex, probably to differentiate them from the blue-spandex-clad Fantastic Four. Over the years, others appeared, and when the movie was being written, they chose Storm, Rogue, and Wolverine as particularly interesting. Eventually, there was Uncanny X-Men, New X-Men, X-Force, and X-Treme X-Men. In 1985, an X-Men special called Heroes for Hope was published to provide famine-relief, with stories penned by the likes of Stephen King and Harlan Ellison.
The movie opens in spectacular fashion with the origin of Magneto, watching as his family is marched into a concentration camp to die. As he collapses in terror, his mutant powers appear, and his mind rips the steel gates apart until he is clubbed unconscious. In the next scene, young Rogue (Anna Paquin) nearly kills her boyfriend with her first kiss. Then, at a government conference, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) argues against registering mutants, but Senator Kelly (Bruce Davison) wins the day with his anti-mutant rabble-rousing. Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) are in the audience and confront each other afterwards. Magneto has given up on human beings entirely, but Xavier argues passionately that humans and mutants must learn to live together.
Rogue hitch-hikes to Northern Alberta, where she sees Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) fighting in a cage for money. In a bar later, the fight promoter confronts Wolverine about his undamaged condition and pulls a knife on him, for which he gets a Wolverine knuckle-blade playing footsie with his Adam’s apple, and the bartender pulls a shotgun on him and gets it sliced in half. Rogue, who has seen this, stows away in the back of his truck. Against his better judgement, he invites her into the cab instead of dumping her in the frozen woods. The truck is hit by a falling tree and Wolverine goes through the windshield. The truck is on fire, and one of Magneto’s henchmen, Sabretooth (Tyler Mane) ambushes them. Wolverine, who should be dead, is losing the battle when Cyclops (James Marsden) and Storm (Halle Berry) show up to the rescue. We are half an hour into the movie.
Wolverine wakes up underground, beneath Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters at 1407 Graymalkin Lane, Salem Center, NY, being examined by Jean Grey. He tries to get out of the building, but somehow ends up in Professor X’s office, listening to the Professor’s plan to train mutants to control their powers, his struggle to change the mind of Magneto and the whole human race. Jean Grey’s findings on Wolverine: he has adamantium grafted to his entre skeleton and no memory of how it happened.
Senator Kelly is kidnapped by Magneto’s blue shape-shifting girlfriend Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) and Magneto uses a machine to turn the anti-mutant senator into a mutant. Jean Grey has touched Wolverine’s mind and he begins to remember. Rogue hears him having a nightmare and goes into his room to help. Awakening suddenly, he stabs her, and she uses her powers to absorb his healing ability to save her own life. The Senator finds he can squeeze through the bars of his prison and escapes, falling into the sea. He emerges naked on the beach, pulsing and swelling, and the bathers are horrified.
Rogue, feeling guilty, runs away from the school. Professor Xavier uses his powerful computer Cerebro, capable of enhancing his powers to find anyone, human or mutant, and finds her at the railroad station. Storm and Cyclops set out to fetch her but realize that Wolverine has stolen Cyclops’ motorcycle and gone after her himself. Logan finds her on the train and talks her into returning to the school. Magneto’s allies Toad and Sabretooth attack Cyclops and Storm at the train station and Cyclops ends up blowing the roof off the building, as Magneto boards the train, easily immobilizes Logan, and takes Rogue. They are confronted by the police, but Magneto tosses the police-cars aside, turns the guns on the police, and escapes with Rogue.
Senator Kelly shows up at the school. Professor X reads him and finds that turning humans into mutants artificially is fatal to the subject, and that Magneto wants to use Rogue’s power to increase the strength of his machine so that he can convert the entire human race. Shape-changing, Mystique gains access to Cerebro and booby-traps it so that Professor X is rendered unconscious, but Jean Grey manages to find Rogue at the Statue of Liberty, just in case the audience doesn’t understand that welcoming the alien is the theme of the movie. The greatest collection of world dignitaries is gathered on shore and Magneto is going to start with them. Wolverine is coming along but must wear one of the team’s black leather outfits. “What would you prefer?” Cyclops asks. “Yellow spandex?”
All the forces are gathering for the Marvel-style climax. Everyone uses their powers separately and together in spectacular fight-scenes. They are surrounded, captured, and escape in desperate and dangerous moves. The bad guy makes a speech. Tables are turned, there are battles one-on-one with matched antagonists, followed by co-operation of the entire team, leading to ultimate triumph. There is a denouement in the school and one in Magneto’s plastic prison, which you know he will escape someday.
X-Men was a fan-favorite Marvel comic, and the movie does it justice. It is filled with striking scenes, like Storm, wrapped in cloud, calling down the thunder and lightning from heaven to hurl at her antagonist, or Cyclops raising his visor to fire laser-beams, or Magneto causing a steel rail-car to shred like paper about him. Just watching Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen talk is a pleasure, as if Captain Pickard and Gandalf were to sit down for a chat beside you.