I walked out of the theater after seeing X-Men mildly annoyed. That’s not an unnatural reaction to a film for me, but this time there was a secondary element that made the whole thing perplexing. What’s that second element? Well, how’s this for a kick in the head? I wasn’t at all sure why I was annoyed. See, the film is pretty well directed, well acted (if big budget American actioners are the bar), features seamless special effects and stands as probably the most comic book-like comic book adaptation I’ve ever seen (from the US, at least, both Hong Kong and Japan have produced comic adaptations that play like the real thing in a big way). Considering the amount of riffing I’ve done on previous comic book adaptations, I should be happy there was no Joel Shumacher-esque nippled costumes, no camp, etc. Thing is, I wasn’t. I was annoyed and it took me a few days to figure out why.
Thankfully I now know and can share.
It’s a first issue.
I guess I’ll have to explain, since I can’t assume anyone has ever read comic books regularly. When a new series is introduced or, worse yet, and existing series is relaunched, the first issue is looked at as a jumping on point for any new readers. Due to the serial nature of most comic series, it’s pretty easy for a person trying to pick up a series in the middle to get confused and give up. Think about trying to watch a soap opera at random and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what happens. Without someone there to say,. "Oh, that’s Jack, he’s an asshole" there’s a chance you’ll get lost. First issues on the other hand offer an opportunity to introduce the characters, set the basic storyline and get everyone up to speed for when the real fun begins. Because they have to hit certain marks, they tend to be a little remedial and because of that, I’m not much of a fan of them. And that’s what this movie was.
Aside from the somewhat stunted characterizations (with the exception of Wolverine, Rogue and Jean Grey, none of the characters are expanded at all) the problem, for me at least, is the next "issue" isn’t coming out next month. If it was, I’d be pleased as punch and even still I’m still mighty interested in seeing a sequel. The next film (which, as of this writing, looks like a done deal) will be unencumbered by the need to set up fifty million characters and an alternate version of Earth and will, almost certainly expose more of the depth hinted at here.
I’ve also heard (and cannot confirm) that the film was originally cut to run closer to two hours. As it stands now it runs about 90 minutes and while that running time may help it with the short attention span crowd, I can’t help but wonder what my reaction would have been seeing the half an hour that now rests on the cutting room floor. For starters, maybe in that version Halle Berry has more than five lines.
All that said, this is a well executed movie and stands light years above any other live action adaptation of a Marvel Comics series. After an abysmal run which includes a dreadful, never released Fantastic Four film, the godawful Punisher movie and an apparently endless stream of other atrocities, Marvel has finally managed to hit the mark with this its most treasured property.
This review was originally published in Boston's Weekly Dig (now digBoston) in July 2000.