July 14, 2020, marked the 20th anniversary of the first X-Men movie, arguably introducing a new era of superhero films and paving the way for what would eventually become Marvel and Disney’s MCU.
The era had its ups (Spider-Man (2002), Blade), and downs (Ghost Rider, Incredible Hulk). The first X-Men movie however was generally positively received by critics and fans. Its franchise has had even more ups and downs, multiple reboots, but it’s important to look at just what X-Men 2000 brings to superhero movies as the MCU stares down the barrel of the newest mutant reboot at the hands of Kevin Feige and Disney. Let’s break down a few good things that the first X-Men movie gave fans.
An Introduction to Comics For a New Generation
Comics haven’t always been at the forefront of the public consciousness. It’s only with Star Wars becoming a part of the public zeitgeist that science fiction moved truly into the forefront of the imagination. The X-Men comics, however, had always been a critique of the social issues of the 60s and 70s, and the X-Men had a devoted following…out of the public eye. The animated series in the 90s brought in another group of fans.
Thanks to the film X-Men however, more people than ever looked up the X-Men and became attached to the characters. The film spread the X-Men to an even wider audience who could then discover the secret team of individuals devoted to the X-Men’s principles of freedom and diversity, or the Brotherhood’s desire to have acceptance and a place of their own.
Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen’s Friendship
Patrick Stewart both got their start in theater, but they became friends, true friends, while playing Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr, also known as Professor X and Magneto. In speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Stewart shared about how the film brought them closer together despite playing enemies.
“We had adjoining trailers,” Stewart began. “On those kind of movies, you spend more time sitting in your trailer than you do in front of the camera. So, Ian and I hung out together, drinking tea — and maybe in the afternoon, something a little stronger — and we got to know one another.”
Their relationship grew so close that McKellen officiated Stewart’s wedding to his wife in 2013. The internet loves McKellen and Stewart’s friendship, and the two have since played it up to the joy of everyone who is a fan of their respective franchises. None of that would have been possible without X-Men.
A Diverse Group Of Characters – or at Least The Introduction Of Some
One of the first black characters I can remember making an impact on me was Storm in X-Men. Halle Berry’s performance isn’t everything Storm could be and I’ll never fully appreciate what the character means to Black women and Black Americans. For someone watching X-Men, however, Storm was my first introduction to a Black superhero. She’s not the first Black superhero on-screen, but Storm’s inclusion in a blockbuster film made me curious and wanting to see more from characters like her.
I’ve since realized just how ignorant I was in regards to diverse superheroes. Storm was still side-lined in the film compared to her rich comics history. It’s hard to downplay how important representation is to the people who are being represented and to the people who are seeing them as heroes rather than side characters. I’ve learned in the comics that she’s taken over the team multiple times, had a relationship with Black Panther (for good or ill), and is generally a far more complex character than any and all of the X-Men movies convey.
We need to ask ourselves what constitutes good representation and challenge what’s presented by Hollywood. For me, however, looking back on it 20 years later, I realize that Storm made an impression – a surprising crack of lightning that illuminated a bit more of the world than there was before.
The Superhero Blockbuster…Reborn!
X-Men is not the first superhero movie or even the first Marvel movie.
If you look, you can find Captain America, The Fantastic Four, and even Doctor Strange in old films prior to the X-Men. There’s also Spider-Man in multiple iterations as well as the critically acclaimed Hulk television series. To claim that superhero films began with X-Men is as disingenuous as claiming that they began with the MCU. It would be better to say that they found their stride and their footing with X-Men. The first Captain America film (1990) is comical, the very first Fantastic Four film (1994) is painful to watch, and Doctor Strange (1978) is…strange. We’ll give it that.
X-Men however applied big-budget special effects to the superhero genre. It’s not the first time – Batman 1989 made a huge impact on the genre. But X-Men added advanced CGI and effects, adding to the superhero film genre in a world that couldn’t fathom them. There’s still a bit of a thrill for fans watching Erik Lensherr and Mystique battle the X-Men, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine claws, and Storm unleashing heaven’s fury to protect mankind.
The X-Men built on that, adding Magneto moving the Golden Gate Bridge by himself in X-Men: The Last Stand, and while the effects may not hold up to Thanos throwing a small moon and making half the world vanish, they walked so the Mad Titan and the Avengers assembled could run – or in some cases – fly.
X-Men inspired the imagination and showed what was possible in terms in superhero films. Just ask a young associate producer named Kevin Feige who would eventually spearhead one of the most ambitious film projects in human history, the MCU itself. In some ways, the X-Men launched his career, and that makes it even more poignant when you realize he’ll (eventually) be bringing the X-Men home.
What do you think of the first X-Men movie? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!
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