Let me say that again. Eleven times. Admittedly, this was at the dawn of the new millennium, a time when home media releases of blockbusters such as this came at least a year after its theatrical run; internet downloading was still new, and mostly used for sharing Buffy episodes with the geographically disenfranchised; and streaming VOD was years away from being a reality. So I had to make the most of the time X-Men was still available for me to relive the awesome — and happily, it ran for months — before it disappeared from my life for who even knew how long?
One of the most impressive aspects of Bryan Singer’s X-Men is just how seamlessly it brought arcane comic book lore to prominence in pop culture. Sure, many grew up watching Super Friends and by that stage, The Powerpuff Girls had made it okay for adults to like superheroes again, but with X-Men, comic book fans suddenly had a ubiquitous example we could point to and say, see, there, that is what I have been talking about this whole time. Superman, Batman, those were well-known properties, but when a record-breaking actioner could be based on second-string heroes previously known only from a Saturday morning cartoon, it went a long way towards validating an interest many saw as juvenile.
Even if X-Men hadn’t been a great movie in and of itself — and, oh, it is! — I say anything that engenders an awareness of comic books among the general populace is a Very Good Thing. I think we’re all better off the more widely known the objects of our affection become; even the fact that there is much distinction between the Marvel Universe and the DC Universe slowly came to be recognized by those who had yet to claim allegiance to either nation, solely on the basis of X-Men‘s success.
Of course, inspired casting helped contribute to that success — the person who tapped Hugh Jackman for the role of Wolverine, after Dougray Scott dropped out, deserves some kind of statue erected to them somewhere — but it also served to introduce the general movie-going public to the “team” concept in comics, helped establish a universal knowledge of things like mutant powers and adamantium and the hotness of cartoon characters, and generally made comic book lore accessible and even interesting to those who would have considered themselves above such things before X-Men’s premiere.
Surely no one needs a refresher on X-freaking-Men, but just in case, our story: Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) runs a school for gifted youngsters, but those gifts aren’t (necessarily) in advanced calculus or the cello. His stately mansion is a haven for people with extraordinary abilities, brought about by their mutant genes, the next step along in human evolution. His old friend Eric (Ian McKellen) believes their abilities should be exploited to declare dominion over mere homo sapiens, while Xavier believes they should be used to protect it. Into their orbit comes Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), a drifter of indeterminate age with amnesia, accelerated healing and a body laced with unbreakable metal. He, along with Xavier’s trusted lieutenants Storm (Halle Berry), Cyclops (James Marsden) and Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), must foil Eric’s latest megolamaniacal plan, which of course is happening inside the Statue of Liberty. Also: Mystique!
The film is thrilling, funny and emotional, giving depth to a plethora of characters who could easily have been nothing more than cyphers who can do cool shit. (Like, uh, Storm. Poor Storm!) The film assuredly holds up all these years later, even in the CGI department — well, okay, not super well there — and even when you know what is going to happen, it still manages to keep you engaged, and even in suspense.
Which I guess is why, sixteen years ago, those eleven times made sense.