X-Men ★★★½

A simple and efficient introduction to the X-Men. It's alright.

It was really clever having Wolverine be the audience stand-in who is entering a secret society for the first time. I was amazed how well most of the CGI has held up. The music and sound design create a powerfully visceral immersion into the believable world. Some of the shots were just excellently done, especially the many closeups with simple black backgrounds. Very moody and very carefully lit. I really love how 2000s cool they make everyone look, with the hair, costumes, props, powers, everything. Although I strongly prefer X2, this is still a really good standalone X-Men movie with a surprising amount of emotional nuance and sensitivity. And of course, the wealth of iconic castings absolutely make this movie everything it is. But as with my past watches, the film always leaves me feeling a bit detached. I think it feels too safe, too much an anxious pilot episode and less like a bold statement of purpose. Then again, that might be the very reason why I prefer X2.

Most of all, I was really impressed with how well this follows after Dark Phoenix. For all its flaws, I felt that Dark Phoenix actually makes a very decent try at setting up the X-Men as we would meet them here. Besides the intentional differences, there really is an almost a natural flow from Dark Phoenix to X-Men 1. The age change of the characters actually feels comfortable, despite being one of the loudest complaints about the prequels. Xavier, Jean, Scott, and Storm and their relationships with each other all feel like natural continuations of their Dark Phoenix counterparts, which is just wild (forgiving key timeline changes). I think we all underestimated the effect of the prequel characters aging and how young the original cast really looked when they started here. It just works. Even the school sets themselves felt familiar from Dark Phoenix. The biggest and only significant difference in behavior and age is Magneto. Fassbender's Magneto never ages to where McKellen is here, and Fassbender plays the part as a much more damaged, serious anti-hero compared to McKellan's gleefully cartoony villain. Yet there's still continuity here, because even Michael Fassbender's island with mutant refugees leads naturally into Ian McKellen's secret lair island with his Brotherhood of Mutants. It's fascinating to see the difference in Mystique, now that we've seen her complete alternate trajectory after Days of Future Past. Surprisingly, I felt that even the smaller scale of the Dark Phoenix finale fit well with the smaller scale of X-Men 1. From First Class to Dark Phoenix to the original trilogy we also get a really nice evolution of the X-Men outfit that also almost feels natural when you play it chronologically. Just an astonishingly smooth hand-off, as bizarre and unbelievable as that is.

So uh, good job Dark Phoenix, I guess.

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