X-Men wowed me on opening day. It’s lost some luster in the decades since, but it still outshines more recent DC and lesser Marvel offerings.
The themes still resonate. In a near-future, an emerging mutant population evokes fear and uncertainty in humanity. Stewart plays Charles Xavier, a powerful telepath who believes mutants and humans can coexist in peace. Opposite him, McKellen plays Erik Lehnsherr, a former friend turned adversary. Lehnsherr—a Holocaust survivor—views humanity as a threat eager to exterminate mutant-kind.
McKellen remains my favorite part of the film. He projects operatic gravitas, delivering his lines with delicious relish while respecting their subtext.
Also helping: the finale’s New York skyline, and a shrewd script that introduces multiple characters, juggles several plot threads, and stages some memorable set pieces, all while clocking in under an hour and forty-five minutes.
Followed by X2: X-Men United.