I have never (that I can recall) read any of the comic books this movie is based on, so I can say that I watched it with an unbiased mind, at least concerning the comparison of the characters as they are known to their fans, and the movie’s concepts of the characters. Though I did not think the movie was that bad — I was entertained, in any case — it did not really work, and was an altogether lopsided affair.
Despite the rather sketchy treatment given to most of the characters (exceptions were the Magneto of Ian McKellan and Rogue, played by Anna Paquin), it was still possible to develop sympathy for them and their plight. But the main problem was that the part of Magneto, the villain, was the most detailed role, and thus the most sympathetic one. Making the villain more sinned against than sinning is no longer a new, shocking Hollywood development, but is now par for the course (a glaring example of this, I believe, is Hannibal, but I have not seen that movie). Even Magneto’s attempt to kill the child Rogue is offset by the sympathy the plot has set us up to feel for Magneto, and by the fact that Rogue’s powers are somehow more frightening than Magneto’s: he can bend metal, but she can kill with just a touch.
The acting was generally good, or at least inoffensive. As I said, most of the parts are only sketched in, and perhaps one needs to be a Shakespearean actor like Mr. McKellan or Patrick Stewart (who plays Professor Xavier, though this part is so underwritten that even Mr. Stewart could not make him more than a kindly cipher) to put flesh on these bones. I have had complaints from others who have seen the movie that the part of Wolverine (played by Hugh Jackson) made the character into a nonentity with no motivation; this is not the fault of the actor, who does as well by the part as possible, but the makers of the film. They simply did not give him enough to say or do for us to understand what lay behind his apparent cynicism. The character of Rogue here basically exists to fill the part of threatened child-woman in need of rescue, but Anna Paquin at least makes her seem like a real girl.
The plot — well, it is useless to talk about plots in movies like these. There has to be a Meeting of the Characters who are to make up the Fighting (for the Forces of Good) Team, there has to be An Evil Scheme being implemented by the villain that must be thwarted, there must be a person or persons in positions of needing rescue from said villain, and so forth. There isn’t much faithfulness to reality in all this (and there doesn’t need to be), but one thing I do know is that if there were a bevy of world leaders congregated together on Ellis Island, then the nearby Statue of Liberty would not be nearly deserted, but would instead be housing squads of G-Men and military troops at the ready, and be surrounded by a phalanx of Coast Guard and Navy vessels. Magneto would not have been able to bring his weapon there in secrecy with the help of his tiny band of mutants; he would have had to blast his way in. Either a scene such as that was too expensive to film or the film-makers didn’t want to make the audience think less kindly of the character, or perhaps these facts just never occurred to them.
There was no way to avoid making the comic-book props such as the huge, metal-walled secret hide-outs with their vast doors and gigantic corridors, and the throne-like weapon Magneto plans to use against the human race, less silly-looking. They simply contrasted too greatly with the prosaic scenes of beaches, city streets and the pleasant “School for Gifted Children” that was the X-Men’s refuge. The various hyperreal contraptions in the Batman movies did not seem so foolish or glaringly out of place because the directors of those movies were wise enough to make the entire environment — Gotham City streets, apartments and mansions, peoples’ costumes, and so on — different from everyday life. In scenes such as that of Professor Charles Xavier showing a new recruit the immense telepathy-enhacing supercomputer, or Magneto appearing in his Evil Villain getup, complete with helmet, it takes an effort to concentrate on the plot and not start thinking things such as: “The Professor needs to start offering a course in Design at his school. There are some major taste crimes going on here.”