Sherman, set the way-back machine for 1986. The Prof, his wife-to-be (then his best friend) and several friends sat around a small apartment in Ann Arbor, Michigan, discussing how cool it would be if someone ever made a movie out of the X-Men. We spent hours haggling out who would play what, how it would look, and if it would be worth watching after Hollywood got their hands on it. Well, 14 years later, we know, it looked "cool", and it was well worth it.
Now, before I start gushing, let me preface this by saying that I'm a long-time X-Men fan. I collected the comics for years and years, although not for quite a while now, and I watched the cartoon religiously, commenting on everything they did "wrong" from my knowledge of the printed version.
The biggest downside of this film is for the non X-men fan. If you don't have prior background knowledge, the film may be a bit confusing at times, may move a bit too fast for you, and may seem a bit light on plot development… this is an accurate feeling. The film is one of the first that is really made with the "fan" in mind, and a lot of the background information that would normally be in the film, isn't, due to someone's decision to cater a bit more to the devotee's of the source material than is common in Hollywood.
That said, let me firmly re-entrench myself into my X-Fan shoes, and say: It was one of the best, if not the best, adaptation of a comic book series ever. The characterizations of everyone in the film is right-on, if a tad bit underdeveloped on-screen. The justification for the actions of the villain is explained just enough to make him a sympathetic soul, and his actions are vile enough to overcome that sympathy. The "heroes" are the kind Marvel was good at: good, but flawed in some way, but striving to come to grips with their personal realities and overcome their flaws. This is why Marvel comics are so popular, they show the "human" side of the superhuman.
This film dives right into the action, and it earned my undying loyalty right off the bat when they announced that they had killed Henry Peter Gyrich, a character I've hated since I was first introduced to him back in The Avengers comics in the mid-80's. But seriously folks… this film is a superb balance of plot and action, of character and special effects. Summer blockbuster? Yup. And with its success, Fox will most likely green-light other comic-oriented movies either in pre-production or merely in planning.
Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, as Professor Charles Xavier and Eric Magnus (Magneto) are the bookends of philosophical motivations for the film. Both want to "solve" the problem of humanity's fear of mutants, they just go at it from radically different points of view. Anna Paquin as Rogue is marvelous (but what do you expect from an Academy Award winner, eh?) and Hugh Jackman finally put a face, voice and attitude to everyone's favorite surly character. Add to this James Marsden (Cyclops), Ray Parks (Toad), Halle Berry (Storm), Rebecca Romijn-Stamos (Mystique) and Tyler Mane (Sabertooth) and you have a stew the likes of which the world has never seen, and boy is it tasty!
The rest of the cast is superb, and all right on the money. Some points of comment (there are really too many to list them all): The relationship of Cyclops to Wolverine is dead-on. Tyler Mane is so much Sabertooth it's scary, and so is he. The friction of philosophies between Charles and Magneto is very moving, and rather tense. Halle Berry's wig isn't as bad as you've heard. The Blackbird kicks butt, and I want one. I could go on, but I think you get the idea.
My one bone of contention is so minor I almost don't want to bring it up, but I will. The origin of Rogue has been altered to fit the film, but after remembering her comic origin, it wouldn't have been possible to include it without completely altering the storyline of the film, and it does work as-is, so only a die-hard X-Fanatic is going to even remember it (which I guess labels me).
This film gets a shining, grateful A. While there could have been a bit more for the non-fan, the end product is one that Fox, and X-Men fans alike, can be proud of, and I salute Fox for their intelligence and faith in the spending power of comic book fans. Remember this when Sam Raimi asks for a bit more budget for Spiderman, it's worth it.