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Tym says

An unexpectedly fine turn that, along with BLADE, launched the modern superhero film renaissance.

Ciaran says

A mostly fantastic cast brings the X-Men to life.

Darren says

A great start to Singers’s first dip into heavy FX genre movies, it shows his inexperience in crafting a project of this size but still manages to highlight Wolverine with a great setup and execution.

History

The Golden Age of Superhero Films is Superman and Superman II.* The Silver Age of Superhero Films is Blade, the Singer X-Mens, the first two Spider-Mans, the Nolan Batman trilogy, Superman Returns, Watchmen, and the Marvel Studios dominos.

Most of that return to glory is because of what Bryan Singer accomplished with The X-Men. Blade (1998) had set it off sideways by accident, with quality and dividends. But if Blade is a hit club song, then X-Men is a full-on concerto so bracing that any off notes don’t matter.

Singer was exactly the right person at the right time. He was an actual comics fan raised on the material, he was an indie director who did intricate character stories, and he knew exactly what the true audience expected and deserved from twenty years of waiting for this film. And it didn’t hurt that the producer was married to the director who made Superman. The Donner connection is crucial, because Singer clearly used that film as the template and goal for this film, in tone, scope, craft, and especially reverence. Singer is the culture, and he believes in the material and the audience. This is the true formula for how to do a superhero film right, and why so many have been lately. Thus, the Silver Age of hero celluloid.

The lazy discourse would have you believe that mainstream people don’t read comics, which are for kids or stunted adults. This attitude is 70 years out of date and clueless. To the contrary, after seven decades of comics and fans, it’s actually silly to assume there is a “normal” viewer left who hasn’t experienced or loved comics. And even if they hadn’t, they still enjoyed them through the screen, as serials, films, series, or animateds. In the ’90s, youth and their parents saw daily doses of The X-Men cartoon series. This is another crucial factor in superhero film success: if the audience has watched something, it now exists to them. (Hence, even failures get reboots, because now people have seen the concept to get it next time.) The mainstream success of X-Men and the following Spider-Mans may have been built squarely on audience awareness through watching the animateds. "Spi-der-Man/ Spi-der-Man/ does whatever a spider can…"

Singer’s deepest success is in revering the source works and creators, from Lee and Kirby (the ’60s), to Wein and Cockrum (mid-’70s), and mostly to Claremont, Byrne, and Austin (’77-’81). And for personally understanding the team’s core theme of feeling alienated by discrimination for flaws that are actually unique gifts. This plays from high school to civil rights, and is the heart of why the X-Men comics have been such a smash hit for decades.

*The Golden Age was actually rounded out by the concurrent television shows, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, and The Incredible Hulk. Each was remarkably faithful, very successful, and helped shift public perception away from the misimpressions caused by the campy ’60s Batman show.

X-Men II: X2/ X-Men United