Marvel comics, especially Stan Lee-influenced creations, have been marked by a balance between snappy banter and seriousness (the best rationale for this is given in the Spiderman comic books). The X-Men movie achieves this balance, and that's what makes it one of the best live-action film adaptations of a comic book.
The script is short and to the point, set on the foundation of a conflict between Homo sapiens and Homo superior (people with genetic mutations that enhance their survival ability). The first part introduces us to the X Men and how they all band together. The second involves overthrowing a plan by a renegade mutant, Erik Magnus Lehnsherr aka Magneto (Ian McKellen), who plans to transform all the world's elite into mutants so they all will share a common bond and, consequently, a common fate.
In almost any comic book adaptation, the most important quality is the appropriateness of casting. Surprising, everyone cast in the film is excellent for the part they have been chosen. Among the heroes, these include Patrick Stewart as Professor Charles Francis Xavier aka Professor X, Hugh Jackman as Logan aka Wolverine, Halle Berry as Ororo Munroe aka Storm, Famke Janssen as Jean Grey, James Marsden as Scott Summers aka Cyclops, and Anna Paquin (playing a strikingly different role from the one she had in Hurlyburly) as Marie aka Rogue. Among the villains, we have the aforementioned Ian McKellen as the archvillain Magneto, Tyler Mane as Victor Creed aka Sabretooth, Ray Park, casting off his Darth Maul costume and acquiring a long tongue, as Mortimer Toynbee aka Toad, and the beautiful Rebecca Romijn-Stamos as Raven Darkholme aka Mystique. All the female actors are really hot (and the boys aren't too bad either).
Like I said, a nice balance between humour and a solid story has been achieved here by director Bryan Singer. The movie contains some of the best one-liners (like "keep your eye open", said to Cyclops) seen on screen this summer but also has a plot that's tight and focused. The acting doesn't matter much, but Stewart and McKellen deliver excellent performances which adds a more sophisticated touch to a film that already looks cool, thanks to extremely intelligent special effects (a path forming as the X-Men walk; Wolverine's adamantum claws appearing and disappearing; Magneto's mutant power that will point guns back at the people trying to fire upon him). Perhaps reduced budgets lend to greater creativity!
The parallels between Professor X and Martin Luther King Jr., and Magneto and Malcolm X, have long been made. Likewise with the connection between racism and the discrimination the mutants have to endure. At its most abstract, the X-Men stories are an observation about human xenophobia, with some neat sci-fi ideas thrown in.
Unlike most other comic books, I've never been into X Men as team very much. (The Universe became too large for me; something the film neatly avoids.) I preferred one-off stories featuring characters like Wolverine and Cable. The cartoons appealed to me more, but I was apprehensive going into the film. My fears were unfounded: X-Men is a must-see for any fan of the summer blockbuster; it's mixture of style and substance will satisfy both fan and non-fan of the comic book.
The recent Marvel films I've seen, which includes Spiderman and X-Men, have done a great job of translating the comic book world into a big screen world in a way that still captures the spirit of the comic book. X-Men 2: X-Men United is no different, and that's what makes it an unqualified success.
The effects are imaginative and terrific, particularly the opening sequence which doesn't necessarily involve technical wizardry beyond what we've seen before, but it's incredibly clever. After that, the film essentially is one effect after another, each usually featuring the unique powers of the X-Men: Professor X (Patrick Stewart) who can amplify his powers to visualise all types of consciousness on the planet; Cyclops (James Marsen) whose eyes shine powerful beams of light with a great destructive force; Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) who has great kinetic powers that can manipulate matter at whim; Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) with impenetrable adamantum and great regenerative powers; Rogue (Anna Paquin) who can suck the energy out of you with a kiss; and Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) whose touch is cold enough to freeze.
There are also the semi-villains: Magneto (Ian McKellen) who can manipulate magnetic material at whim (which results in a cool escape sequence involving pieces of iron); Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) who can morph into any she chooses; Yuriko Oyama (Kelly Hu) who is like Wolverine v2.0, and Pyro (Aaron Stanford) who can manipulate flame.
And there are the real villains, who are lead by William Stryker (Brian Cox), whose own son is a mutant. Stryker blames Professor X for his inability to heal his son, and transfers his hate to the cause of eradication of all mutants on earth. To do this, he captures Professor X and uses his son to compel X to use the Cerebrus machine to destroy all mutants. Needless to say, only the X-Men can stop him from carrying out his evil task.
The second X-Men film is more sophisticated and has a better story than the first one, which was primarily about setting up the characters. Here, the characters previously introduced are utilised in a comprehensive and cohesive manner, and the newly introduced characters are blended in seamlessly with the story. The music is very good as is the acting. The cast-selection is particularly appropriate. X-Men 2 is definitely worth checking out on the big screen.