What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this movie involves a great deal of comic-book violence executed with near-bloodless restraint but, at the same time, visceral efficiency. One character is a Holocaust survivor; there's much discussion about tolerance and hatred and prejudice, all in the film's fictional context of "mutants" with special abilities appearing in the human population -- and yet, this might provide a great conversation-starter for families.
What's the story?
In a near future, genetic anomalies -- mutants -- have begun appearing in the human population, some with extraordinary abilities (quick healing, telekinesis) and some with physical abnormalities; humanity's response mixes empathy and fear. These "mutants" are, after all, our children and brothers and sisters -- but their extraordinary abilities are powerful and intimidating. Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) heads a school dedicated to helping mutants, including an action team called the X-Men who deal with extraordinary threats from other mutants; on the other side of the philosophical coin, Professor Xavier's old friend -- a metal-controlling mutant known as Magneto (Ian McKellen) -- is generating a terrorist plot to make the "mutant problem" a concern for the leaders of the world in a way they never expected, with one of Professor Xavier's new charges an intrinsic part of his plan.
Is it any good?
Directed by Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, Apt Pupil), X-Men is an unerringly smart comic-book adaptation. It plumbs its source material for real relevance and deeper meaning while still delivering all the biff-bam-pow action a comic book fan could want -- as well as serving as the launching pad that made Hugh Jackman a star with his work as the feral-but-stalwart Canadian mutant, Wolverine. Some of the dialogue is a bit laughable -- and Halle Berry, as the weather-controlling hero Storm, doesn't do much to help with that when she's on-screen -- but the effects are top-notch, the script is smart, and the tone of the film is pitch-perfect, giving us characters with unreal abilities at conflict in a very real world.
Launching a four-film franchise (with more, possibly, to come), X-Men is perhaps one of the best super-hero comic book adaptation, in part because it doesn't shy away from the big issues the comic explored, however clumsily, but instead embraces them. McKellen and Stewart are perfectly cast, and the remainder of the actors (with the exception of the seemingly-reluctant Berry) are all excellent. A super-hero film with real ambition and true talent can be very rare in Hollywood; X-Men is, alongside The Dark Knight and the first two Spider-Man films, one of the highlights in the modern exploration of the sub-genre.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about the film's allegorical relationship to everything from Civil Rights to apartheid, as well as the film's metaphors for acceptance, tolerance, and understanding.
Families can also talk about how often, fantasy and science-fiction are ways to talk about tough real-world issues; does the acceptance of the unreal make it easier to discuss the real?
Families can also talk about the popularity of super-hero stories -- what need in the audience do they meet? Are they simple fun, or can they be considered seriously as part of what pop culture says about who we are?