A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that X-Men 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?
Launching a multi-film franchise, this 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. Instead X-Men 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.
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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about X-Men'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?
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