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X-MEN: A Retrospective on its 20th Anniversary

Back in 1999, during the days of Wizard Magazine and dial-up internet, news broke that blew the roof off of geekdom as a whole – 20th Century Fox would be releasing X-MEN as a live-action film in the year 2000. Back at that time, the best that comic fans could get out of Hollywood was the fantastic BLADE, the rubber-nippled BATMAN sequels, and the underrated comedy gem MYSTERY MEN. With the X-Men heading to the silver screen, history was about to change as we knew it – a plus for comic geeks everywhere and a heaping negative for the “serious” filmmakers of Hollywood.

I grew up a massive fan of X-Men. Sure, I was raised on the Silver Surfer, Thor, and Daredevil comics of my Dad’s collection, but X-Men was my comic discovery – my first comic book love. See, the X-Men spoke to me. They were more than a wonderful animated series or an excellent era of Chris Claremont and Jim Lee comic books. They were relatable. For kids like me that felt like outcasts amongst the more popular kids in school, the X-Men were something special. They came in all shapes, sizes, and colours, and yet they were all unified as one. The outside world looked down on them, but they'd never discriminate against each other. It was beautiful... and something that today’s society could seriously learn from.

Logan was my main man. Wolverine was the first comic series that I ever collected on a monthly basis and I did so in the Fall of 1994. That character was the ultimate outcast – a drifter; a war-torn soldier – yet someone that was always at the centre of the X-family as a lover or a friend or a father figure. Even though he was a lone wolf, he was loved and respected by many. Now, on a personal level, I suppose I don’t really relate to Wolverine as much as some of the other X-Men, but dammit, he was Canadian and had bad-ass claws and hair, so hell yeah – he was my man.

After Wolverine, I immediately began collecting the adjectiveless X-Men series as well as Generation X on a monthly basis. My entire ‘90s were mutants, so when the announcement came along that I’d be seeing them come to life, I couldn’t’ve been happier. I remember reading all of the casting announcements – smiling when I found out that Ian McKellen would be Magneto and Patrick Stewart would be Professor Xavier. Nodding in agreement to James Marsden as Cyclops, Famke Janssen as Jean Grey, Halle Berry as Storm, and Anna Paquin as Rogue. But I distinctly remember going, “Hmm… okay,” when it was announced that Dougray Scott would be Wolverine.

See, at that point, I only knew him as the charming prince from my sister’s favourite film, EVER AFTER. It was an interesting choice when guys like Russell Crowe were also in the running. What did I know, though? Dougray’s career was heating up, so maybe it was the right choice. Apparently, his career heated up too quick because X-MEN was going to clash with his shooting schedule on MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2. Dougray was out! Wait, there’s a replacement – who could it be?! Hugh Jackman? Who the hell is that?

Yup, that’s pretty much how it went down. Some soap star from Australia was going to be Logan. I wasn’t against it because, hell, this guy could be amazing... but it was hard to get behind. Hugh was much taller than Logan. YouTube wasn’t around yet, so I couldn’t even watch some of the clips from his shows to see what the casting directors were seeing in him. I just went with it until promo images started appearing. At that point, I was getting pretty excited. Sure, he was a foot taller, wasn’t wearing a mask, and was decked out in black leather (ah, thank you to THE MATRIX for that), BUT… it felt like Wolverine. And then, the trailer arrived…

My family didn’t have internet yet, so I decided to load it during my publishing class in high school. I clicked on the trailer at the beginning of my class and, nearly 60 minutes of loading and buffering later, that 2-minute trailer was ready (I’d later explain to my teacher that it was for research – and then it ended up becoming just that). I watched it. I watched it again. Right from Fox’s adamantium-soaked logo to Jean Grey’s press conference to the funky music to Charles’ intro into the Xavier Institute… and so on and so on… I was sold. So very sold. After the 1-minute mark of the trailer, Hugh’s Wolverine is introduced. “There is a war coming. Are you sure you’re on the right side?” He looked perfect. The mutant inside of me was screaming in glee.

My excitement spread to my brother and then across my family and friends. My parents owned a convenience store at the time and my brother and I made little homemade posters that told my parents’ customers to go to the movie theatre and watch X-MEN. When July 14th, 2000 arrived, I had my tickets for opening night and I was bringing an entire gang of family members. I smiled throughout the entire running time of that film. The pacing was great and the introduction into the world of mutants was not too overwhelming, patiently waiting for future sequels to grow the world. It even started the tradition of Stan Lee’s cameos in Marvel movies. I watched X-MEN seven times on the big screen that summer. My heroes had finally come to life and it was the best thing ever.

Twenty years later, I look back on those days with such incredible fondness. With all information and knowledge at your fingertips now, I don’t think today’s youth will ever know or feel the sense of anticipation that I felt between 1999 and 2000. Just thinking back, I almost tear with happiness by how exciting and simple the times were back then.

I posted a video/podcast last year when DARK PHOENIX was being unfairly beheaded by “fans” before its opening. In it, I dived deep into all of these memories and truly shared why the X-MEN films have always been so special to me. I’ll share it down below for those that may’ve missed it.

So, to David Hayter, Tom DeSanto, Stan, Avi Arad, Patrick, Ian, Hugh, Halle, James, Famke, Anna, Rebecca Romijn, Tyler Mane, and Ray Park… thank you so much for the film and the wonderful memories that I’ll always have because of it. Happy 20th Anniversary, X-MEN!

But no thanks to you, Bryan… you f'ing creep.

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