It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
The origin story is crucial to all superhero epics, from the gods of ancient Greece right down to Superman's parents. Next in importance is an explanation of superpowers: what they are, how they work. That's reasonable when there is one superhero, like Superman or the Crow, but in "X-Men," with eight major characters and more in supporting roles, the movie gets top-heavy. At the halfway mark, it has just about finished introducing the characters.
That matches my experience of the "X-Men" comic books. The characters spend an inordinate amount of time accounting for themselves. Action spills across full pages as the heroes splatt and kerrruuunch each other, but the dialogue balloons are like little advertisements for themselves, as they describe their powers, limitations and motivations.
Since the Marvel Comics empire hopes "X-Men" is the first entry in a franchise, it's understandable that the setups would play an important role in the first film. If only there were more to the payoff. The events that end the movie are sort of anticlimactic, and the special effects, while energetic, are not as persuasive as they might be (at one point an airplane clearly looks like a model, bouncing as it lands on water).
"X-Men" is at least not a manic editing frenzy for atrophied attention spans. It's restrained and introspective for a superhero epic, and fans of the comic books may like that. Graphic novels (as they sometimes deserve to be called) take themselves as seriously as the ones without pictures, and you can tell that here when the opening scene shows Jews being forced into death camps in Poland in 1944. One could argue that the Holocaust is not appropriate subject matter for an action movie based on a comic book, but having talked to some "X-Men" fans I believe that in their minds the medium is as deep and portentous as, say, "Sophie's Choice." The Holocaust scene introduces Magneto (Ian McKellen) as a child; his mental powers twist iron gates out of shape. The narrator informs us that "evolution takes thousands and thousands of years," which is putting it mildly, and that we live in an age of great evolutionary leaps forward. Some of the X-Men develop paranormal powers which cannot be accounted for by the strictly physical mutations which form the basis of Darwinian theory; I get restless when real science is evoked in the name of pseudoscience, but, hey, that's just me.