Before James Mangold took Wolverine to Japan in the 2013 X-Men movie, the director took Hugh Jackman on a time travel adventure. While Mangold and Jackman are best known for their X-Men films, The Wolverine and Logan, the two first collaborated in a 2001 romantic comedy.
But it wasn’t just any romantic comedy. It’s one fused with a science fiction premise that starred a rom-com icon and helped transform Hugh Jackman from the gritty, action hero audiences saw in 2000’s X-Men to the charming leading man he’s known as today. That movie is none other than Kate & Leopold.
More than 20 years later, Kate & Leopold remains an enjoyable sci-fi romp. Here is why you need to watch Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman in the heartfelt comedy, now streaming on HBO Max.
Kate & Leopold follows the story of Leopold (Hugh Jackman), an aristocrat living in 19th-century New York who accidentally falls through a time portal and travels to the early 21st century. Leopold’s predicament was caused by his great-great-grandson Stuart (Liev Schreiber), a physicist who discovered the portal, time traveled, and roused Leopold’s suspicions, leading the nobleman to chase Stuart back to the future.
Reasonably, Leopold is stunned to discover himself in an entirely new century, and much of the movie’s comedy derives from his antiquated, over-the-top reactions to early 2000s technology. The film quickly lets Leopold on the loose (after Stuart accidentally tumbles into an empty elevator shaft), and that’s when he meets Stuart's ex‑girlfriend, Kate (Meg Ryan), and her brother, Charlie (Breckin Meyer).
With Stuart gone, Kate and Charlie become Leopold’s defacto guides to living in modern-day New York. Both don’t believe he time traveled but think he’s an actor who is entirely too committed to this craft. Kate’s cynicism is a stark contrast to Leopold's utter sincerity. She can’t take him seriously, but his presence demands nothing less. It results in plenty of entertaining chemistry-filled banter.
But Leopold’s unwavering earnestness wins over Kate, and before you know it, the two begin to fall in love. That doesn’t come without its complications. The longer Leopold stays in the 21st century, the more the ramifications of his time-traveling begin to manifest. In this fictional tale, Leopold is the inventor of what would be the elevator, and his hesitation to return to the past has elevators across New York City malfunctioning.
If Leopold were to go back to the 19th century, he would have to leave Kate, who the movie paints as an independent, career woman — a far cry from the women in Leopold’s time. But this is a romantic comedy where love and fate are tightly intertwined and ultimately compatible. Kate & Leopold uses that logic to deliver a classic rom-com ending, but it doesn’t quite pull it off. It also leaves you wondering about its time travel element, which is full of contrivances and plot holes. Without spoiling the movie, one example is how the ending makes Kate’s past relationship with Stuart very strange and problematic in hindsight.
Yet, upon one’s first viewing, it’s impossible not to be swept away by Leopold’s grand overtures and the chemistry that blossoms between the film’s two stars. However you feel about the ending, there’s no doubt that Kate & Leopold was a great beginning for another new relationship at the time. After all, the ongoing collaboration between James Mangold and Hugh Jackman would eventually bring us another heart-stopping adventure, Logan, one of the best superhero films of all time.
Kate & Leopold is now streaming on HBO Max.