'X-Men' breaks summer's tiresome routine
Arizona Summer Wildcat
Film displays some good acting, close adaptation of the
3 1/2 stars
Until the advent of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books, so-called "event" movies were summer's most hotly anticipated entertainment.
Filled with pyrotechnics, stunts, flashy costumes, larger-than-life heroes and easily digested messages about good and evil, these movies (with a few notable exceptions) ditched character development, rich dialogue and inventive filmmaking for what has become a simple - and bankable - formula.
Take some recognizable stars, bitchin' gadgets, a few tough-sounding torts and retorts and a climactic showdown, tie it all together with some loose semblance of plot, and dangle the resulting shiny object in front of drooling moviegoers.
While Bryan Singer's "X-Men" is not exactly a departure from this formula, it's not a brain-dead exploitation of its audience, either. The film is a briskly plotted, (mostly) well-acted and thoughtful adaptation of the revered comic series.
Playing off hot-button genetics issues, "X-Men" is set in the near future, in a world of genetic mutants with the special powers of telepathy and shape-shifting. They struggle against the forces of prejudicial non-mutants, spearheaded by a McCarthyesque U.S. senator (Bruce Davison).
Complicating matters further, the good mutants - powerful psychic Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and his "School for Gifted Youngsters" - must protect the non-mutants from the diabolical mutant Magneto (Ian McKellen) and his minions.
It's sort of funny to watch the two most respected stage actors of their generation say things like "his psychic power is very strong" and call their co-stars things like "Toad" and "Sabretooth."
Nevertheless, both actors inhabit the characters surprisingly well. Stewart radiates goodness and serene authority, and McKellen imbues Magneto with subtle self-loathing as well as overweening ambition.
The X-Men themselves, except for a badly miscast James Marsden as Cyclops, acquit themselves reasonably well in roles that don't require much more than ominous staring and the occasional groan-worthy one liner.
Australian newcomer Hugh Jackman shows considerable promise as the angst-ridden Logan/Wolverine, a powerful fighter unsure of his place in the mutant struggle.
As with most event movies, the special effects are the most considered, lovingly rendered aspect of the production. No less than nine effects companies were hired to provide the film's innumerable effects, and the end result is impressive, even if it's a little ostentatious.
There's none of the eye-popping originality of "The Matrix," and some scenes seem to be little more than setpieces to showcase the effects, but there are plenty of impressive visuals to satisfy even the most rabid fans of the comic book.
Bryan Singer is known for his work on intimate, textured thrillers ("Apt Pupil," the masterful "The Usual Suspects"), and is working on a necessarily larger scale with "X-Men."
While he doesn't craft a strikingly original or overwhelmingly dark action film - like Tim Burton's "Batman" - he doesn't disappoint, either. Singer gracefully juggles fidelity to the beloved comic and the need to appeal to new fans, making "X-Men" dark and brooding, but not unduly so - the comic deals with redemption for outcasts, and Singer's film is not without hope.
"X-Men" is a big, blustery event movie - but within that context, it does almost everything right. This is deftly composed entertainment for the masses, and it's terrifically successful as that.