(director/writer: Bryan Singer; screenwriters: David Hayter/based on a story by Tom DeSanto/Bryan Singer; cinematographer: Newton Thomas Sigel; editors: Steven Rosenblum/Kevin Stitt/John Wright; cast: Hugh Jackman (Wolverine), Patrick Stewart (Xavier), Ian McKellen (Erik Magneto), Famke Janssen (Jean Grey), James Marsden (Cyclops), Halle Berry (Storm), Anna Paquin (Rogue), Tyler Mane (Sabertooth), Ray Park (Toad), Rebecca Romijn-Stamos (Mystique), Bobby Drake (Iceman), Bruce Davison (Senator Kelly); Runtime:104; 20th Century Fox; 2000)

“I’m sure that regular fans of the comic book will find some inside jokes amusing, but I didn’t find much humor and grew weary of the effort.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

I was never a comic book fan, though as a child I was a casual reader of such comics as Archie, Batman, and Superman. I have never read X-Men which was created in 1963 or for that matter too many other comic books as an adult, and therefore do not view this $75 million special-effects dominated film with the same reverence that an aficionado of such sci-fi fantasy comics would. I’m just interested to see how Fox’s new comics-to-film adaptation presents itself, as I found very few such projects turn out to be worthwhile films.

I had no interest to see if the filmmaker made a travesty of the sacred comic book, as I’m certain X-Men geeks will carefully scrutinize that aspect of the film more than I will care to.

Bryan Singer (“The Usual Suspects“/”Apt Pupil“) adapts the best-selling Marvel comic books about a team of mutant heroes battling evil mutants and human prejudice. It is a commercial film geared to be a summer blockbuster, also hoping to cash in on selling its merchandising wares to its young fans and cashing in down the road with a number of sequels.

X-Men failed to excite me despite its supernatural power fight scenes, its realistic take on racism, and its moralistic displeasure shown at the futility of world leaders to bring peace to the world. Its special effects were, at times, dazzling; but, I’m not partial to high tech films without too much else going for it, especially for a superhero film that seemed as awkward as this one was. I only ask: Why was the filmmaker so sober-minded about filming this comic book story film?

It just never seemed to get much off the ground as far as its storyline goes. But the filmmaker made wise casting decisions of Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier and Ian McKellen as Magneto, longtime friends, who will oppose each other as mutants and who have a different take on the world. Their roles as hero and heavy (which the producer/writer DeSanto says is based on Xavier as Martin Luther King Jr. and Magneto as Malcolm X), becomes the glue that holds this amorphous, sticky film together. What seems tiring, is all the other characters who are given quality time and end up just showing us their supernatural gifts and Halloween-like costumes before disappearing from any further characterizations. The story before it reached its action climax on the Statue of Liberty at Ellis Island, where the world leaders are convening, hit a lot of tired spots. The movie seemed to be more or less a promo for more sequels.

The premise of X-Men is that its heroes are mutants —homo superiorbeings — the next evolutionary stage for human beings, who are discriminated against because they’re strange. A mutant is a superior human being through the process of evolution, someone who is born with superhuman powers –ex., telekinesis (the ability to move objects by thought), telepathy (the ability to read minds), or the ability to fly.

Ultra-conservative Senator Robert Kelly (Bruce Davison) leads his shrill charge against the mutants (reminiscent of the Senator McCarthy witch hunt days) and wants to enact a Mutant Registration Act to register all mutants so that the government could keep an eye on them. Arguing against this on the floor of the Senate is Dr. Jean Grey (Famke), one of the good mutants, someone who has strong telepathic and telekinetic powers: She can lift a tank by concentrating on it. She is part of the wheelchair-bound Professor Charles Xavier’s group, that fights for the civil rights of the mutants. Xavier is in charge of a Westchester, New York, School for Gifted Youngsters, which is also a front for the X-Men who train there and recruit others to protect the human race from superhuman threats. He has a dream that some day he can live in a world where mutants and humans coexist in peace; he even wants peace with Magneto, the main enemy to his group. Magneto is a best friend of Xavier’s who has turned arch-enemy. He is the only other person in the world who shares the same supernatural powers (you could see the analogy drawn between the Bible’s Devil and God).

The plot is simply to see how Xavier’s team stops Magneto’s evil team from destroying the world.

Xavier might be the most powerful mutant on Earth. He not only can read thoughts, but he can project his thoughts into others. He can also alter and erase memories. With Magneto’s help he created a device called the Cerebo which can amplify his mental powers, so he can detect and find a mutant anywhere in the world. He directs these powers only for the good of mankind.

Magneto is a survivor of Poland’s Auschwitz in 1944 where he has witnessed so much human tragedy and now his specific goal is revenge against anti-mutant bigots, whose better type of hatred elevates him above the ordinary movie villain. He has formed a Brotherhood of Evil Mutants to take over the world and is willing to kill anyone to achieve his goal. His motto is: “by any means necessary.” By getting out of control, he moves beyond the pale of goodness and becomes as dangerous as the enemies he is going after.

For most of the film, we are introduced to the opposing sides of this good versus evil duel. On Magneto’s side are Mystique (Romijn-Stamos). She’s a human chameleon; she can transform herself into the likeness of any person, despite her blue skin and red hair. She also possesses superior martial-arts skills. Toad (Ray Park) is one of the original evil mutants of Magneto’s. He can scale walls and has a 12-foot projectile tongue. He’s a regular ass kicker and tongue-flinging psychopath. Sabertooth (Tyler Mane – six-feet-ten-inch, 275-pound former wrestler with the WWF) has similar powers to the hero of the story, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman-Australian). He has healing powers and heightened senses, and is the scariest of the villains with a blood lust equal to that of a vampire. He is extremely athletic and has razor-sharp claws, and loves to kill.

On Xavier’s team, Cyclops (Marsden) is the first recruit. He doesn’t smoke, drink, or curse. He unfurls from his eyes thunderbolts of energy, which can kill and penetrate steel,and he has to wear a wraparound ruby-red-quartz visor to keep those rays in check. Storm (Halle Berry) can control the weather. She can shoot lightning bolts from her hands. She also dons a stunning platinum wig. Wolverine is a hothead, a loner, and the existential hero of this film. He suffers because he can’t even remember his family name and he is a difficult person to come to grips with because of his bellicose nature. He can heal himself from almost any mortal injury, has heightened senses, is superstrong, and his bones are composed of an unbreakable metal called adamantum. His claws project out rapidly from his knuckles and can cut through almost anything. By his sense of smell he can tell where someone stood in a room, even days later. Rogue (Paquin) is a teenager who can touch someone and absorb all their memories and abilities and their personality. She discovers the gift she has, when she kisses a boy and puts him in a coma for three months. There is also a minor role for Iceman (Bobby Drake). He is one of the gifted school children who when he speaks, small amounts of frost emanate from his mouth.

The comic book’s loyal followers might want to know: Will Wolverine ever recall his heritage? Will Rogue recover her full powers? Will the X-Men continue to share Xavier’s vision for a harmonious world?

It is obvious that Singer developed a love for this comic book story and its mutants but he failed to distance himself from it and ended up with a ponderous and uninteresting film, one that failed to get to the heart of any character. It became a special effects film. I’m sure that regular fans of the comic book will find some inside jokes amusing, but I didn’t find much humor and grew weary of the effort. The film needed a healthy share of irreverence to rev me up for all this righteously moralistic stuff it lays on you. I found this comic book film taking itself far too seriously.