Well, comic book freaks can take a breather, as another sci-fi fantasy hits the big screen, this time in the long-awaited, highly-anticipated, it-better-be-good X-Men.
Without too much regret, I can say that X-Men will be palatable to fans and newbies alike. It's not a great film, but it will probably follow the arc of the Superman and Batman movies -- tons of sequels of variable quality until an abrupt and dismal end a decade later.
The film is largely focused on introducing the very idea of the X-Men to the audience. In the "not too distant future," the human race has mutated to the point where various members of it find themselves endowed with superhuman abilities: telepathy, walking on water/through walls, regeneration, and the like are commonplace. As with most modes of difference, the mutants find themselves vilified by the public, and a Senator (Bruce Davison) launches a crusade to mandate "mutant registration."
How the group of X-Men came to be is unclear, but we do know that Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) is their leader and that he's wealthy beyond belief, funding an apparently tuition-free school for mutant kids where they can harness their powers in peace. Professor X (X-Men, get it?) recruits adults, too, with monikers like the laser-eyed Cyclops (James Marsden), the weather-controlling Storm (Halle Berry), and the telekinetic Dr. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) -- the only X-Person who doesn't have a nickname. Together, the X-Men peacefully oppose the government's anti-mutant tide, while battling the "evil" Magneto (Ian McKellan), a concentration camp survivor that can control metal with his mind.
Soon the film begins to turn around newcomers to the X-Men -- the super-tough Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and the power-stealing Rogue (Anna Paquin) -- and a Magneto plot to capture them consumes the rest of the movie. Ultimately it is revealed that Magneto's plan is to give all the human leaders of the world a mutation of their own, through a contraption he's built that will be unveiled at a conveniently-timed "World Summit" on Ellis Island. Whew!
Strangely enough, X-Men is not as complicated as it sounds. In fact, its major flaw is that it spends the bulk of an hour simply explaining what mutations are, who the good guys and bad guys are, and what their respective powers are. Everyone has two names -- a real one and a nickname like "Sabretooth" -- and at least one has the power to shift shape (an unrecognizable Rebecca Romijn-Stamos with no lines in her own voice). The exposition is necessary to have the movie make sense, but it weighs the film down with a tedium that takes you completely out of the action.
That aside, X-Men's biggest flaw is that all mutants appear to be stupid beyond belief. Xavier and Magneto are presented to us as genius arch-rivals, but the plots Magneto cooks up to capture the enemy are straight out of an old "Batman" TV show episode. Why go to all the trouble to trick one mutant and poison another when you can just send your shapeshifter in to do the dirty work? Why can't Professor X figure out why Magneto is interested in Wolverine? I suppose questioning the logic of a movie called X-Men makes me sound a bit nutty, but there it is.
While fans will appreciate the largely accurate portrayal of the team (with the notable exception of Rogue being played as a barely pubescent teenager), inside jokes like cracks about Wolverine's yellow Spandex will be lost on most of the audience.
Ultimately, X-Men is a reasonably entertaining movie, but it's one that started to bother me the moment I left the theater. Here's why: The X-Men want to stop a potential war between humans and mutants, and Professor X thinks Magneto is brewing this war up. But Magneto isn't doing anything of the sort. He's cooked up this machine that will give mutations to humans -- and therefore a better understanding of mutants, and ergo, no war. Magneto has a great idea! If his machine worked right, everything would have been peachy. The fact that it doesn't feels inserted by one of the half-dozen uncredited screenwriters just to make the movie a little less nonsensical.
Anyway, I predict the legacy of X-Men to be this: 1) There will undoubtedly be a sequel. 2) It will be a whole lot better than the original. Vive la difference.
Dr. X: A man so egomaniacal he puts his initial on his doors.