Film Scouts Reviews


by Andréa C. Basora

Let's get this straight right from the beginning: I have never read the X-Men comic books. In fact I've never read any comic books at all. So I cannot attest to the purity of the translation from page to screen of this cult classic. I can, however, attest to the fact that "X-Men" is the most intelligent and watchable action movie of the summer. What too many action directors fail to grasp is that even a shoot-'em-up needs a soul, and "X-Men" has that in abundance. Soul is what separates the twisted delights of John Woo's "Face Off" from the glossy heartlessness of his subsequent American effort, "Mission Impossible 2"; it's what made the resurrection of the Roman Epic a success with "Gladiator", but the sequel to "Shaft" a failure. In the case of "X-Men" (the best comic book adaptation since Tim Burton's "Batman") the soul of the film lies in its two central characters: Wolverine (Australian newcomer Hugh Jackman) and Rogue (Anna Paquin).

In a world where mutants are feared and rejected, Wolverine (real name Logan) is a loner with retractable metal claws and an uncanny ability to heal himself. Rogue is a tormented teenage mutant whose very touch sucks the life force out of people. When they meet by chance they first seek protection from the cruel world of "normal" people in each other, but end up finding true asylum under the guidance of the telepathic Professor Xavier (played with mellow perfection by Patrick Stewart). He shelters them in his school for gifted children (or, as one character calls it, "Mutant High"), and become part of his team of mutant defenders. What they have to defend is nothing less than mankind itself, which is under threat from Professor Xavier's former colleague, Magneto (Sir Ian McKellan). Magneto, who has power over metal (in one scene he turns a group of policemen's guns against them and shoots a single bullet to the exact surface of someone's skull), has his own army of mutants and is determined to eliminate "normal" humanity. The heroes of "X-Men" are essentially turning the other cheek, and the spirit of forgiveness that leads the group to defend that that so strongly rejects it, is a welcome change in a genre that too frequently glorifies the path of vengeance.

Of course, for the most part the plot is an excuse to get the mutants fighting each other, but director Bryan Singer ("The Usual Suspects") doesn't overdo the action sequences. The battles are inventive-a bad-guy mutant named Toad (Ray Park) uses his horrifically long tongue to clever effect; the shapeshifting Mystique (Rebecca Romijin-Stamos, clad in a scaly blue body suit that is sure to fuel adolescent fantasies for years to come) can turn herself into the very enemy she is fighting-but not needlessly drawn out. He actually gives the audience some time to get to know the characters, in particular the aforementioned Wolverine and Rogue, and if the secret of Wolverine's past is frustratingly left hanging, Singer at least gets points for making us care enough to wait for the sequel.

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