Movie review of X-Men

Friday, July 14th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

X-Men crosses its "x" with a flourish.

In transferring the astronomically popular Marvel Comics series to the screen, director Bryan Singer, screenwriter David Hayter and an inspired cast and crew follow the pattern of the finest cinematic chefs by carefully measuring each ingredient.

The movie's imaginative f/x exist largely to extend or explain the plot. Characterization is presented with swift, but precise, credibility. And, above all, the film duplicates the comic series' be-kind-to-mutants message. Whereas Tim Burton's first two Batman flicks paid sympathetic tribute to loners, X-Men represents a full chorus of salutes.

Director Singer's The Usual Suspects demonstrated his knack for orchestrating an ensemble of unusual characters. Even at the blissfully speedy running time of 96 minutes, X-Men cares about its X-Men and X-Women. One of the movie's most memorable aspects is the poignant empathy shared by Wolverine and Rogue, two young mutants faced with an unfriendly universe. Hugh Jackman and Anna Paquin, who touchingly play the disoriented and alienated pair, could become the millennium's James Dean and Natalie Wood - only this time, they're rebels with a cause.

Not many fantasy flicks begin with the tragic reality of Nazi concentration camps, but X-Men represents sci-fi with substance. The weeping young boy who is wrenched from his parents during the Holocaust grows up to be Magneto (Ian McKellen), the film's relatively sympathetic villain. He fears another Holocaust, with mutants as the victims, and forms the evil Brotherhood of Mutants. This new brotherhood virtually duplicates the misdeeds of the Nazi leaders in their goal of global domination.

Magneto's antithesis is the benevolent Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), founder of the School for Gifted Youngsters in New York's leafy Westchester County. Its student body consists of young X-Men and X-Women, mutants who represent the new level of humanity. As such, they are feared and loathed by the Old Guard because of their higher intelligence and exalted telepathic and telekinetic skills. Among their various specialties are controlling the weather, absorbing another being's thoughts and memories, and extending their claws and tongues to unexpected lengths.

Ambitious politico Robert Kelly (steel-eyed, blandly devious Bruce Davison,) embodies the unenlightened Old Guard. In his aim to have all mutants registered, his witchhunt is as merciless as Sen. Joe McCarthy's. Between Sen. Kelly's fanaticism and the Brotherhood of Mutants' aggression, the X-Men must righteously defend their code of peaceful co-existence.

The X-Men environment is as convincing and intriguing as that of The Matrix, but the new film has far more texture. Most of the performances are strong; and the interaction between James Marsden's pretty-boy Cyclops, Famke Janssen's self-possessed Jean Grey and Mr. Jackman's confused Wolverine is provocative. Mr. Jackman and Ms. Paquin, as noted, are superb; and Mr. Stewart and Mr. McKellen reflect a true duel of titans. However, Halle Berry is sadly underused as the mercurial Storm.

Still, X-Men will appeal to all your senses without insulting your common sense.