Bryan Singer directs and co-writes this big screen adaptation of the long-running Marvel comic strip. Mutants Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) are former friends, but look set to become mortal enemies when fascistic US senator Robert Frank Kelly calls for the registration of all humans with abnormal powers. While telepath Xavier, who runs an altruistic academy for superhuman 'X-Men', wishes to enlighten non-mutants and break down the prejudices which divide them, Magneto believes that the only solution is for the mutants to take over. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) - an aggressive loner with an admantium skeleton and the ability to heal his body of any wound - and teenager Rogue (Anna Paquin), who can absorb the life force of others simply by touching them, are selected by Xavier to join his academy, but it isn't long before Magneto's followers are attempting to capture them so that they can assist in his plan for world domination.
Although the superhero comic book has been a duopoly since the early 1960s, only DC's flagship characters, Superman and Batman (who originated in the late 1930s) have established themselves as big-screen franchises. Until now--this is the first runaway hit film version of the alternative superhero X-Men
universe created for Marvel Comics by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and others. It's a rare comic-book movie that doesn't fall over its cape introducing all the characters, and this is the exception. X-Men
drops us into a world that is closer to our own than Batman
's Gotham City, but it's still home to super-powered goodies and baddies. Opening in high seriousness with paranormal activity in a WW2 concentration camp and a senatorial inquiry into the growing "mutant problem", Bryan Singer's film sets up a complex background with economy and establishes vivid, strange characters well before we get to the fun. There's Halle Berry flying and summoning snowstorms, James Marsden zapping people with his "optic beams", Rebecca Romijn-Stamos shape-shifting her blue naked form, and Ray Park lashing out with his Toad-tongue. The big conflict is between Patrick Stewart's Professor X and Ian McKellen's Magneto, super-powerful mutants who disagree about their relationship with ordinary humans, but the characters we're meant to identify with are Hugh Jackman's Wolverine (who has retractable claws and amnesia), and Anna Paquin's Rogue (who sucks the life and superpowers out of anyone she touches). The plot has to do with a big gizmo that will wreak havoc at a gathering of world leaders, but the film is more interested in setting up a tangle of bizarre relationships between even more bizarre people, with solid pros such as Stewart and McKellen relishing their sly dialogue and the newcomers strutting their stuff in cool leather outfits. There are in-jokes enough to keep comics' fans engaged, but it feels more like a science fiction movie than a superhero picture. --Kim Newman
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