No summer-2000 epic has the geek posse hotter under its critical collarhan X-Men. Reaction on the Web ranges from “It sizzles” to “It sucks” or “It’s just OK.” The movie itself, adapted from the Marvel Comic series by co-writer and director Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects), supports all three responses.
What sizzles? Start with Hugh Jackman as Logan, the X-Mann known as Wolverine. The Australian actor has snagged the juiciest role in the $75 million epic as the mutant with the short temper and the long metal claws. Jackman energizes X-Men with power doses of fire, flashy humor and sexual heat. Not bad for a PG-13 flick. At the school for gifted mutants run by Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), Wolvie radiates bad attitude. He has no idea why his body can heal itself after suffering near-fatal wounds. Wolverine feels more than his claws rising when he sees Professor X’s telekinetic babe apprentice, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). But Jean already dates a mutant, Cyclops (James Marsden), who is so named because if he eyes you without wearingis visor, you’re toast. Wolverine thinks Cyclops is a dick but develops tender feelings for Rogue (Anna Paquin), a teenager whose touch can absorb another mutant’s power and put a mere human into aoma. The film boasts FX wonders — the stopping of a speeding bullet, train-station Armageddon, a fight between Wolverine and himself — but Singer earns cheers for giving X-Men a haunted aura that honors its source.
What’s just OK? The thin excuse for a plot. Sen. Kelly (Bruceavison) wants to pass a bill forcing mutants to register like child molesters. Prof. X calls it persecution. His old friend Magneto (Sir Ian McKellen) calls it war and plans a global takeover with the help of his team, the growling Sabretooth (Tyler Mane), the shape-shifting Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) and the acrobatic Toad (Ray Park, Darth Maul in Phantom Menace, makes riveting use of his tongue as aethal weapon).
What sucks? Since it’s Wolverine’s movie, any X-Men or women who don’t hinge directly on his story get short shrift. As Storm, Halle Berry can do neat tricks with weather, but her role is gone with the wind. It sucks that Stewart and McKellen, two superb actors, are underused. The film opens in a Polish death camp in 1944 to show Magneto as a child watching his parents being taken to the ovens, but since so little is made of Magneto later on, critics may rightly object to trivializing the Holocaust to serve a light entertainment that ends with a free-for-all at the Statue of Liberty. It sucks that this shoppily edited film appears rushed and incoherent in ways that cheat the story of its human resonance and the stunts of their anticipated pow. As for the ending, which shouts “sequel!,” it’s merely shameless. What sucks most about X-Men, for geeks and non-geeks alike, is that beneath its dazzling surface you can still see the dark tour de force that might have been.