'X-Men' Tasty but Not Filling
By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 14, 2000
Here's what I learned from "X-Men": Puberty is hell on mutants.
The X-Men: Hugh Jackman, James Marsden, Patrick Stewart, Halle Berry and Famke Janssen.
(20th Century Fox)
And in this visually entertaining but empty adaptation of the wildly popular comic
book series, adolescence and adulthood are even freakier. This emerging X-generation of
genetically abnormal men and women living among humans in the not too distant future is doomed to emotional turbulence.
For one thing, living with their awesome, cyber-kinetic, psychic powers isn't easy.
And humankind is extremely hostile toward these "freaks of nature." A certain Sen.
Robert Kelly (Bruce Davison), for instance, is pushing for McCarthy-style legislation to
brand and expose these mutants.
Now, in all fairness to the bigoted, you can't blame humankind for noticing a guy
like Cyclops (James Marsden), whose laser-powered vision cuts potholes through
buildings, mountains, anything. And you can't fault people for getting a wee bit alarmed
at Storm (Halle Berry), a platinum-blonde siren whose Pandora's box of wind, thunder and
lightning makes "The Perfect Storm" look like cloudy weather.
And then there's Toad (Ray Park), whose whiplash of a tongue can wrap around
bars like steel creeper and transport him from ledge to ledge like Tarzan.
With these guys, no day is casual.
As the movie opens, a teenage girl (Anna Paquin) is on the verge of a sexual
encounter with her boyfriend. But she has how do we say this? issues about being
touched. She tends to suck the life out of people, when it happens. And she can
absorb their memories too. Feeling alienated from everyone, she runs away, eventually
hooking up with an X-drifter known as Wolverine or Logan (Hugh Jackman).
The two soon find themselves caught up in a major X-Men tussle, a holy war between
Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) who believes that X-Men and humans can all
get along, and Erik Lehnsherr, a.k.a. Magneto (Ian McKellen), a sort of Malcolm-X-Man,
who wants to lead his followers to glory by any means necessary.
"X-Men," directed by Bryan "The Usual Suspects" Singer, works best when you watch it
with lighthearted abandon. It's great fun to watch the X-Men and their awesome powers,
thanks to tremendous visual and digitally animated effects by Digital Domain. And
Singer, with co-writers Tom DeSanto and David Hayter, keeps things amusing from
time to time with comic book-style one-liners.
I cannot speak to the "X-Men"-ophiles who will, no doubt, uncover all manner of
wonder, disappointment or whatever upon seeing this. But I will say it's pretty neat to
watch steely talons spring from the hands of Wolverine, when a big, bad bartender holds
a shotgun to his back.
One swipe of those retractable adamantium claws, and the shotgun disintegrates into
"When they come out, does it hurt?" asks a girl called Rogue, referring to his claws.
"Every time," says Wolverine.
But it's the effects, not Wolverine's pain, that govern this movie. Even though
Singer, DeSanto and Hayter bend over backward to honor "X-Men" creator Stan Lee's
deeper agendas about racism and intolerance, the movie never quite hits the emotional
high notes. And as the inevitable finale draws near, with disturbing global consequences
for X-Men, humanity and blah-di blah-di blah, the movie's sense of originality tumbles
screaming from the Statue of Liberty, where much of the climactic clashing occurs. The
movie's enjoyable on the surface, but I suspect many people, even die-hards, will be
less enthusiastic about what lies or doesn't underneath.
X-MEN (PG-13, 104 minutes) Contains violence and sexual situations.