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'X-Men' – Tasty but Not Filling

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 14, 2000


    'X-Men' The X-Men: Hugh Jackman, James Marsden, Patrick Stewart, Halle Berry and Famke Janssen. (20th Century Fox)
Here's what I learned from "X-Men": Puberty is hell on mutants.

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 scrap metal.

"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.


© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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