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Mediocre mutants: "X-men" flops

There's a lot of spectacle involved in the new blockbuster "X-Men," but the most spectacular thing about the whole movie was Halle Berry. Playing Storm, one of several mutants who work as superheroes to protect ordinary humans from the evil that opposing mutants plan to inflict, Berry is billed as the film's biggest star.

What's so spectacular about her? No, it's not the fact that her character is able to change the weather with a mere act of concentration. And it isn't that she wears her platinum blonde porn star wig so well.

No, what amazed me about Storm was that over two hours, her character only delivered 13 lines. 13 lines! Actors in cameo appearances often say more than that, and get paid much, much less.

And this is typical of the whole movie, which attempts to pack in a lot of action, but when all is said and done, very little actually happens.

Related Links
  • Official X-men movie site
  • Marvel Comics' site for X-men

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    The celluloid comic book was directed by Bryan Singer, who cloaked "The Usual Suspects" in plenty of dark style. Singer does X-men creator Stan Lee (who has his own cameo) justice in that the film captures the thematic essence of the Marvel Comics series, first created in 1963 with Jack Kirby. Singer, with writers Tom DeSanto and David Hayter, echoes the series' messages about tolerance, diversity and ostracism, but it takes itself more seriously than it should. This is, after all, a movie in which a man instinctively shoots razor blades from his knuckles whenever threatened.

    That would be Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), whose unnatural mutation is never fully explored, leaving plenty of material for the inevitable sequel (the film's entire climax screams for an encore that never comes). Wolverine's a wanderer, moving from town to town whenever his secret "talent" is discovered. It is when his path crosses with Rogue (Oscar-winner Anna Paquin) - a Southern girl who discovered that a simple touch on her part will suck out the life force of the other party (much to a boyfriend's chagrin) - that the two face an attack from a vicious monster named Sabretooth (Tyler Mane).

    Enter Storm, Cyclops (James Marsden) and Jean Grey (Famke Jannsen) to save the day, rescuing the two nomadic mutants and taking them to the lair of Xavier (Patrick Stewart), which also functions as a private school in Westchester.

    Xavier's goal is to promote harmony between the human species and those bad mutants, led by Magneto (Sir Ian McKellen). While Xavier, whose own mutation grants him mind-reading power, remains hopeful, Magneto, a Holocaust survivor, lives in fear that the humans will one day try to exterminate the mutants, just like the Nazis once did to the Jews. This idea, written into the comic series two decades after its debut, is a tad too heavy-handed, and not a satisfying enough explanation for Magneto's move to the dark side.

    But watching actors like McKellen and Stewart at work is a joy, because for them, this is child's play. Stewart, in particular, makes the perfect leader, and he works as a sort-of reverse Rogue: His regal vitality injects life into "X-Men."

    Rounding out Magneto's band of bad guys in addition to Sabretooth are the Toad (Ray Park, out of his red and black Darth Maul makeup from "Star Wars"), and Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, made up from head to toe in scaly blue body paint). Toad can leap and swing people around with his dexterous tongue. Mystique can shift shape and impersonate anyone she wants. I wish that there had been some sort of catch to this ability; even the T-1000 of "Terminator 2" had to make physical contact with those whom he wished to mimic.

    That's not the only touch that could have been fleshed out a little bit. For instance, the film pits Wolverine and Cyclops as instant rivals. Only later, when Wolverine becomes romantically interested in Grey, Cyclops' girlfriend, is there a reason for conflict.

    But the film's real stars are the amazing special effects, courtesy of Digital Domain. Also to be commended are John Myhre's production design and Ann Brodie's makeup teams. But as great as the film looks, Singer cannot get past the same problem he faced in previous films. There's much more to his films on the outside than within.

    "X-Men" suffers the same hollow fate. The comic book actually succeeded in creating complex teenage characters, rather than adult heroes, but they're all very one-note in the movie. Gone are Cyclops' interior monologues, so no one can tell that he led a tortured, shy life; now, he's just a decent guy. Storm and Jean Grey are just as bland and undefined.

    One final complaint is how fast the film moves. It appears almost as if Singer didn't care if audiences could follow the movie, just as long as they show up for the ride.

    And with a built-in audience of "X"-philes, they undoubtedly will.

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