director: bryan singer
ian mckellen, patrick stewart, hugh jackman, anna paquin

. The comic book world of the X-Men movie is a place where northern Alberta is full of redneck bars featuring bare-knuckle cage matches, the U.N. has clear political power, and the U.S. Senate threatens to make non-partisan decisions. The much-awaited X-Men, shot last year in Toronto, is based on a comic book, true enough, but at no point does the film threaten to grow beyond its improbable plot and connect with the promise of its two-dimensional source, which is a real shame.

Probably the most successful comic book title ever, Marvel Comics’ X-Men built its success on a powerful fantasy that appealed to teenagers and misfits everywhere -- a world where trauma and “difference” come with awesome mutant powers, and heroic battles are fought to prove the misunderstood misfit’s unique worth to “normal” society. Epic and violent, as the best comic story should be, but one based on character rather than the usual fight against evil.

Director Bryan Singer made the character-driven thriller The Usual Suspects, so it’s all the more disappointing that his film concentrates on a hackneyed world-domination plot and the inevitable stunning sets and special effects, at the expense of the comic’s cast of sometimes ambivalent, tortured heroes. In any case, the rock-ribbed commercial dynamic of monster summer films like X-Men dictates a wildly unsatisfying ending that loudly announces its sequel. Let’s hope that whoever takes over the franchise makes more of it than a battle of CGI effects.  

Inevitably, it’s newcomer Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, the rage-driven Canadian killing-machine, who drives the film, along with Anna Paquin as the tragically gifted young mutant Rogue. Jackman has the same swarthy, belligerent charm as Russell Crowe, and Paquin has come a long way from the annoying, Oscar-winning sprite of 1993’s The Piano

British character actors Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen are as good as one would expect as the leaders of the good and evil mutant camps, as McKellen in particular makes a tasty lunch of the scenery. But the rest of the cast, good and evil, suffer from under-writing and benign neglect --  former model Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, as the evil mutant Mystique, never escapes the blue rubber scales of her revealing costume, and might well have been played by her action figure.