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By Jumaane Jeffries

Staff Writer

Directed by Bryan Singer

Story by Tom DeSanto and Bryan Singer

Starring Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, Anna Paquin, James Marsden, Famke Janssen, Halle Berry, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Bruce Davison, Tyler Mane, and Ray Park

20th Century Fox

Rated PG-13

In a world where prejudice prevails and injustice thrives, Marvel Comics’ X-Men serves as the most visible comic book to bring such issues to light. Stan Lee’s 37 year-old story, a classic pop-culture phenomenon, now tries to prove its mettle on the big screen. X-Men has emerged victorious, meeting the expectations of the most seasoned movie and comic-book purists who have observed its development with a critical eye. It’s perhaps the most exceptional comic-book-to-movie adaptation since the original Batman.

For the handful people who don’t know, X-Men is the story of a league of mutants, lead by Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who aim to use their powers to protect mankind and the very society that shuns them. Cyclops (James Marsden), Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), and Storm (Halle Berry) are Xavier’s three leading students at the professor’s academy, where they train “gifted” youngsters. Xavier’s friend-turned-nemesis, Erik Lensherr, or Magneto (Ian McKellen), believes that the Homo Superior mutants should naturally be the world’s dominant, ruling form of life. He leads the Brotherhood, a band of less human-sympathetic mutants to aid his cause. Meanwhile, the third element of the movie’s dynamics is Senator Robert Kelly (Bruce Davison), who strives to expose and vanquish all mutants with his political clout (an obvious commentary on McCarthyism).

All of the crucial plot elements are there -- action, suspense, wit, and a love triangle. Rogue (Anna Paquin) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) are the main players of the film, and they explode on screen. We meet Rogue, a teenage girl who discovers her ability to steal the powers and life force of others during her fateful first kiss. Horribly dejected, she runs off to Alberta, Canada, to find Wolverine, the anti-hero that has become synonymous with the X-Men franchise. The movie is truly Rogue’s coming-of-age story and the story of her and Wolverine’s initiation into the mutant league of heroes.

In a movie like this, we expect the actors’ performances to demonstrate accurate and quality portrayal of their characters. The confrontations between Professor X and Magneto, while not as tense as they could have been, are intelligent, poignant, and set the moral tone of the movie. As the lead players, Paquin and Jackman do a great job. Paquin conveys Rogue’s trademark Southern accent and spunky nature well, and Jackman is equally impressive in his American film debut. I once thought Clint Eastwood’s anti-hero nature and raspy voice would befit Wolverine, but Jackman is just as satisfying.

In fact, Rogue and Wolverine dominate the movie so much that they seem to share far more chemistry than even X-Men’s star couple, Cyclops and Jean Grey. Outside of Wolverine’s occasional pass at Jean Grey, it is actually Cyclops who comes across as the jerk next door. I was surprised at the more negative portrayal of the X-Men’s field combat leader. Jean Grey and Storm each have brief moments in the spotlight, but are ultimately part of the supporting cast.

So how faithful is the movie? Director Bryan Singer (who worked on the exceptional thriller The Usual Suspects) and Tom DeSanto have remained generally faithful, only rearranging a few details. For example, in the movie Iceman is still a budding student at Xavier’s school instead of a member of the original fighting force. Snazzy black suits, and not garish ensembles, are the name of the game here. In a rare moment of wit, Cyclops says to Wolverine, “Would you rather wear yellow spandex?” (which is exactly what Wolverine donned in the comic book series). Tyler Mane’s mane is faithfully shaggy and his height was enhanced with small stilts to befit evil Sabretooth. Even Mystique basks in skin-clinging blue to the delight of fans.

Action fans will not be disappointed by the film, even though it does not surpass many of the other summer blockbusters. It’s fairly decent, somewhat compelling, and sets no new standards, unlike some recent sci-fi mega-films. However, the scenarios and dilemmas are unique, mainly due to the powers of the mutants. For example, Magneto pits the X-Men’s own powers against each other during the climactic battle, appropriately set at the Statue of Liberty. And just wait until you see how Magneto can manipulate a bullet.

The film lives up to expectations and deserves much credit. In Magneto’s closing line, the sinister mutant vows to destroy humans by any means necessary. Aside from being the most obvious reference to the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement, the statement makes it clear that this is only a beginning. With the tag team of both X-Men and the highly-anticipated Spiderman, Marvel’s most colorful and memorable characters have made a comeback to the big screen.