As geeky as it sounds, I must admit it--when it comes to X-Men, I am what is called a "fanboy." I grew up fervently following the comic book exploits of the team whose membership is made of genetically evolved, superpowered "mutants." Seeing a group of guys and gals kicking serious ass with their superhuman abilities is undoubtedly a major factor in my (and many others') interest, but what has made X-Men so popular--and very passionately so, at that--are the realistic characters, authentic people who just happen to have powers. And while most comics treat their heroes' and heroines' abilities as simply a cool gift, for the X-Men and mutants in general, it is also very much a curse; much like any other minorities, mutants face severe prejudice from the rest of the population.
So adapting X-Men and its sprawling, 30-year-plus history into a 100-minute feature film is a dicey proposition for any filmmaker, and even moreso for one who was not a fan to begin with--such as Bryan Singer, who is at the helm of Fox's lavish, long-awaited $80-million extravaganza. Not only must he appease the fanboys by not deviating too far from the source material, he must also make what is essentially a three-decade-long-and-counting soap opera accessible to the non-fan. And contrary to fans' greatest fears, Singer's X-Men is an exciting, fast-paced adventure that will satisfy both audiences.
For a summer blockbuster--especially one based on a comic book--an $80-million budget is a pittance, but it's an appropriate figure for X-Men. Spectacular visual effects are called for (and are effectively employed) to bring the team's powers to life, but the budget limitation forces the filmmakers to make the effects a carefully used enhancement of the story and characters, which are hence given more weight (as they always had been in the comic).
For the most part, credited scripter David Hayter and a gaggle of uncredited scribes (including Singer's Oscar-winning Usual Suspects partner Christopher McQuarrie and Buffy maestro Joss Whedon) succeed in making the characters mirror their counterparts on the page. The X-Men is a team of mutants led by Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), a powerful telepath who runs a school for "gifted youngsters" and fights for mutant tolerance. As the film begins, his team consists of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), a telekinetic (i.e., can move objects with her mind) and a telepath herself; Scott Summers, a.k.a. Cyclops (James Marsden), who cannot control his deadly optic blasts; and Ororo Monroe, a.k.a. Storm (Halle Berry), who can control the weather.
Those established members, however, take a backseat in the film to the new recruits, Logan, a.k.a. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Rogue (Anna Paquin). The wild, mysterious Wolverine is perhaps best known for his retractable, razor-sharp claws made of the indestructible metal adamantium (his entire skeleton is also bonded with it), but his mutant abilities are heightened senses and a rapid healing factor. Rogue can absorb a person's lifeforce, personality, and memories (and, in the case of other mutants, powers) with a single touch. After discovering her ability after kissing her boyfriend, a distraught Rogue flees her native Mississippi for snowy Canada, where she meets Wolverine. When the two are attacked by the animalistic Sabretooth (Tyler Mane), it's Storm and Cyclops to the rescue, and Wolverine and Rogue soon find themselves getting acquainted with the ways of Xavier's school.
Jackman, an unknown Australian actor known for his musical theater credits, and the teenage Paquin were Singer's two most controversial casting choices. Only one will completely win over skeptical fans: Jackman, who completely inhabits Wolvie's wild, woolly persona; from his first scene, fans should have no doubt about the actor's ability to embody the character's trademark ferocity. Paquin will have a harder time of con
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