Comic book adaptations are always a risky venture for major film studios. When done successfully, studios can create extremely lucrative franchises like Batman, Blade, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Superman, or Men In Black. The rights for Marvel Comics' Spider-Man were in litigation for years between studios squabbling over potential profits. However, these movies can also go horribly wrong. Does anyone want to remember The Punisher, Captain America, Howard the Duck, The Phantom, The Rocketeer or any of the other myriad of movie flops (a Fantastic Four movie made but never released reportedly because it was so bad)? The other downside is that there exists a rabid following that is ready to criticize every single element of the film not in synch with the comic book. X-Men fans are probably the most rabid of them all. Marvel Comic's most popular series by far is X-Men. X-Men debuted over thirty years ago, and currently has around ten related titles (most with an "X" in them somewhere) published monthly. The franchise already spawned a cartoon series and a failed television pilot (Generation X), and now tries to conquer the silver screen.

Director Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, Apt Pupil) is working with dynamite. His job was to take decades of stories and form a coherent movie that would appeal both to fans of the comic and others unfamiliar with it. Script credits go to David Hayter with story credits going to Singer and Tom DeSanto, but there were numerous assists from other writers. The end result, along with a healthy dose of hype, is an obvious attempt at creating a mega-franchise and perfect summer fare. Look too closely at the story, and disappointment will follow. Singer slightly modified some of the histories of the principal characters, but the basic premise and characterizations remain amazingly true. He also favored dark leather over colorful spandex. X-Men is primarily an introduction to the team, led by wheelchair bound telepath Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart, Star Trek: Insurrection, The Prince of Egypt), also known as Professor X. The team consists of Cyclops (James Marsden, Disturbing Behavior), Storm (Halle Berry, Bulworth, Why Do Fools Fall in Love), and Jean Grey (Famke Janssen, House on Haunted Hill, Celebrity).

X-Men is at heart a morality play. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created a world in which the next step in human evolution emerged. These were homo superior, or mutants. Mutants possessed amazing abilities, whether it was Storm's control of the weather, Cyclops' optic blasts, or Grey's (give her a code name already) telekinesis. Of course humans are fearful of these mutants, and would like nothing more than to get rid of them. Leading the charge is Senator Robert Kelly (Bruce Davison, Apt Pupil, At First Sight), a McCarthy-like character who favors mutant registration. He is the epitomy of the fear and ignorance of mutants, something Xavier is trying to change. However, mutants like master of magnetism Magneto (Ian McKellen, Apt Pupil, Gods and Monsters), Sabretooth (Tyler Mane), Toad (Ray Park, Sleepy Hollow and Darth Maul of The Phantom Menace), and shape-shifting Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) believe that as the next step in the evolutionary ladder, they should take charge of humanity. Magneto has a scheme to take over the world, and it is up to the X-Men to stop him.

Into this fray comes Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, Someone Like You) and Rogue (Anna Paquin, She's All That, A Walk on the Moon). Wolverine possesses a healing factor as well as claws and bone laced with adamantium, while Rogue can borrow the power of any mutant she touches. With so many characters, Singer needs to spend time on each and every one, with lots of spectacular special effects thrown in. Xavier and Magneto know each other from the past. Wolverine has a thing for Jean Grey, who is dating Cyclops. Rogue, whose power is new, is lonely and confused. Wolverine also has no memory of the operation that gave him the adamantium. Fans of the comic will also recognize other characters like Bobby Drake, Jubilation Lee, and Kitty Pryde, who will undoubtedly make appearances in sequels. So not only is a tight plot left behind, but the acting is also light. Singer solves this by having some characters say as little as possible. Jackman, Stewart, and McKellan are the ones who support X-Men, especially Jackman, a relative unknown in the United States. Overall, Singer does a good job of transferring comic book concepts onto the screen, ensuring lots of box office receipts and sequels.

Haro Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 33 minutes, Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence.

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