This is a movie that raises the question, is it better to be a reader of the
comic strip or better to come to this material for the first time through the
movie version? In part, the answer to the question depends on how good the
movie is on its own merits. In the case of "X-Men", the characters are so
strongly represented by a team of brilliant actors; the effects so seamlessly
rendered; and the action so appropriately conceived and staged, it's fair to
say you don't need to have been a reader of the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby Marvel
Comic strip to thoroughly enjoy the movie.
Not that it's for everyone. When Sen. Kelly (Bruce Davison), for example,
turns to water, more than one audience member rose from their seats and
sought the quiet comfort of the summer streets. There are some who should
stay away from anything with stomach churning events -- even ones without
For a comic strip, "X-men" is particularly dark, pounding on the theme of
bigotry with heavy metaphorical relentlessness. Perhaps that's why it has
gone out of favor (though with surges of wider appreciation) throughout its
publication history. It is also one of the best drawn strips, with a
cinematic style that been begging for screen rendering. With Stan Lee
occupying one of the executive producer chairs, it got what it deserved.
The theme of prejudice, purposefully reminiscent of modern objects of hatred,
are in this story aimed against "mutants", who seem to be forming a
subculture only slightly out of the mainstream. Congress, or whatever it is
that's serving as national government, is sufficiently alarmed that the
anti-mutant invective by Sen. Kelly is being listened to above all others.
Shades of McCarthy, need we say.
But the conflict is not merely between us and them. Them has two sides.
There are the good mutants, led by the relatively benign, well-intended
Professor Xavior (Patrick Stewart), and the villain of the piece, his
archenemy and nemesis, Magneto (Ian McKellen) who, as a boy, witnessed his
Jewish parents being led to the Nazi gas chamber and exhibited, for the first
time, his incipient mutant power, by twisting the iron gates of the
concentration camp through sheer force of will. The rest, for him, is a life
The way this all plays out is a mix of the various "powers" each mutant
applies to the battle. None are the same, so they tend to complement each
other as one side vies against the other, amidst a somewhat deadly respect
between the two leaders. The "regular people", us, are caught up in the
maelstrom of effects brought on by the very colorful and sometimes clever
forces at the mutants' disposal.
Set designs are nothing less than masterful with the globular
mutant-monitoring room as, perhaps, the set piece of particular scale and
grandeur. With an artist spawning the concepts, one can only guess that the
visual aspects of the film were duly inspired.
But, perhaps even more inspired, was the casting, with every part fully
fleshed out by a team of players cannily chosen for their parallel to the
best feature of their comic strip part as well as for their visual
While I'm not a particular fan of "The Piano" (1993), I certainly welcome the
sight of the grown up, 18 year-old, Anna Paquin (Rogue -- whom you can't
touch without losing your power) of whom I became a front-of-the-line fan as
a result of her performance in that film at age 11. Hugh Jackman, playing
the central identifying role of Wolverine, fills out his role with good
depth and considerable magnetism. We should be seeing more of this Aussie.
Finally, a pat on the back for director Bryan Singer ("The Usual Suspects",
"Apt Pupil") and the studio execs for keeping this movie to a very
appropriate and effective 104 minutes. It's a model of discipline in that
Estimated cost: $75,000,000. Projected U.S. box-office: $150,000,000.
Rated S, for Socko.
~~ Jules Brenner