X-men

Unlike many high-profile comic-book-to-movie transplants, X-Men doesn't encounter much interference from competing mythologies: The Marvel series has been around for nearly four decades, and it's spawned TV and video-game spin-offs, but it hasn't really pervaded popular culture the way Superman or Batman had prior to their cinematic debuts. The downside is that X-Men has to spend a good chunk of its running time cataloguing the quirks and powers of a veritable army of mutants, and by definition, some are more effectively fleshed out than others. For every Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), who gets both a generous backstory and a healthy dose of sequel foreshadowing, there are half a dozen ciphers like Halle Berry's weather-harnessing Storm (who seems oddly sleepy), James Marsden's blandly acerbic pretty-boy Cyclops (who conjures the blank spirit of Cary Elwes), and Ray Park's Toad (who resembles the member of Limp Bizkit who wears black contact lenses). Director Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects) piles on the glimmering metallic sets and gadgets, futuristic headgear, countless CGI effects and explosions, and even a Holocaust flashback, but it's all in aid of a story—about the way its characters deal with mutant-fearing humans, led by predictably McCarthy-esque senator Bruce Davison—that seems like little more than one long dose of exposition. That said, X-Men is briskly paced summer popcorn that's smart enough to throw a few unobtrusive bones to fans, whether snidely referencing Wolverine's comic-book attire, granting Stan Lee a cameo as a hot-dog vendor, or giving Park a moment to virtually reprise his role as Darth Maul. It helps that villain Ian McKellen (as the dread Magneto) possesses motives beyond mustache-twirling evil, and that McKellen shares screen time with another respected, perfectly cast ham, Patrick Stewart. The script could be a lot snappier, particularly during some virtually unexplained rivalry banter between Marsden and Jackman, but X-Men is a decent start to what will no doubt be an immensely profitable series of negligible but enjoyable summer movies.

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