By Joe Lozito
"X" marks the Spot
It is one of those tried-and-true facts that Hollywood has trouble making good movies from comic books. It doesn't make any sense. Comics are basically storyboards of mini-movies. Why then do so many adaptations fail? To some extent, what works on paper, with pen and ink, does not translate to the screen as well as you would hope. Though the plots of the comic novels are typically very good, the dialogue is stilted and doesn't work with live actors. And while it's easy to draw muscles bulging out of yellow spandex, it's a lot more difficult to train an actor to look that way - even with special effects.
It is possible that Patrick Stewart was never even asked to star in "X-Men", the Hollywood adaptation of the Marvel Comics comic book series. He is so perfect for the role of the enigmatic Professor Charles Xavier, leader of the good guys, that he may have just shown up for the first day of filming on instinct. The character in the comic is actually drawn just like him. That casting choice alone is a good start for the film.
The film makes some other good choices as well. Ian McKellen makes a fine Magneto, the evil counterpart to Professor X. The scenes between X and Magneto are easily the film's best. Relative newcomer Hugh Jackman is a real find as the brooding Wolverine. With his regenerative abilities, steel-reinforced skeleton, heightened senses, and spotty past, Wolverine has always been one of the most interesting of the X-Men characters. Also worth noting are Rebecca Romijn-Stamos as the shape-shifting Mystique and Anna Paquin as Rogue, who can have no physical contact lest she drain the recipient of life energy (or something).
Not all of the X-Men make the transition so well. Ray Park (Darth Maul from "Star Wars: Episode I") has the unenviable role of Toad, with the unfortunate power of using his tongue as a weapon, and Halle Berry is given almost nothing to do as Storm, which is odd considering she can control the weather.
Though the film is not without humor - when asked why they wear black leather, one X-Man responds "what do you want, yellow spandex?" - it plays most of the time a little too earnestly. It's hard to buy dialogue like "Eric discovered that he could control magnetic fields. From then on he became Magneto". It paints the unfortunate picture of a young Ian McKellen asking his friends "would you guys please call me Magneto from now on?"
There is a certain amount of stiff dialogue to be expected from a comic book movie. However, the real problem with "X-Men" is that Magneto's plan is frankly stupid. What happened to the days when bad guys wanted to steal Fort Knox (Goldfinger) or send half of California tumbling into the sea (Superman)? Magneto's plan is not worth describing here but suffice to say that it has to do with a meeting of all the world's leaders on Ellis Island, which makes for a convenient climax on the Statue of Liberty.
Director Bryan Singer seems to have forsaken the sleek stylistic methods that made his "The Usual Suspects" so memorable. Mr. Singer directs "X-Men" with an almost standard, hands-off approach. As a director, he stays out of the way and lets the special effects take over. And there are plenty of effects. For the most part, the effects themselves are first rate - as in a wonderful sequence involving a device which Professor X uses to locate people - however, as is often the case, the movie goes overboard as well - Magneto's evil weapon is a static-y mess. Like Tim Burton, Richard Donner and other directors of comic book adaptations, Mr. Singer is in the unenviable role of having to please die-hard fans of the comic series as well as newcomers. In attempting to straddle that line he may have come up short on both sides.