Oh no, there’s trouble in Gotham, I mean, New York City, again. A war between good and evil mutants is raging on, and only one person can stop them. No, not Hillary Clinton. Professor Charles Xavier, a good mutant who just wants what everybody else wants: he wants to be loved.

x_men_dvdThe big screen’s love affair with comic book superheroes finally runs out of gas with “X-Men,” a lifeless mess of a movie. This genre has become tired to the point of being anemic. Largely aimed at emotionally stunted 25 year old men who still live with their parents and argue endlessly over who would win if Superman and Batman fought each other, “X-Men” is possibly the longest hour-and-a-half I have ever spent in a theater.

Despite its bereft running time, “X-Men” is a marathon of uninteresting characters and flat dialogue. What starts off as an interesting parable to the “can’t we all just get along” debate ends up becoming nothing more than an expensive excuse to waste talent and money to appease a core audience who have probably never paid full price for an admission in their life.

Except for a handful of films, the practice of bringing comic books to the big screen has been dubious if not disastrous. “X-Men” continues the trend, thanks to a D.O.A. screenplay by David Hayter that looks and sounds like everything else that has come before it, only worse. The dialogue and situations are simplistic to the point of being distracting. The only suspense is wondering how much of this you’re willing to sit through before demanding a refund.

Based on the popular Marvel comic, “X-Men” is set in the present and deals with a race of mutants who hold special powers. They’re named after their powers, because as characters, they’re totally nondescript. They have been brought together by Xavier (played with some degree of humility by Patrick Stewart) to save the world from his arch nemesis, Magneto (Ian McKellen, obviously slumming).

Xavier runs a private school for the mutant outcasts, teaching them how to hone their talents and assimilate into society. Both Xavier and Magneto oppose Senator Kelly (Bruce Davison), who is rallying to expose all mutants and put them on a theoretical leash. Xavier believes that both man and mutant can coexist together. Magneto wants to turn everyone into mutants so there are no distinctions.

His plan calls for him to cover New York City and Ellis Island (which is hosting a World Leader convention) with a radiation beam that will transform humans into mutants, which in real life, would be redundant.

The problem with super hero fantasies is that the writers can do what ever they want or please. There are no hard set rules, which robs the film of any real emotional payoff. Since the mutants and their adversaries are virtually immortal, it’s hard to muster up any concern over their fates. So what if one of the “X-Men” is supposedly killed during a fight? Another one has the power to bring them back to life. And so it goes, time and time again, until you just quit caring about the characters altogether.

It’s hard to believe that this pedestrian outing came from director Bryan Singer, whose auspicious sophomore effort was “The Usual Suspects.” Even his follow up, the uneasy “Apt Pupil,” displayed a rare talent for maintaining suspense even when we knew where the film was headed. None of that here. “X- Men” is so transparent and uninteresting, it’s as if the director was painting with invisible ink.

Despite the presence of some fine talent, the characters are as thin as their printed page counterparts. Hugh Jackman is the only one who shows presence, playing the tortured Wolverine. With retractable steel claws and the power to heal, Wolverine is the only character in “X-Men” with bite. Jackman looks the part, but is saddled with stoic dialogue that sounds as if it were ripped out of a Dirty Harry movie.

Stewart and McKellen walk through their roles, obviously thrilled at being part of a large franchise, but left with little to do. Their personification of good and evil is presented at its lowest common denominator, never allowing the actors to do what they do best. These characters aren’t trapped by their unfortunate maladies. They’re trapped by a lazy writer’s inability to come up with anything remotely interesting for them to say or do.

The rest of the cast doesn’t fare much better, especially Halle Berry and James Marsden as Storm and Cyclops. Berry looks like she stepped out of a Snoop Dog video, while Marsden is forced to wear protective headgear that would look ridiculous in “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Famke Janssen, so lethal in “Goldeneye,” sits around and looks pretty, while the rest of the cast seem to be looking for their agents.

Singer’s pace is as slow as molasses. After an out of place and somewhat confusing opening, “X-Men” goes downhill from there. Neither Singer nor Hayter show any interest in making “X-Men” anything more than an expensive audition reel for the special and visual effects teams. It’s as if Singer was so overwhelmed by the scope of the film that he wasn’t able to maintain his usual focus.

Director of Photography Newton Thomas Sigel has no such problem, delivering crisp and colorful images that are truly comic book inspired. The editors do a reasonable job of putting it all together, while Michael Kamen’s musical score suggests a much better movie.

I suspect that “X-Men” will become another Marvel movie franchise like “Superman” and “Batman.” Hopefully by the time the second installment arrives, the filmmakers involved will understand that importance of sharp dialogue and characters. Special effects are fine, but they’re not very special when everything else around them stinks.


VISION: 20/20

check.gif (406 bytes) 2.35:1 Widescreen

check.gif (406 bytes) 16:9 Enhanced

Magnificent digital transfer captures the look of the theatrical presentation without a fault. The colors are striking, from the subdued hues of the opening shots, to the dark, mysterious look that haunts the rest of the film. Most impressive is how well the dark scenes hold up, never wavering. The blacks are solid, while attention to detail is amazingly strong. Colors are varied, from the bright, vivid colors of the real world, to the muted colors of the mutant world. Saturation is perfect on all accounts, while flesh tones are always realistic. Pristine print allows for clean whites and grays. Depth of field is also incredible, especially for a special effects film developed in a computer. No visible compression artifacts or noise.

HEARING: Excellent

check.gif (406 bytes) 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround

check.gif (406 bytes) 2.0 Dolby Digital Surround English

check.gif (406 bytes) 2.0 Dolby Digital Surround French

The real super hero is your sound system, especially if it can keep up with this rambunctious 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround soundtrack. All sound fields gets a work out, and the output sounds terrific. Booming basses shake, rattle and roll the room, while middle and high ends are so pure they’re angelic. Sounds fields are utilized to the best of their ability, including a front stereo split that is awesome. Front-to-rear spatial split is also amazing, providing the illusion of motion. Rear speakers kick it with powerful ambient noise, musical and dialogue cues. Surround effects are embracing, while the dialogue mix is so strong that not one word is lost in the audio mix.

ORAL: Good

check.gif (406 bytes) Closed Captions in English for the Hard of Hearing

check.gif (406 bytes) Subtitles in Spanish


check.gif (406 bytes) Six deleted scenes totaling more than ten minutes, available for viewing on their own or through extended branching. Director Bryan Singer must have hated removing most of the deleted scenes, which are more than just cutting room fodder. Some of the scenes seem vital to the spirit of the film, including a classroom sequence in which some of the students explore their powers. If you incorporate the scenes into the film, expect a pause as your machine looks for an accesses the deleted scenes.

check.gif (406 bytes) Interview of director Bryan Singer by Charlie Rose.

check.gif (406 bytes) “The Mutant Watch,” a Fox Television special presented here without commercials. Funny thing, the featurette still has the TV rating and Closed Caption logo. This is a fun little presentation that runs around 22 minutes.

check.gif (406 bytes) Screen test of actor Hugh Jackman, who shares the screen with Anna Paquin.

check.gif (406 bytes) Numerous trailers and televisions spots.

check.gif (406 bytes) Soundtrack presentation.

check.gif (406 bytes) Art Gallery section that includes Character and Production Design. Both are fascinating glimpses into the creative process of making a film from a comic book.

check.gif (406 bytes) Animatics presentation of the train station and Statue of Liberty fights, used as a living storyboard for the filmmakers. These scenes are quite interesting in their own right. Sort of like a video game of the film.

check.gif (406 bytes) THX Optimode selection where you can fine-tune your equipment to the standards on the DVD.

check.gif (406 bytes) Two Easter Eggs, one featuring artwork of two characters who didn’t make it into the film, the other a hilarious out take involving another Marvel super hero.

check.gif (406 bytes) Outstanding, animated main and scene access menus that stay true to the spirit of the film.


check.gif (406 bytes) I wasn’t particularly fond of the film, but I was highly impressed with the way Fox marketed the DVD. Nice package of extras.

VITALS: $29.99/Rated PG-13/104 Minutes/Color/28 Chapter Stops/Cardboard Sleeve




HMO: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

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