Every once in a while, Hollywood takes a comic-book hero, shoots him on celluloid, slaps in a few whiz-bang special effects and stands back to see the reaction. Sometimes the results are memorable ("Superman", "Spiderman", "Flash Gordon") and sometimes disastrous ("Spawn", "The Avengers"). Luckily, "X-Men" falls into the latter class - it's a clever, well-directed film that should please both comic-book aficionados and their less well-read cousins.
The basic premise of "X-Men" is simple: it is the future and a rift is growing between humanity and its genetically-different cousins, mutants who possess uncanny powers and abilities. In order to protect these mutants, and teach them how to use their powers correctly, the world's most powerful telepath, Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), starts a private academy for mutants, a haven from the outside world where they can live and study in peace. It is from this base that Professor Xavier and his companions Storm (Halle Berry), Cyclops (James Marsden) and Dr. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), known as the X-Men, monitor the world outside and attempt to help humanity in times of need.
Of course, where there are white hats, there must also be black - and in this case, the black hats are worn by Xavier's one-time friend, Erik Lehnsherr (Ian McKellen), also known as Magneto due to his ability to control all forms of metal, and his terrible threesome of Sabretooth (Tyler Mane), Toad (Ray Park) and Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos). Magneto is convinced that the humans will wipe out the mutants, and so conceives of a plan to destroy mankind. Naturally, it falls to the X-Men to prevent Magneto from carrying out his plan.
If you think this all sounds a little far-fetched, you should be aware that is pretty standard fare for the comic-book crowd - and once you give yourself in to the story, you'll find that "X-Men" is actually a whole lot of fun. For one, this is a film that doesn't take itself, or its subject matter, too seriously - witness the clever asides and one-liners (for example, when Wolverine grumbles about the X-Men costumes, Cyclops responds, "do you expect us to go out there in spandex?") - and it is this lightness of being which prevents "X-Men" from being just another sci-fi flick.
The effects are marvellous - look for some great sequences with Toad, the frog-man with the incredibly flexible tongue, and the shape-shifter Mystique - and director Bryan Singer ("The Usual Suspects", "Apt Pupil") has also cleverly set up a love triangle between Cyclops, Wolverine and the gorgeous Jean Grey. With Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen at the helm, the actors have no shortage of role models, and they all turn in acceptable performances, particularly Anna Paquin as Rogue.This article was first published on 10 Oct 2000.