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Mutants to the rescue
World hangs in balance in rollicking 'X-Men'
(CNN) -- Comic book geeks everywhere, throw your pocket protectors into the air and rejoice! The film adaptation of the popular Marvel series "X-Men" is finally up on the big screen, and it hits all the right buttons and rings all the right bells.
Opening Friday, "X-Men" is aimed at its target audience of teenage boys (chronologically and mentally -- not always the same thing) like a heat-seeking missile.
Patrick Stewart -- who apparently knows a good franchise project when he sees one -- has taken time off as Jean Luc Picard, captain of the Starship Enterprise, to play the kind-hearted Professor Charles Xavier. He just happens to be the world's most powerful telepath and protector of young mutants.
Yes, mutants. In the not-too-distant future, according to the film, the human race will begin to mutate; it's the next evolutionary step.
Prejudice greatest foe
These young protegees of Xavier's are the next link in that evolutionary chain, and each has unique powers: Cyclops (James Marsden) has eyes that can release an energy beam capable of ripping holes in mountains; Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) is both telekinetic and telepathic, in addition to being the professor's closest confidante; and Storm (Halle Berry) can control the weather.
Of course, we humans, being human, fear anything we don't understand.
This is the point to the comic-book series, created in 1963 by comicmeister Stan Lee. At its heart, the "X-men" saga has always been a metaphor about the prejudices of the majority against the minority -- even when the minority happens to be mutants capable of protecting the majority.
In bigotry's corner is United States Sen. Robert Kelly (Bruce Davison), a political thug who employs the worst of McCarthyesque tactics to win votes for himself and direct hatred toward the mutants.
Entering into this bubbling stew of discontent is the professor's former colleague and friend, Erik Lehnsherr, aka Magneto (Ian McKellen). He is one of the world's most powerful mutants. Unlike Xavier, the villainous Magneto has turned his back on mankind.
Good guys, bad guys
In Magneto's evil corner are the huge mutant Sabretooth (Tyler Mane) and the exotic, blue-colored Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos). She's sporting a costume -- or lack thereof -- that must be seen to be believed; no Smurf ever looked like her. Toad, near-sighted and whip-tongued, rounds out the evil crew.
As a showdown between Magneto and mankind approaches, we meet Logan, aka Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), and Rogue (Anna Pacquin), both mutants who don't understand their extraordinary powers. Wolverine, who possesses amazing healing abilities, is a lethal fighting machine with retractable adamantium claws capable of cutting steel. Rogue is a confused young woman who can absorb the powers and memories of others through touch.
Xavier takes both in as Magneto prepares for battle, setting up the developing relationships within the mutants' camp. Tensions, both sexual and emotional, develop between characters -- emotions that may very well continue in future sequels.
Strong script, uneven acting
Many writers were involved at different stages of the film's development, but the final screenwriting credit goes to first-time scribe David Hayter. A confessed "X-Men" junkie, Hayter has produced a clever and witty script that contains all the background narrative necessary for even the most uninitiated to come up to speed on the "X-Men."
The quality of acting ranges from the sublime to the subpar. Fortunately, the number of lines given to an actor is usually in proportion to his or her talents.
Anyone doubting that sequels are in the works should consider the final scene between Magneto and Xavier. "This plastic prison won't hold me forever!" Magneto vows. "I'll always be there, old friend," replies Xavier. Can "X-Men: 5" be far away?
Of course, how "X-Men" comic-book purists react to a filmed version of their heroes' exploits is anyone's guess. Hayter has combined some characters and left out others, so protests from hard-core fans are probably inevitable.
But for those just seeking escapist fun -- not some comic-book holy grail -- "X-Men" hits the spot.
"X-Men" opens nationwide on Friday and is rated PG-13. 104 minutes.
X-MEN the movie
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