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Mystery Men

Comic-book characters remain two-dimensional in the special effects-laden X-Men

Cyclops is simply too much of a square to hold our interest; he is, as Wolverine rightly assesses, "a dick." Storm, with her blank eyes and banal power, barely exists at all. And Jean Grey is too much of absolutely nothing, though what is one to do with a superhero whose sole power is that she can move objects and read minds? It's telling that the film's best moment comes when the Toad leaps off screen and crushes a man to death: The audible squish makes for a terrific punch line.

What's most frustrating is that the movie hints at a brewing war between humans and mutants, but never follows through: Senator Kelly's early rants are merely a taunt, an excuse. The movie plods toward a mutant-on-mutant climax, which is so badly directed that you can barely tell who's fighting whom; with their generic black outfits (a poor stand-in for the comic's bright yellow-and-blue uniforms), the X-Men all look alike in the dark. So much for metaphor.

Zzzzz-men: The film comes alive only when Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, left) is on screen. Everything else, including Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), is gimmickry.
Zzzzz-men: The film comes alive only when Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, left) is on screen. Everything else, including Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), is gimmickry.

More maddeningly, the film feels as though it were missing huge chunks; it defies its own logic (especially any scene featuring Mystique). To rectify that, Marvel has released a series of comics that fill in the blanks and, in doing so, has turned the comic-movie tie-in into the most cynical marketing ploy this side of the Pet Rock. To understand the movie -- the characters' pasts, their motivations, their relationships -- you have to buy the comics, which explain how Professor X and Magneto met, how Wolverine came by his indestructible skeleton, how Rogue was the target of government operatives. All that may sound like mundane fanboy garbage (and it is), but it's more like lazy storytelling. It's the ultimate surrender, an admission of guilt: The movie's plot is utter nonsense… until you read these. Turns out the most powerful mutant of all is Greed.

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