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Film Review by John Demetry

Halle Berry, James Marsden and Famke Janssen star in X-Men Queer teens get a kick out of X-Men comic books. I know I used to, with its mutant social outcasts hiding their super powers and wearing colorful, tight outfits. The archnemesis, Magneto, was particularly attractive. His righteous fury in response to mutant oppression seemed a direct extension of my own adolescent sexual angst.

Because of this adolescent obsession with the X-Men comics, the prospect of director Bryan Singer bringing the X-Men to the screen intrigued me. Singer has always made sublimated homosexuality the theme of his interesting, yet confused, films (Public Access, The Usual Suspects, and Apt Pupil).

Now, the queer press has prepared readers to poke through Singer's X-Men for gay-gay references. The film doesn't disappoint. Just as Singer encourages viewers to locate the X motifs in the set designs, he turns the queer subtext into a game of hide-and-seek.

In my favorite example, an X-Man, Cyclops (James Marsden), shares a series of stares with a little boy who smiles just as his mother angrily shoos him away. Singer poses the question: Is gaydar a superpower? A machine used by Patrick Stewart's psychic Professor X locates other mutants; it visualizes gaydar in a flashy sequence utilizing effects found in Run Lola Run and TV commercials.

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Related Sites:
X-Men Official Site
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But for all his references to the personal and political aspects of queer experience, Singer muddles everything. He returns to the oppressed as oppressor theme of Apt Pupil in his characterization of Magneto (played by Ian McKellan in a gloss on his equally thin but campier, creepier turn as the Nazi in Apt Pupil).

It opens with the young Magneto in a concentration camp in 1944. A violent separation from his mother triggers his magnetic powers--a startling pop reimagining of both the historical atrocity of the Holocaust and the rupture that occurs between parents and adolescent children.

A letdown from this promising opening, the older Magneto's genocidal response to mutant persecution is a simplification. Singer uses this to inform his specious concerns, especially with its equation to Malcolm X. Magneto (and Singer) abuses Malcom's famous quote: "By any means necesssary" (a conceit lampooned in John Waters' great new film, Cecil B. DeMented).

The only developed characterization is Rogue, a high school student played by Anna Paquin. A startling sequence introduces her mutant powrs when her first kiss sends the boy into a three-week coma. Paquin alone seems to understand how to extract the human poetry from the pulp material.

While Singer holds onto an adolescent's view of political struggles, the young Paquin displays a mature understanding of adolescent confusions. In the scenes where she leeches life out of those she loves by her touch, she emotionalizes Singer's digital effects overload. Halle Berry is Storm in X-Men

Despite his film-school, artsy-fartsy background, Singer lacks the visionary spirit of a great pop director. He fails to deepen the shallow comic book material made meaningful by individual adolescent imagination; the very process that would have been examined by a Brian De Palma (as in his lyrical Carrie and, especially, The Fury).

Singer's skills are limited to gaydar. He lacks the gift to give aesthetic form to the profound truth that the queer experience is the universal experience, the real superpower some people call art.

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