Reviewed by Steve Simels

Stylish, exciting and an occasionally poignant sci-fi adventure spectacle, this adaptation of the Marvel Comics series about misunderstood mutants counts among its unexpected bonuses flashes of wit and a thoughtful subtext. Though the setup is

complicated, director Bryan Singer stages it efficiently; viewers unfamiliar with the comic books shouldn't have any trouble. In the not-too-distant future, mutants — humans with extraordinary powers — are as numerous and unpopular as illegal aliens, leading McCarthyesque Senator Kelly

(Bruce Davison) to advocate their wholesale registration. Telepathic Dr. Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart, in the role he was born to play) runs a school where mutants learn to control and direct their powers, while his former colleague, Holocaust survivor Magneto (played with a perfect combination

of gravitas and glee by Ian McKellen), believes war between mutants and Homo sapiens is inevitable. Xavier's X-Men include the splendidly monikered Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), a guy with weird mutton chops and retractable claws; Storm (Halle Berry), the world's sexiest earth mother; Cyclops (James

Marsden), whose piercing (literally) eyes are covered by way-cool sunglasses; and Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) a telekinetic/telepathic doctor. Joined by runaway Rogue (Anna Paquin), whose touch is deadly, they must do battle with Magneto's minions, including Sabretooth (Tyler Mane) and blue-skinned

shapeshifter Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos). None of this makes much more sense than any other genre movie you could name, but the filmmakers don't condescend to the material. And the film is filled with throwaway moments of outrageous surrealist beauty, including a three-dimensional,

etch-a-sketch map machine and an evil mutant hanging from the Statue of Liberty by his sixteen-foot tongue. There's something you don't see everyday. Better still, one senses the presence of a heart, even rarer in summer blockbusters than brains. In case you haven't figured it out by now,

this is at its core a parable about tolerance; the fact that things also blow up real good is merely icing on the cake.