Starring: Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen
20th Century Fox
Certificate: 12
Available now

Genetic mutation has spawned a new breed of humans possessing extraordinary abilities, but fear has bred prejudice against such mutants. As a result, some mutants attempt to conceal their true natures, while others view themselves as the new master race. However, Professor Xavier believes in a third option, and is training mutants to use their gifts for the good of humanity...

After the increasing silliness of the Batman movies and the liberties that were taken with the basic premise of the cinematic Judge Dredd, comics fans waited with bated breath for this, the latest big-screen adaptation of a major comic-book series, half-expecting to be disappointed. Fortunately, The Usual Suspects director Bryan Singer has managed to combine the essential action and spectacle with a coherent story.

The movie opens with the poignant origins of two of its principal characters, separated by a generation in time. In the first instance, a young mutant exhibits his magnetic powers as the result of Nazi oppression; in the second, a teenage girl (Anna Paquin) discovers to her horror that she may never again experience physical contact with another human being for fear of fatally draining their life energy. These scenes establish the mutants as potentially deadly, but also as innocent and sympathetic victims of fate. Ironically, the seemingly more dangerous mutant, Rogue, ultimately joins the good guys, while the young boy grows up to become the villainous Magneto (Ian McKellen). Both sides of the prejudice - Senator Robert Kelly (Bruce Davison) with his fear of the unlike, and Magneto with his disdain for the comparative weaklings who seek to denigrate his kind - are all too believable. Only Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and his team of X-Men offer a chance to reconcile the hatred.

As the respective leaders of the bad guys and the good, McKellen and Stewart balance each other perfectly in terms of charm, eloquence of argument and strength of performance - one is very much the darker half of the other. Inevitably, the ghost of Captain Picard will never die, and so when Stewart dons the Professor's brain-boosting headgear, one almost expects him to declare, "I am Locutus of Borg. Resistance is futile!" However, there is never any sense that he or McKellen is treating this action movie as any less deserving of their professionalism than a Shakespearean stage production.

The rest of the cast don't exactly slack off either, with Hugh Jackman proving particularly impressive as Wolverine. Only Halle Berry, playing Storm, comes across as a bit wooden, but then few actors could have got away with that awfully duff line, "Do you know what happens to a toad when it's struck by lightning? The same thing that happens to everything else!" In terms of those all-important visual thrills, we are treated to cool computerised effects, such as Magneto's fragmented metal bridge, and spectacularly choreographed fight scenes a-plenty. Special mention must go to the "costume" that is (almost) worn by Rebecca Romijn-Stamos as Mystique. Rapid editing and minimal screen time (possibly in order to meet the requirements of the 12 certificate) ensure that this risqué conception really does create a mystique as far as heterosexual male viewers are concerned. All will surely ask themselves at some point during the movie, "Is she naked or what?"

Leaving certain questions about Wolverine's origins unanswered for now, the movie offers plenty of opportunity for a sequel that will develop, rather than merely rehash, the ideas of its predecessor. This is a good thing, because any follow-up to this, the best comics-based movie since Tim Burton's Batman and the finest script for such a film since Superman II, will have a lot to live up to.

Richard McGinlay