FANTASTIC FOUR: In this thrill-filled live-action Marvel Comics adaptation, director Tim Story (BARBERSHOP) balances comedy, romantic intrigue, special effects, high action, and even scientific trivia for a rounded FANTASTIC FOUR. Here, Mister Fantastic (Ioan Gruffudd), Invisible Woman (Jessica Alba), The Human Torch (Chris Evans), and The Thing (Michael Chiklis) come together on a space mission that goes wrong. The ship's owner (Julian McMahon)--who later is transformed into evil Doctor Doom--refuses to abort the mission during a solar storm, which electrifies the ship and its entire crew, causing radical changes to their DNA. Back on earth, the transformed "heroes" adjust to their new powers, which are specific to their personalities. Mister Fantastic, who lacks assertion, has stretchy limbs of rubber. Invisible Woman, who loves Fantastic but thinks he can't see her for who she really is, does a disappearing act. The Human Torch, an immature guy who is brimming with energy, can burst into flames. And finally, The Thing, a great friend who is as solid as a rock, actually turns into one--and loses his wife due to his weighty disposition. Holing up in Fantastic's scientific lab where they run experiments on themselves in hopes of changing back to normal, the crew learns that Doctor Doom--who is so power-hungry that he turns into metal and is able to conduct electrical currents--poses a serious threat. The heroes quickly master their abilities and channel their scientific smarts for one truly fantastic five-way face-off.
Visually, action sequences give way to tranquil interludes such as the New York City skyline with the Fantastics' lab glowing atop a skyscraper, while plot-wise, the interplay between the characters brings a human element to the film, with some touching moments from The Thing. At the end, a door is left open for what could be a super sequel.
X-MEN: Based on the long-running Marvel comic book series, X-MEN takes place in the near future, as certain humans are evolving into mutants with special powers. In the Canadian wilderness, a young runaway mutant named Rogue (Anna Paquin) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), a bad-tempered, quick-healing mutant with retractable metal claws, are suddenly attacked by the powerful Magneto (Ian McKellen) and his lackeys. Fortunately, Cyclops (James Marsden) and Storm (Halle Berry), students of the compassionate Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), interfere and bring them back to Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. Here Wolverine and Rogue learn more about the conflict between Xavier and the militant Magneto, who wants to power a device that will genetically alter humans, with possibly deadly results. Only Xavier's students can stop Magneto's plans.
Director Bryan Singer (THE USUAL SUSPECTS) displays his expertise with an ensemble cast, accomplishing a feat by making the first live-action film about an entire group of superheroes. Hugh Jackman's portrayal of the ill-tempered Wolverine is dead-on, while Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen are ideally matched in their Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X-like roles. Smart and well-paced, X-MEN towers above most comic-book movies.
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