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As those fetching Brits Bananarama once sang, it’s been a “cruel, cruel summer” — as far as the movies are concerned. “The Perfect Storm” was anything but. (Perfect, that is. Yeah, OK, sure, there was a storm.) It was one hour of George Clooney equating life as the captain of a scum-bucket fish boat to Siddhartha meeting Buddha and one hour of the beginning of “Gilligan’s Island” replayed over and over again. Abandon ship! “Gladiator” made for thrilling spectacle — the WWF transplanted to Ancient Rome — but it was plot-free for your movie-going protection. The Judge has seen more character development in a Road Runner cartoon. As for “Mission: Impossible 2,” let’s just say, Hey, Tom Cruise, hanging off a cliff didn’t work for Sly Stallone; why would it work for you? “Scary Movie”? Woulda seen it, but there were 48,000 13-year-olds (each with a cell phone, by the way) in line in Bethesda by the time the Judge got there. Didn’t make it. Not regretting it. And that, in a breathless capsule, is the Judge’s dismissal of the cinematic high season. It’s been one big Doggie Downer. So, the last thing the Judge expected was for some superhero movie to, for want of a better term, save the freaking day. But “X-Men” delivers the goods. Comic-book movies are a genre all their own. “Superman” did it right. “Batman” did it better. Then there was “Tank Girl.” Did you see “Tank Girl”? Let’s just say they named the movie correctly. The biggest problem with comic book movies is that people dressed in tight spandex outfits — unless they are a red-suited Pam Anderson running down a Malibu beach grabbing one of those plastic yellow things that seem to have no observable function — look ridiculous. Imagine Aquaman showing up in some skin-tight orange and green number to foil a bank robbery (not that that pantywaist could). You’d be wondering what theme park he escaped from. “X-Men” solves this problem by departing from the comics and dressing its heroes in black leather. It’s as if their leader, Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), runs a Prada store somewhere inside his School for Gifted Youngsters. Everyone looks smashing. The Judge grew up an X-Men fan. This was, of course, because the Judge had very few friends and wasn’t particularly athletically inclined. The Judge would later use these attributes to succeed in law school, but in his younger days, comic books had to suffice. The Judge built up quite a collection of these treasures, until one day, in an unfortunate collision of passion and puberty, he sold them all because he had discovered girls, and girls didn’t think comic books were very cool. Upon doing so, the Judge found out that girls still didn’t think the Judge was all that cool — and now the Judge didn’t have any comic books to read. But this is all for the Judge’s therapist to untangle. Let’s get to the story. The X-Men are mutants. Mutants have evolved in genetically different ways. Each has a special power based on his or her natural gifts. For example, Cyclops (James Marsden) shoots force beams out of his eyes. Storm (Halle Berry) controls the weather. (The Judge possesses very few natural gifts. If the Judge were a mutant, his natural commitment-phobia would be so enhanced it would prevent him from even having coffee with a member of the opposite sex without running away. Or the Judge would be quite skilled at parallel parking. Neither power is especially helpful for combating evil.) Then there are the Bad Mutants, led by the shamelessly evil Magneto (Ian McKellan). Magneto is pronounced “Magneet-o,” even though he has magnetic powers and, therefore, by all rights should be called “Magnet-o.” This is never explained throughout the film. Magneto hates everyone. He hates humans for being afraid of mutants, particularly the spineless Sen. Robert Kelly (Bruce Davison), whom he kidnaps. He hates the X-Men, because, well, they’re the good guys and this is a superhero movie. Under standard comic book operating rules, Magneto must a) ) have a sinister plan and said plan must b) involve a gigantic unwieldy machine that will be placed near a highly recognizable landmark. Magneto has such a machine and he places it, of course, on top of the Statue of Liberty, the No. 1 location for all evil machines. (In France, the Judge is sure, French supervillains place all similar machines on top of the Eiffel Tower.) The X-Men must stop him and, voila, that’s your movie, folks. Drive safely. (Is it any wonder that the film clocks in at a paltry 95 minutes?) What makes “X-Men” work, however, is the time the story takes getting to its climax. Where other movies fill the space before the Big Action Sequence with little action sequences — which, most of the time, are car chases through city fruit markets — “X-Men” gives you some quiet moments to get to know these merry mutants. Most of that time is spent with the scene-stealing Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), a mutant with unbreakable bones and steel claws that pop out of his knuckles. Wolverine is mouthy, cantankerous, and stubborn. A newcomer to the X-Men, he becomes the character with whom the audience identifies. He says what everyone would want to say when confronted with serious-looking mutant superheroes dressed in black leather. The first time he puts on the uniform, he asks, “You actually go out in these things?” The movie is filled with lines like that, small touches to remind the audience that no one is taking this too seriously. No one, that is, except Halle Berry, who seems to have not gotten the memo that said, “Play it light.” Her character, Storm, is so off-kilter that, when she is thrown down an elevator shaft, you’d be more than happy to leave her there. But that doesn’t spoil the fun. Neither does Magneto. Under those aforementioned standard comic book rules, Magneto must get his, and the Machine of Doom must explode into a zillion fragments, complete with a BA-DOOM! Magneto must also swear revenge, and that sets us up nicely for a sequel. How does the summer of 2002 sound? I’m sure it will again be competing with Tom Cruise doing improbable things, with George Clooney being a man’s man, and with Eddie Murphy wearing a rubber fat suit, or playing a killer clown, or being involved in a wacky case of mistaken identity. And “X-Men,” no doubt, will again kick some mutant ass. Judge Dread presides over the toughest court of all: The Court of Public Opinion. As an eight-year-old, his obsessive belief that he was “The Flash” resulted in his being placed in a “happy school” for two years.

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