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October 15, 2011 at 04:00 AM EDT

Director Bryan Singer’s take on Marvel Comics’ mutant saga X-Men is a murky superhero spectacle, visually and narratively, and what was atmospheric in the theater seems dim at home. Weighed down with an overarching Holocaust metaphor its script cannot quite support, X-Men does as good a job as it can streamlining the comics’ vast soap-operatic mythos into a movie pitch: the lives of superpowered humans seen as ”gifted” by their mentor, Prof. Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), as a public threat by a squawky senator (Bruce Davison), and as tools for world domination by the most potent mutant-gone-bad, Magneto (Ian McKellen).

The only time Singer displays his Usual Suspects knack for making conversation crackle is when Xavier and Magneto square off in silkily toned insult matches. The rest of the time, the film is like one long intro to a movie franchise: Enter character; character displays his/her power; exit character. Hugh Jackman, as the gratifyingly sarcastic Wolverine, adds much-needed wryness to this humorless adolescent-boy epic, which will likely have its core audience freeze-framing the DVD to get a closer squint at blue-gunk-drenched villainess Rebecca Romijn-Stamos. C+

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