I don't care for the superhero postures and dialog of the characters in the actual comic books, but I liked this movie because it preserved the theme of moral ambiguity that is the strongest point of the X-Men series.

In most popular comics, the conflict is pretty standard: good (absolute or relative) is pitted against evil (always absolute), and always wins. The aims of the bad guys are always detestable; they want money, or vengeance, or power, or just to satisfy their whims. This holds true for Superman, Batman, and the rest of the DC line, but is also the case for Marvel Comics such as Spider Man, The Fantastic Four, and The Punisher (The bad guys HAVE to be despicable, since he always kills them!). Even the more mature lines such as Mystery Men, Preacher, and Transmetropolitan follow this rule.

The X-Men are an exception, in that there is no absolute philosophy adopted by any of the characters. Bad guys can become good, good people can turn bad. And rather than simply lust for power or money, Magneto's aim (at least in the hands of better writers) is simply a world in which his kind can survive in peace. Indeed, this is the same aim as that the hero, Charles Xavier, and it is only their means to this end that differ. Whereas Xavier strives to promote awareness among his human bretheren as a route to tolerance and peaceful coexistance, Magneto's approach is more cynical; he believes that a ruthless campaign against his enemies will cow the homo sapiens into submission to his rule.

What makes Magneto a villain is his failure to realize that his actions only contribute to a vicious circle: Terrorist acts by the Brotherhood of Mutants galvanizes frightened humans, who retaliate by hurting innocent mutants, which swells the Brotherhood and promotes more Terrorist acts. Magneto's cynical prophecies that humans will never co-exist with mutants only turn out true because they are self-fulfilling.

spoiler follows.

This is where the movie achieves its strongest and most difficult success: Magneto's beliefs could easily be treated as those of a madman, but instead, much like the comic book, they are given a fair and even sympathetic treatment: After Jean Grey fails to win Senator Kelly's sympathies for mutants through reasoned debate on the senate floor, Magneto kidnaps the man and exposes him to mutagenic radiation, turning the senator into a mutant himself. This approach succeeds where kindness and reason fails; as Kelly's body rejects the mutagen and begins to degenerate, he confesses to Storm that he finally understands what it is like to be a mutant.

CapAlert will probably condemn X-Men as a movie that denies God, and promotes worship of false prophets, but my opinion is that this film is probably the most spiritual blockbuster in years: The real battle is not a matchup between the talents of 'good' Wolverine and 'evil' Mystique, but a standoff between the patient faith of Professor X, and the worldly cynicism of Magneto. I hope whoever makes the sequel understands this.

Oh yeah, and lots of stuff gets blown up good, too.
4.5 stars out of 5.