I?ll admit it was with tentative expectations that I walked into X2:X-Men United. After all the original X-Men though a success at the box office, well, sucked I guess is the best way to put it. Not only was there a lack of plot, character development and style, but they couldn?t even put together decent action sequences. Of course it made a ton of money at the box office so there was bound to be a sequel, but how much banality can one reviewer take? None the less I, your dedicated flmGEEk paid my hard earned money fully prepared for another go around with Wolverine, Jean Grey and everybody?s favorite bald, crippled psychic headmaster, Charles Xavier.
And what did I find but a tight, exciting, balls to the wall action movie. No kidding friends, it looks like for once a director read his reviews and took them to heart. Bryan Singer (the first X-Men, Apt Pupil, The Usual Suspects) came back to the world of the X-Men with a renewed vigor, and it shows on screen.
Quick back story. We?re somewhere in the near future and the emergence of mutants has caused many in the world to become fearful, not the least of which is the mutants themselves. In the first film we learned there are two different camps of mutants. Some are disciples of Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who believe that mutants and humans can live together and have a mutually beneficial relationship. These are your X-Men. Others follow the lead of Magneto (the brilliant Ian McKellen) who thinks that mutants are the next stage of evolution and should rule the world. These two factions battle with some regularity, and thankfully the X-Men usually win.
In X2 we open with a brilliant scene where the new (to us) Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming), a religious, German, blue, teleporting mutant is apparently trying to kill the President. This is viewed as a bad thing by those pesky humans and so the President brings in William Stryker (the always fun Brian Cox, you might remember him from Rushmore) a hotheaded military man who believes that the elimination of mutants is key to the survival of the human race. As the military attacks Xavier?s School for Gifted Children we are reintroduced to our heroes. Everybody?s back for the sequel, Cyclops (James Mardsen), Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Storm (Halle Berry), Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), and Rogue (Anna Paquin?she?s yummy), and they are all suddenly on the run, along with a couple of newcomers, Rogue?s boyfriend Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and his buddy Pyro (Aaron Stanford). Xavier realizes that to defeat such a dedicated human force they?ll need help and so the ?United? part of the title begins as Xavier and Magneto join forces.
Sounds complicated huh? One of the biggest compliments I can give Singer and writer David Hayter is that they set up and navigate this complex plot line quickly and coherently, even giving us a little more info about the characters than what their mutant powers are. Amazingly once we know who these mutants are and what they go though, we like them even more.
Next huge compliment comes with the casting. It was the one thing I gave the first film props for and they?ve stayed on a role here. The weak link is always going to be James Mardsen, with apologies to the Sex Pistols; he?s pretty?pretty vacant. So guess who doesn?t get much screen time in the new film? You guessed it, Mardsen! Brilliant. Also, the additions of Cox and Cumming and the beefed up role given to Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) show that Hayter and Singer know which side their bread is buttered on.
The action sequences this time are much bigger, badder, and more interesting, in particular the opening attempted assassination (try saying that three times fast) of the Prez and the climactic showdown between good and evil. But what really sets this X-Men apart from the last is the very thing which led me to believe this was indeed a viable movie franchise from the start.
The X-Men comics have resonated so strongly for so long (over 40 years now) because the mutants could be stand ins for so many different problems kids (and people in general) face. Homosexuality, race, religion, puberty, love, hate, ignorance and understanding all played a part in the comic, but during the first film it was all boiled down to an ?us against them? vibe. Here the filmmakers seem to realize that even though the kids are out of school them might still be able to form a coherent thought once or twice and so the film forces them to. Sure you can enjoy X2 on simply a big blockbuster action film level, but if you choose you can also appreciate that there is more going on than just big explosions and cool hand to hand combat. Thanks guys, some of us were actually thinking while we were watching.