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X2: X-Men United (2003)

DIRECTOR: Bryan Singer

CAST:

Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Anna Paquin, Famke Janssen, Halle Berry, James Marsden, Alan Cumming, Brian Cox, Rebecca Romijn, Bruce Davison, Kelly Hu, Shawn Ashmore, Aaron Stanford

REVIEW:

With the success of 2000’s X-Men, director Bryan Singer and cast and crew were free in this sequel to move forward without the necessary exposition and character introduction which took a large chunk of the first film. The result supplies a faster pace and a little more ambition, along with an even heavier helping of the original’s underlying social commentary. Fans of the first should be pleased by the second.

X2 kicks off with easily its most impressive action sequence, in fact arguably the best in the series, as a mysterious mutant called Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming under hours of makeup) teleports through walls and appears and disappears at will through the halls of the White House, with the entire Secret Service detail taken out with ease and the President himself narrowly escaping death. Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and his X-Men know the anti-mutant figures in the government will use the incident to push their agenda, and with Storm (Halle Berry) and Jean (Famke Janssen) flying to Boston to find Nightcrawler before the authorities do, Xavier asks Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) to play babysitter to the students in the mansion, including Rogue (Anna Paquin), her boyfriend Bobby (Shawn Ashmore), better-known to comic fans as Iceman, and the rebellious John/Pyro (Aaron Stanford). Wolverine accepts the job just in time to face an assault on the mansion by Colonel William Stryker (Brian Cox), a fanatically anti-mutant military scientist who holds a key to Wolverine’s mysterious past. Stryker has wrested the truth about Xavier’s ‘school for gifted children’ from the imprisoned Magneto (Ian McKellen), but with the help of the shapeshifting Mystique (Rebecca Romijn), the X-Men’s other adversary doesn’t stay caged for long. But the more they learn about Stryker’s far-reaching plans, the X-Men and Magneto find they may have to join forces to combat this new threat.

The recurring cast seem at ease in their parts. James Marsden and Halle Berry seem noticeably looser and more comfortable in their parts, and the film’s focus is a little more evenly spread out among the characters. The budding love triangle from the first film between Wolverine, Cyclops, and Jean is given more attention here, and Bobby/Iceman and Pyro, who had small roles in X-Men, are significantly expanded on here. Wolverine’s mansion battle with Stryker’s team is probably his most ferocious scene in the series, and also memorable is Magneto’s creative prison escape, with a nod to The Silence of the Lambs. Of the newcomers, the most striking is Alan Cumming’s teleporting, devoutly religious German circus freak Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler, even if he’s a little underused after getting such a great introduction.  Brian Cox, one of Hollywood’s go-to “bad guy” actors, is in standard-issue mustache-twirling mode, although Stryker at least gets a small backstory and a personal motivation for his hatred of mutants.  Kelly Hu is suitably steely as his Terminator-like henchwoman, and Rebecca Romijn, as the shapeshifting Mystique, actually gets to look like herself in one scene.

X2 boasts a number of impressive sequences. Nightcrawler’s White House attack is a home-run of an opening number, arguably not equaled by anything that follows. Then there is the mansion battle, the prison escape, Storm calling down tornadoes to thwart pursuing jet fighters, and a climactic fierce fight between Wolverine and Kelly Hu’s Deathstrike. Another scene is memorable for a different reason, one that has nothing to do with action or visual effects. The series’ underlying social conscience comes to the forefront when Bobby ‘comes out’ to his parents…as a mutant. Even by X-Men’s standards, the scene is unsubtle social commentary, but it will undoubtedly strike a chord with kids who have a certain something they’re afraid to tell their parents, especially when Bobby’s mom asks ‘have you ever tried not being a mutant?’. As the climactic confrontation with Stryker builds, a little more light is also cast into the dark shadows of Wolverine’s troubled past.

I can think of no real reason why those who enjoyed X-Men shouldn’t enjoy coming back for X2. The action scenes and special effects are bigger-scale than in the first film, the social commentary is even more pronounced, and the sequel continues and builds on plot points introduced in its predecessor. If you walked out of X-Men feeling you got your money’s worth, you should be at least as satisfied plunking it down for X2.

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