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"X2 does not disappoint."
"The really great thing about this adventure is that it showcases the mutants' abilities and powers."
"A fitting salute to a comic that has spanned many decades and fans of all ages."
X2: X-Men United  

Cast

Wolverine: Hugh Jackman
Magneto: Ian McKellan
Storm: Halle Berry
Jean Grey: Famke Janssen
Mystique: Rebecca Romijn-Stamos
Charles Xavier: Patrick Stewart
Nightcrawler: Alan Cumming
Rogue: Anna Paquin
William Stryker: Brian Cox
Deathstrike: Kelly Hu
Review May 2003

Kicking off this summer's sequel movie blitz is "X2: X-Men United," the follow up to 2000's mediocre mutant drama "X-Men." Promising to be bigger and better than the original, X2 does not disappoint. Fear not, true believers - the film is faithful to the 30 plus year old comic in a way that will excite comic lovers and general movie lovers alike. With a big budget and a stellar cast, X2 gets the summer movie season started with a BANG!

The film begins a little while after the first one ended. Magneto is imprisoned, the School for Gifted Youngsters is replete with new students, and Wolverine is on walkabout trying to learn about his past. In other news, an assassination attempt by a mysterious mutant on the President gets X-Men Jean Gray and Storm involved; meanwhile, Professor X and Cyclops do a little research of their own. They visit Magneto, notorious for his retaliatory practices against humans, in prison to extract more clues. But their visit is cut short by William Stryker, a government operative with an interest in exacting a final solution for mutants. Stryker captures Xavier and Cyclops and convinces the President that the assassination attempt was made by one of Xavier's students.

While everyone is out on various missions, Wolverine returns to the X mansion and is placed in charge of the younger students: Iceman, Pyro, Rogue, Shadowcat, Jubilee, Siryn, to name a few. But shortly after his arrival, the school is attacked by a swat team of military commandos under Stryker's control and authorized by the President. The mutants put up a fight, but they are outnumbered. Furthermore, the appearance of Stryker brings back memories for Wolverine. Though desperate to find the truth, Wolverine reluctantly guards the inexperienced students, retreating beneath the mansion.

Sensing the destruction of the entire mutant population, Magneto manages to escape from prison and joins the X-Men in a fight for survival. By his side is the blue-scaled beauty, Mystique, a shape shifter with many unique talents. With everyone seemingly against them, the X-Men exercise constraint in their pursuit of Stryker's secret base. But will they get there in time to save their fellow mutants? And what is behind Wolverine's relationship to the villainous Stryker? What role do Nightcrawler and Lady Deathstrike have to play in the scheme of things? And will Stryker's plan for a world without mutants succeed?

Director Bryan Singer managed all kinds of chaos during the making of this film. With so many actors and actresses and so many conflicting schedules, it must have been a circus. Much to the chagrin of the cast, he was known to ad lib certain scenes and shoot scenes in many different ways for fear that he may not get the opportunity to bring individuals back for a re-shoot. There were multiple takes, re-takes, and takes long after the film was supposedly completed. There was even an alternate ending, though you'll probably have to wait for the DVD version later this year. Yet, despite the turmoil, Singer was able to bring everything and everyone together.

While juggling oodles of characters, some old, some new, and their backgrounds, abilities, and personalities, and weaving a shared storyline throughout, Singer was able to create a unique chemistry and cohesion between the actors. I'm surprised it even worked to the success that it did. But with so much going on, so many subplots, I found it difficult to pick a consistent thought. At times, it took as long as 15 or more minutes to cut back to a single plot element. In addition, characters still were not really developed in this follow up, although Nightcrawler and Wolverine are fleshed out pretty well. The other characters are simply defined by their talents and along for the ride.

The dominant theme of the X-Men has always involved a group of mutant superheroes who are brought up in a world that doesn't accept them. In the first installment, Senator Robert Kelly introduced the Mutant Registration Act, a proposed bill requiring all mutants be registered and tracked by the government. A new form of McCarthy-ism, this behavior led to the separation of mutants: those who sought peaceful resolutions to the publics fears and those who feared mankind would extinguish them and thus, wished to strike first. This film hits on the same subject matter and makes you think about stereotypical or discriminatory practices that are a result of fear - practices that go against everything our Constitution stands for.

But aside from the political implications, the really great thing about this adventure is that it showcases the mutants' abilities and powers. "You are a god among insects," says Magneto to Pyro while persuading him to join the Brotherhood. Unlike the first, which was so busy establishing characters and subtext, this one allows us to see those god-like powers in action: Jean Gray disables missiles and moves airplanes with her mental prowess, Wolverine slices and dices his way through military commandos, Nightcrawler kicks in and out of a blue hue, and Storm generates lightning and tornadoes in a way that would make Mother Nature proud. You also get the sense that some of the students, like Iceman and Pyro, are going to be forces to reckon with once they hone their skills.

I was fortunate enough to bring along several of my closest friends to this one, comic aficionados if you will. They helped me bridge the gap between what little I knew about these beloved mutants and the world that has captured millions of fans around the world. Such additional insight as: How Magneto ended up in prison at the start of the film; how Rogue was linked to Mystique; the appearances of Shadowcat, Siryn, and Beast; the love triangle between Wolverine, Cyclops, and Jean Gray; and an adult Pyro joining the Brotherhood of Mutants. Oh, and the whole Jean Gray/Phoenix thing? Something about the Hellfire Club, the Dark Phoenix, and the real Jean Gray cocooned underneath the ocean? What detail! But do you have to know all that to appreciate this film? Not at all. For fans of the comic, this is a great tribute because Singer touches on three of the dominant storylines over the last 30 years from the comic and drops additional details in a way that is not confusing or disruptive to the overall story.

"X2: X-Men United" is an action lovers kind of film. But even more so, it is a fitting salute to a comic that has spanned many decades and fans of all ages. Although I would have liked more character development and a little more action; overall, I thought that it was simply Marvel-ous!



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