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X2: X-Men United (2003) Print E-mail
Friday, 02 May 2003
“X-Men,” the movie adaptation of the Marvel Comics franchise about mutants with various powers and various attitudes toward their non-powered human brethren, was a thoroughly enjoyable science-fiction film (now available in an extras-loaded special edition, “X-Men 1.5,” on DVD). Three years later, the sequel, “X2: X-Men United,” reaches the big screen with most of the same actors/characters and creative staff, even bigger and better special effects and an even livelier plot.

When we last saw the X-Men – so named because of their loyalty to wheelchair-bound but psychically superpowered Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) – the good mutants had just saved humanity from Eric Lensherr, aka Magneto (Ian McKellen), who can control any metal substance and firmly believes that mutants and regular humans will never be able to live in harmony and that mutants should therefore take decisive action as quickly as possible. That crisis has been averted and Magneto is locked up in a plastic prison, but new peril erupts when a demonic-looking mutant attacks and almost assassinates the President of the United States. William Stryker (Brian Cox), a profoundly anti-mutant military man, gets on the case and proposes a nighttime infiltration of Xavier’s School for Gifted (i.e., mutant) Children. Since Xavier and his key people – weather-controlling Storm (Halle Berry), telekinetic Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and laser-eyed Cyclops (James Marsden) – are all away trying to find the would-be assassin, this would seem like an easy mission. However, Stryker and his men don’t reckon with the innate ingenuity of the children, nor with the ferocity of their reluctant but dedicated protector, the steel-skeletoned Logan, aka Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), who can heal from any injury within moments. Stryker has a secret agenda – then again, so does the down-but-not-out Magneto …

The screenplay by Michael Dougherty & Dan Harris from a story by director Bryan Singer & David Hayter and Zak Penn crams in a ton of incident and individuals. It’s much to the credit of all concerned that there are quite a few grace notes woven into the major action and drama, and that the fairly involved narrative (there are three factions at odds) is always quite clear. Singer, who also directed the original film, revels in many of the effects – there’s a visually and aurally striking teleportation riff that keeps its punch despite repeated usage, cool (pardon the expression) use of Bobby’s (Shawn Ashmore) ability to create instant ice and the transformations of the gifted physical mimic Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos). As in the first film, Romijn-Stamos, decked out in intense blue coloration, some scales and not much else, is pretty attention-grabbing even when she’s not doing anything.

However, viewers who have fond memories of the first film’s development of Wolverine and Rogue (Anna Paquin) may be disappointed with the big emotional arcs here. A romantic triangle between Wolverine, Jean and Cyclops doesn’t have the pull that the filmmakers seem to intend, and while the puppy love between Rogue and Bobby is charming, it doesn’t have a lot of weight. Likewise, the war between good and evil in the soul of firestarter John Allardyce (Aaron Stanford) is visible but never engages us on more than a level of curiosity.

One new character who does make an impression is the demonic-looking but gentle Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler, played endearingly by Alan Cumming. Stewart is kindly and authoritative, and McKellen looks like he’s having a ball as a magic man up to no good whatever. Cox is shrewd and determined, Janssen is lovely and pensive and Paquin makes us believe Rogue is a true heroine in training.

Supervising sound editor John A. Larsen and his team have done a wonderful, creative job of coming up with distinctive effects for all sorts of unusual phenomenon – people appearing and disappearing midair, rushing through walls and a scream that can deafen everyone in hearing range. The major effects – flying bullets, massive explosions and rushing tons of water – sound convincingly immersing in the theater, making “X2” a candidate for reference-disc status when it reaches DVD.

“X2: X-Men United” is a pleasure, with snappy pacing, lively plotting and some fantastic action. It doesn’t quite have the emotional hooks that the set-up suggests it could achieve, but it’s an absolutely good time all the same.

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