In anticipation of Days of Future Past, I will be reviewing the original X-Men trilogy (and maybe Origins but I’d rather not acknowledge that one). Next is:
The first X-Men was a promising beginning for my favourite hero team’s Hollywood career, but X-Men 2, also known as X2: X-Men United, is the X-Men film I truly wanted to see. This is the film where the stakes grow higher, the plot intensifies and every awesome mutant gets their time in the limelight. All is as it should be!
Bryan Singer‘s back and he goes stronger than ever. Rewatching this film during my X-Men marathon last weekend made me look forward to his return with Days of Future Past even more. ‘Tis literally about time.
The movie opens with one of the coolest scenes in any of these films. A demonic teleporting creature, Kurt “Nightcrawler” Wagner (Alan Cumming), attacks the US president in the White House as Mozart’s “Dies Irae” plays. We soon learn that this was a staged attack meant to give mutants a bad name. The president nevertheless inlists the help of Colonel William Stryker (Brian Cox), a man who claims to have a way of taking down mutant kind once and for all; a plan that involves the kidnapping of Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), the powerful telepathic leader of a group of mutants known as X-Men. We also find out about Stryker’s past connections to Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), who, as with the last film, is confused as to how he came to be. X2 clears things up somewhat.
After Xavier’s mutant school is attacked and both he and Cyclops (James Marsden) are captured by Stryker, the remaining X-Men realise that they now share an enemy with their old foe Magneto (Ian McKellen). Thus, they eventually find themselves teamed up with Magneto and his right-hand babe Mystique (Rebecca Romijn), as well as Nightcrawler, who, being deeply religious, regrets all sins Stryker has made him commit. The rest of the team consists of Rouge (Anna Paquin), still lamenting her inability to touch others without harming them; weather queen Storm (Halle Berry); Bobby “Iceman” Drake (Shawn Ashmore); the fire-bending Pyro (Aaron Stanford); Wolverine of course and Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), who fears that the powers of her mind are growing too strong. More on that in movie 3!
Stryker’s scheme involves rebuilding Xavier’s mutant-detecting “Cerebro” machine and force Xavier into using it to target and kill every living mutant on Earth, which he can apparently do. Xavier, however, is too powerful for Stryker’s mind-control equipment. Thus, Stryker relies instead on his heavily disabled but immensely powerful mutant son, Jason (Michael Reid McKay), who has the ability to form strange illusions and manipulate anyone under the influence of one of these. They make for some of the most haunting yet cool scenes in the entire movie. Another important player is Lady Deathstrike (Kelly Hu), a mutant created by Stryker who’s similar to Wolverine but perhaps even more ruthless. Also, Bruce Davison is back as Senator Kelly, but only as one of Mystique’s disguises.
Much happens in X2, but it never feels like there’s too much going on. It’s a series of events that, as they should be, are tied together neatly and lead up to a spectacular climax that escelates in excitement and tension. Stryker trying to find the blue-prints for Cerebro, Mystique’s clever attempts to bust Magneto out of his plastic prison, Bobby “coming out” to his parents as a mutant in a remarkable scene, Wolverine’s enigmatic flashbacks, Jean’s powers going haywire, the illusions Xavier has to endure in his subplot; all of this is interesting enough that the film remains highly entertaining no matter which of the subplots is focused upon.
It feels long, yes, but it doesn’t feel long in a 2012 sort of way, but more of a Green Mile sort of way, where you feel that all the time is necessary and dedicated to fleshing out the characters, moving the storylines forward and giving pay-offs to previous set-ups. It helps that a great cast carries us through the film. Ian McKellen, once again, is delightful as Magneto, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine is great as ever, Rouge and Iceman make a surprisingly likable couple, Nightcrawler is fantastic, and I do very much like Stryker as a villain. He’s the right amount of smart and cunning to pose a serious threat to the X-Men in spite of not having powers of his own.
On top of that, it feels like every character gets to do something important and memorable at some point in the film. I cannot think of a single major character in X2 that exists solely for the sake of fanservice, and isn’t this why we love the X-Men? Seeing them use their wondrous variety of cool powers together to defeat some great evil? If you agree with this, I’m sure you’ll also agree that X-Men 2 is the most enjoyable of the bunch (as long as you don’t like X-Men Origins, we’re good).
But of course, X-Men has always been about social commentary as well. Once again, ’tis in the form of symbolism, with mutant kind being discriminated against within the world of the film similarly to the homosexuals and minorities of our own society. Again, that scene where Bobby comes out as a mutant is immensely well-made and a spot-on depiction of what coming out can truly be like, for both you and your family.
X2 is fun, exhilerating, smartly written, increasingly exciting and an absolute blast to watch from beginning to end. It balances drama, comedy, action, horror and character development in a way that makes me sure that this is my favourite X-Men film.
Down below is my rating and a trailer. I must say, it’s rather unusual too see a promo that lists the names of the characters instead of the actors… and still most likely has the same marquee value.