X2: X-Men United Movie Review

The mutants are back in town in the first big sequel of 2003 -- a year that promises at least a half-dozen Brand Name Sequels (nearly all of which, surprisingly, I'm anxious to see). X2 probably won't be the best of the bunch, but it certainly isn't the worst. Like the original X-Men, the sequel is a lot of good, clean fun, full of vibrancy and memorable comic book antics, but ultimately it's a bit of a letdown due to too many squandered opportunities and an exhausting running time.

X2 picks up an indeterminate amount of time after the original ended. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, looking strangely clean cut) is still trying to figure out his past. Magneto (Ian McKellan) is trapped in his plastic prison. And Jean Gray (Famke Janssen) is having bad dreams about something wicked coming on the horizon.

It's not long before Professor X (Patrick Stewart, visibly relieved to be finally free of Star Trek's shackles) is kidnapped, the Mutant Academy is raided by feds, and the X-Men are scattered to the winds as they find themselves on the run from Johnny Law. They're trying to figure out what evil plan a military guy named Stryker (Brian Cox, aptly cast) has in store for them and humanity, and why he has such an axe to grind against mutants.

All will be revealed, but not until a grueling 2 hours, 15 minutes later. X2 goes down so many roads and throws out so many subplots that it's just plain tiring. If you thought you had a handle on the original dozen or so good guys and bad guys, get ready to assimilate another four more, including a boyfriend for Rogue (Anna Paquin) and the best new character in the series, the teleporting, blue, and German mutant called Nightcrawler, played with shocking effectiveness by Alan Cumming. (Yes, Alan Cumming is now a superhero.)

The story hinges on an uneasy alliance between the X-Men and Magneto's camp (hence the "X-Men United" part of the title), which provides some unique opportunities for the old enemies to interact without hurling battle cries at each other. As usual, the bad guys steal the show, especially McKellan's dry insults and shapeshifting Mystique actually getting to take the form of the actress who plays her (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos).

The bulk of the film is fun and genuinely entertaining, but so much of it is just throat-clearing, long-winded attempts to give Storm (Halle Berry) something to do or work the comparatively boring Cyclops (James Marsden) into the film. Is it because Cyclops has a lame mutant ability (shoots energy from his eyes) or because Marsden never broke through as a real star that he has so little screen time? Well, it's during X2's more lifeless moments that you find yourself with time to ponder these questions. Much of X2 is old hat, comprising many of the same fights and the same events from the original.

In the end, I enjoyed X2 more than the original, which was ultimately too focused on setting up the whole mutants vs. humans thing and had a clichéd ending you saw from frame one. X2 has some surprisingly touching moments and some surprises to boot (I won't spoil them for you here, but I guarantee other critics will -- be warned). Those endless subplots even end up having a purpose, by setting up a number of avenues to take us into X3.

God help us all.

X2 gives us a blockbuster DVD set, two discs of material, including two commentaries, behind-the-scenes footage of a couple of fight scenes, deleted/extended scenes, and a lot of interesting X-Men backstory material. For the comics junkie this is one DVD not to be missed.

Eat lead! (It'll make more sense after you see the movie.)


X2: X-Men United Rating

" Good "

Rating: PG-13, 2003


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