Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 14 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sci-Fi Action/Violence, some Sexuality and brief Language
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Written by: Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris & David Hayter
(based on the X-MEN comics by Jack Kirby & Stan Lee)
Starring: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Brian Cox, Alan Cumming, Bruce Davison, Anna Paquin, Shawn Ashmore, Aaron Stanford & Kelly Hu
Sequels rarely manage to rise above their predecessors, but X2: X-MEN UNITED is on the short list of titles that have accomplished that cinematic feat. 2000’s X-MEN laid a lot of ground work for future installments and introduced us to the world of mutants, so X2 is granted much more narrative freedom right off the bat. Though this sequel runs over two hours in length, not a single minute of screen time is wasted. Partially based on the graphic novel GOD LOVES, MAN KILLS with incorporated bits of the WEAPON X storyline, X2 is among the best superhero films of all time.
Picking up a short while after the events of the first film, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) has returned to the X-Men base/Xavier’s school with no new information about his past. Wolverine’s dilemma seems small though, because mutant Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) has attempted to assassinate the President of the United States. With prejudice, hatred and fear towards mutants growing across the nation, the President has green-lit a questionable operation led by Colonel William Stryker (Brian Cox). When he raids Xavier’s school and kidnaps Professor X (Patrick Stewart), it becomes evident that Stryker has something very dangerous in mind. Good and evil mutants must unite if they wish to save the mutant race from genocide-happy Stryker, who is also linked to Wolverine’s forgotten past.
X2 features a lot of returning cast members and all of them slip right back into their roles with ease, even improving on the previous performances. Patrick Stewart as Professor X and Ian McKellen as Magneto are equally perfect. Wolverine is a major player in this sequel’s script, but only receives one plotline of the complicated story. This allows plenty of room for the rest of the mutants to be further developed. More time is given to Cyclops and Jean Grey, while Storm is allowed to bond with newcomer Nightcrawler. Even Anna Paquin (one of the first film’s biggest problems) redeems her character of Rogue with less unconvincing over-the-top accent and more believable emotion put into her line delivery. Rebecca Romijn is also given a bigger part of as the sexy, deadly Mystique.
There are many new, interesting characters brought into this sequel too, including a couple of big-name mutants making a grand entrance into the film series. Iceman (Shawn Ashmore, who was a background character in the first film) is given a real relationship with Rogue and has one hell of a heart-breaking story arc. Aaron Stanford (who didn’t go on to do much after the X-MEN series) is solid as violent Pyro. Alan Cumming is perfectly cast as blue-skinned, hook-tailed Nightcrawler and receives a fantastic storyline about redemption. I wish that Cumming had appeared in other X-MEN installments as well, but alas, this was to be his only stint as the unforgettable fan favorite mutant.
Two fearsome antagonists come in the forms of a hate-filled human and his deadly mutant sidekick. William Stryker is played fantastically by Brian Cox. As a complex villain motivated by personal baggage and the belief that he’s doing the right thing for the human race, Stryker might be the best performance of Brian Cox’s career. Clawed sidekick Lady Deathstrike is played by Kelly Hu. Though her appearance and origins are considerably changed from the comic book lore (which I’m sure pissed some fans off), Lady Deathstrike serves as a scary villainess and a threatening equal to Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. The eventual confrontation between them is one of my all-time favorite movie fight scenes. The stakes are upped by both characters’ metal claws and rapid healing abilities, and also makes the vicious action insanely fun to watch.
While the first X-MEN used themes of prejudice to craft a simple superhero tale of good vs. evil, X2 opts for a smarter route. We are given windows into each of these characters and the idea that the world is stacked against them. X2 weaves a positive perspective of understanding and forgiveness from Charles Xavier’s point of view, while Magneto’s hatred and fear-mongering also reveal a lot about his character. The world of mutants and humans is greatly expanded upon as this story’s scope is much larger than the first film. There’s also a final shot that ranks among the best cliffhangers of all-time, even though THE LAST STAND was a disappointment and didn’t deliver on X2’s promises.
As a whole, X2: X-MEN UNITED is where the X-MEN franchise separated itself from clichéd superhero fare. There are tons of enjoyable and great superhero movies in existence, but it takes a lot to rise above any overpopulated film genre. The X-MEN series is something special and this is fully demonstrated by how phenomenal this second installment is! Though I’d rank DAYS OF FUTURE PAST and FIRST CLASS slightly higher than X2, this second installment is one of the best superhero films ever made and a perfect entry in one of the smartest superhero franchises of all-time!