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X2: X-Men United
2003 - PG-13 - 134 Mins.
Director: Bryan Singer
Producer: Lauren Shuler Donner, Ralph Winter, Avi Arad
Written By: Zak Penn, Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris
Starring: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Famke Janssen, Halle Berry, Brian Cox
Review by: Greg Ursic
   
Press screenings are usually pretty straightforward affairs: everyone shows up a few minutes before the screening time, signs in, grabs a cup of java and kibitzes with the other reviewers. X2’s screening was a different animal – not only did attendees have to RSVP (not unusual in itself), guests were strictly verboten, everyone had to produce picture ID, and anything remotely resembling a recording device (including my digital radio) had to be left at the at the door. It really became apparent that they were taking things seriously when everyone had to submit to a full metal detector scan. We were just waiting to hear the snap of latex gloves…

General William Stryker, a black ops specialist with a decidedly anti-mutant bent uses a mutant’s very public and unsuccessful assassination attempt as justification to crack down on the group as a whole. First on his agenda is securing the wards of Professor Xavier’s school and exploiting their abilities. When Stryker’s darker intentions are revealed, it leads to a tentative alliance between Xavier’s charges and Magneto’s forces in a battle for mutant survival.

The first X-Men movie was the subject of heated online debates long before the first draft of the script was ever tabled: fan(atic)s of the series speculated about which characters would/should be included, balked about casting and debated the merits of spandex vs leather, crashing servers along the way. The final product succeeded in satisfying even the most diehard fans, doing decent box office in the process - a sequel was inevitable. As planning for X2 got underway, debate was replaced by anticipation, with everyone wanting to know what was going to happen next and to whom. The wait is over.

X2 could well have been titled “Wolverine's World” as most of the crucial elements of the story are in some way related to him. Hugh Jackman proves once again that they cast the right man for the role, turning heads as the edgy hero of the piece. Jackman displays the wry sense of humor, charisma and no nonsense straightforwardness that is Wolverine. You have to love the hair too. Jackman also succeeds in taking the character beyond the glowering and posturing to a darker place, releasing Wolverine’s pent-up rage (dispatching legions of bad guys in the process), and hinting at his possible past.

Providing the necessary element of evil is Brian Cox as Stryker, the purist with nefarious intentions. Cox, (aka Hannibal Lector the 1st ) is no stranger to villainy: he ensures that Stryker is equal parts deranged, driven, dangerous and under the delusion that he’s doing the right thing. Cox also makes Stryker believable as a flesh and blood character, an essential component in a comic to movie adaptation (see Spiderman and Daredevil for examples of what not to do with villains). Other notable cast contributions include Rebecca Romijn-Stamos (who deserves mention simply for undergoing the marathon makeup sessions) as Mystique – her character gets more screen-time and substance this time around, including a “cameo”. Alan Cumming, Mystique’s “brother in blue”, is disarming as the docile and reflective Nightcrawler, embodying mutant innocence.

While there were several considerable lulls in X-Men, X2 - from the opening sequence to the final credits - flows at an brisk clip. The action sequences are more numerous, boast better choreography and feel more relevant within the story, rather than featuring action for action’s sake i.e. okay we’re twenty minutes in, time for some more fighting. The ramped up special effects enhance the film rather than providing simple eye candy: Nightcrawler’s teleporting sequences pop, Mystique’s transformations are seamless, and the ingenious jailbreak is a combination of great writing and fantastic visuals.

Singer also devotes more time to fleshing out the core characters, to the point of tying in all the minor characters. For example whereas Toad and Sabretooth were for all intents and purposes mere window dressing in the first installment, Deathstrike and Pyro serve each serve unique purposes in the plot development in X2. Also, the writing feels tighter, the dialogue is snappier and there is more humor sprinkled throughout. Finally, the underlying notion that there are “solutions” for those who are different receives wider treatment i.e. characters repeatedly talking about “curing” mutants highlights the ludicrousness of such statements. As with any film however, there will be those elements that aren’t up to par (some more than others) and X2 is no exception.

One element that truly detracts from the film is the battle between Cyclops and Wolverine for Jean’s affection. The scenario is drawn out, disingenuous and painful to watch, especially when one takes into account that Cyclops is such a whiner (where’s a death ray when you need one?) The movie also starts to drag a bit in the last half hour, and the excessively sugary sentimental attempts at tear jerking at the end are a bit much to bear (even I went into cynic mode).

X2 is bigger, faster, and more fun than the original and is sure to satisfy fans, as well as whet their appetites for the next installment. This is one franchise that has a long life ahead of it.
 
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

 
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