Director : Bryan Singer
Screenplay : Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris (story by David Hayter, Zak Penn, and Bryan Singer)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2003
Stars : Patrick Stewart (Prof. Charles Xavier), Hugh Jackman (Wolverine), Ian McKellen (Magneto), Halle Berry (Storm), Famke Janssen (Dr. Jean Grey), James Marsden (Cyclops), Rebecca Romijn-Stamos (Mystique), Brian Cox (William Stryker), Alan Cumming (Nightcrawler), Bruce Davison (Senator Robert Kelly), Anna Paquin (Rogue), Kelly Hu (Yuriko Oyama), Aaron Stanford (Pyro), Shawn Ashmore (Iceman), Katie Stuart (Kitty Pryde), Michael Reid MacKay (Jason 143), Keely Purvis (Little Girl 143), Kea Wong (Jubilee), Daniel Cudmore (Colossus), Connor Widdows (Jones), Bryce Hodgson (Artie), Shauna Kain (Siryn), Cotter Smith (President McKenna)
X2 is a significant improvement over its predecessor, 2000's eagerly awaited and highly anticipated X-Men. It gets right everything that the previous film had trouble with: Its scale is grander, its tone is more even and effective, and it balances its huge ensemble of characters with more grace and precision, allowing us to soak in the complexities of a world in which humans and mutants are constantly pitted against each other. The one thing the first film did right, highlighting the underlying theme of difference and humanity’s inability to deal with it, remains razor-sharp throughout the sequel, giving it a meaningful edge that so many action-oriented summer blockbusters lack.
Granted, if you’re going to see X2, you need to either be familiar with the comic book series on which it's based or have seen the original film (as a nonfan myself, I sometimes find it hard to keep everything straight). One of the reasons the sequel is better than the first film is that it isn't saddled with all the regimented exposition needed to set the stage and introduce the multitude of characters. This time around, screenwriters Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris assume that everybody’s up to speed on what's happening, and returning director Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects) takes it from there and runs with it.
In X2, the stakes have been raised so that our heroic mutants are fighting against nothing less than the mass annihilation of all mutants on earth. This is the diabolical plan of William Stryker (Brian Cox), a military scientist who has studied mutants for decades and is hellbent on either detaining or destroying all of them. Stryker is a shadowy figure, a military genius gone mad with rage against that which he doesn't understand and, therefore, fears. It doesn’t help that his own son is a telepathic mutant, and one the film's most disturbing undercurrents is the way Stryker uses him as a captive weapon against other mutants.
Interesting enough, this time around, Dr. Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), a powerful telepath who runs the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters in an attempt to train young mutants to harness and control their vast abilities, spends most of the film in Stryker’s captivity where he is used and manipulated in Stryker's plan to wipe out the mutant population. With their mentor and leader in captivity, it is up to Xavier's mutant students and fellow teachers, including Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Dr. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Storm (Halle Berry), Cyclops (James Marsden), and Rogue (Anna Paquin), to save the day. To do so, they must form a tentative alliance with the villain from the first film, Magneto (Ian McKellen), whose desire to start an all-out war between humans and mutants has not dulled one bit.
There are a host of new characters introduced, both good and bad. On the good side is Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), a teenager who can freeze anything with his mind. One the bad side is Deathstrike (Kelly Hu), Stryker’s assistant who has the same indestructible metal skeleton as Wolverine and a set of wicked metal nails (it's a foregone conclusion that those two will face off eventually, and what a face-off it is). In the middle is Pyro (Aaron Stanford), a teenage student of Xavier's who enjoys his ability to control fire a little too much. The most intriguing new addition, though, is Alan Cumming's Nightcrawler, a blue-skinned teleporter who can literally dissolve his own body in a cloud of dust and teleport himself to another location in a split second. The intrigue is not in Nightcrawler's incredible abilities, but in the way Cumming invests him with a tragic sense of purpose and a pathos that is genuinely touching. Speaking in a heavy German accent, Nightcrawler is a devout Catholic whose faith in the goodness of the world keeps him from developing the kind of anger that drives Magneto and his shape-shifting accomplice, Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos).
While the first X-Men was budgeted at a modest $75 million, X2 reported cost around $130 million, and it shows on the screen. Not surprisingly, this is a special-effects-laden effort through and through, and Singer moves us quickly from massive spectacle to massive spectacle. Some of the best scenes include Storm evading a pair of military fighters by creating a series of tornadoes, Magneto’s clever escape from his plastic prison (which also plays as an amusing homage to Hannibal Lecter's escape in The Silence of the Lambs, right down to the music that is playing in the background), and a bursting dam that forces one main character to make a significant sacrifice.
While the first film often felt abrupt and restricted (partially because Singer was forced by the studio to cut the film down considerably), X2 works on a grander scale and uses its longer running time to develop the characters more fully and immerse us into the action, much of which takes place in an underground military facility that houses the secrets to Wolverine's mysterious past. In other words, where X-Men was often restrained, X2 soars, and it's a much better film for it.
Copyright © 2003 James Kendrick