Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 8/12/04 w/ Extensive Revision.
When the first X-Men film arrived in 2000, it was a hit in the box office as director Bryan Singer helped create a wave of comic-book superhero films that was followed by Sam Raimi's 2002 film Spider-Man. Realizing that a franchise could be made with the X-Men series, Singer went ahead to create a sequel that would improve some of the shortcomings of the first film but also broaden the story more. The result would be 2003's X2: X-Men United.
X2: X-Men United picks up where the first one was left as the story centers around Wolverine who is trying to find clues of his past and his transformation into becoming a mutant. At the same time, a failed assassination on the U.S. president by a mutant makes those in the X-Men team suspicious as they interrogate their nemesis Magneto while being in pursuit from an army colonel. Based on the comic book with the screen story co-written with director Singer before turning into a script by David Hayter, Dan Harris, and Michael Dougherty, X2 is a film that allows the X-Men series to go into bigger ideas along with themes of prejudice and chaos. With a cast that includes those from first film like Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Halle Berry, James Marsden, Anna Paquin, Famke Janssen, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Bruce Davison, and Shawn Ashmore with new actors to the franchise, Brian Cox, Kelly Hu, Alan Cumming, Cotter Smith, and Aaron Stanford. X2: X-Men United is one of the smartest and entertaining of Hollywood blockbusters.
Despite the repeal the Mutant Registration Act that was led by one of its original supporters in Senator Kelly (Bruce Davison), a teleporting mutant named Nightcrawler/Kurt Wagner (Alan Cumming) has made an attempted assassination on President McKenna (Cotter Smith). With suspicions arising that the attack was orchestrated by Magneto/Erik Lehnsherr (Ian McKellan) who is currently in a special prison. McKenna asks Col. William Stryker (Brian Cox) to investigate as Senator Kelly makes a visit asking about Lehnsherr's whereabouts. Meanwhile, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), Storm (Halle Berry), Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), and Scott Summers (James Marsden) learn about the president's attack during a field trip with students as Xavier looks for Wagner's whereabouts. Logan/Wolverine returns to Xavier's school following a failed search for a base at Alkali Lake as he asks Xavier for help to search for lost memories. Xavier reluctantly refuses as he asks Logan to watch over the students as he and the rest of the X-Men investigate the attack.
With Jean and Storm trying to find Wagner to asks questions as it's revealed that he doesn't know what he's done. Xavier and Scott go to the compound to meet with Magneto. Magneto is under the influence of a drug as he reveals to Xavier he gave some information to Stryker leading to a trap as Xavier and Scott are captured by Stryker's assistant Yuriko Oyama/Lady Deathstrike (Kelly Hu). Back at Xavier's mansion, a raid led by Stryker happens as Logan helps many of the students escape only to be met with Stryker who knew Logan from many years ago. Haunted by Stryker's presence, he is saved by Rogue (Anna Paquin) and Bobby Drake/Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) to escape with their friend Pyro (Aaron Stanford) where they hide out at the home of Bobby's family.
At Stryker's secret hiding facilities, Xavier learns what Stryker is up to as he is forced to be under the control of Stryker's son Jason (Michael Reid McKay) who gets into Xavier's mind. After finding a device in a car that belonged to Scott, Logan makes contact with Jean and Storm as cops surround Bobby's family home after a call from Bobby's younger brother leading to Pyro to attack the cops that is stopped by Rogue. When Jean and Storm arrive with the X-Jet that includes Wagner, they try to evade the air force as they're eventually saved by the escaped Magneto and his henchwoman Mystique (Rebecca Romijn). Realizing what Stryker is up to, the X-Men realize they have to work with Magneto and Mystique in order to stop Stryker while Logan learns about what happened to him years ago in Stryker's hands. With the X-Men retrieving the students that were captured and trying to stop Stryker, one of them makes the ultimate sacrifice.
While the plot formula is similar to the likes of Spider-Man and other comic book stories, what sets X-Men apart is the fact that the X-Men are reluctant superheroes and in the second one, their reluctance is challenged more than ever. The story in the second one is far more superior, especially with the storyline of Wolverine trying to find his past that is the key story that moves the story. It allows that character to be more fragile as he yearns for the company of the X-Men and students that gives him a reason to fight. There's also more development in the characters along with themes of faith that is carried by Wagner who develops a relationship based on faith with Storm. The credit really should go to director Bryan Singer for tightening up the film's story and his eye-wielding direction that is crafty with fast camera angles and intense action and dramatic moments.
With cinematographer Thomas Newton Siegel, the film has this amazing, cold look in many of the scenes while its complemented with the work of production designer Guy H. Dyas, who helps brings an eerie, bleak look in many of the film's dark scenes in the Alkali Lake sequences. Helping with the film's spectacular visuals are the visual effects from supervisor Michael Fink who helps bring in intense, wondrous effects, notably for the Nightcrawler and Mystique characters who often do a lot of teleporting or in Mystique's case, change into other characters. With a film score by John Ottman, who also serves as an editor, the film plays up to what a comic-book action movie should be in style and substance as the score just helps move with the story and scenes.
Then you have the film's wonderful ensemble cast that includes some wonderful small performances from Bruce Davison, Cotter Smith, and Daniel Cudmore as Colossus who shines in the school raid scene with his powers while Ty Olsson stands out in his role as Magneto's prison guard Laurio is excellent, especially in a scene that involves him making with Rebecca Romijn-Stamos. Though Anna Paquin had a bigger role as Rogue in the first film, her role is cut down a bit though Rogue in this film seems a bit more comfortable despite her powers while she has nice scenes with Shawn Ashmore's Iceman, who really gets more time than the first since he's having trouble dealing with being a mutant while is the only person who uses his powers for good. Aaron Stanford is a bit more of the conflicted character as Pyro who seems cocky for his fiery power and when he meets with Magneto, you see how easily he can be seduced with power.
Rebecca Romijn does an excellent job as Mystique by just projecting a lot of movement and spark into her performance while Kelly Hu is excellent as the villainous Yuriko with her own powers despite rarely having any dialogue when she uses actions rather than words, notably in her fight scene with Wolverine. James Marsden is excellent in his role, despite not being scene for an hour in the film, as the more disciplined Cyclops who still has some tension with Wolverine, even for the affections of Dr. Jean Grey. Famke Janssen is really amazing in her more difficult role as Grey since she has trouble with her telepathy and her feelings over Wolverine while she becomes more and more reluctant about her own powers. Halle Berry meanwhile, is very good in her performance as Storm, especially by getting rid of a classy accent in the first film, where she has really wonderful scenes with Alan Cumming's Nightcrawler. Cumming is a notably standout as he is thought of a villain at first but then he comes out as a character of morality and goodwill, including in the jet crash scene where he risks his own life to save someone. Cumming brought a depth and conscious that is rarely seen in an action film.
Then you have four of the film's greatest performances starting off with the always-amazing Brian Cox as William Stryker. Cox brings a demeaning charm and intelligence to a villain who isn't just hell bent on destroying mutants but in his scenes with Hugh Jackman's Wolverine, we see how far he'll go to destroy Wolverine's mind. Cox is devious and just a great villain who isn't a stereotypical villain but one that is enjoyable and hateful at the same time. Ian McKellan is another enjoyable villain but in X2, he kind of plays a good guy for a bit since he knows that mutants are in trouble and wants to help battle Stryker despite his own intentions for humans. McKellan brings a sly wit and charisma that is seductive even though he's a villain but one that is smart and cares for his group of people.
Patrick Stewart is also amazing in his classy performance as Professor X as he tries to find clues to the president's assassination attempt while trying not to be manipulated by Stryker's methods as he himself, becomes reluctant in trying to help Wolverine. Hugh Jackman is the easily the film's star and his performance in X2 outdoes the first as he displays more dramatic textures with a balance of action. Jackman brings humanity to Wolverine who tries to find clues to his past and when he does, we see how anguished and troubled he's become where he is forced to accept the role he will take part in.
X2: X-Men United is a fantastic film from Bryan Singer and definitely the best film of the X-Men franchise so far. Featuring a great ensemble cast and amazing technical work, it's a film that surpasses the first film in terms of a stronger story and a broader vision. Fans of the franchise will no doubt see this as the best of the film as it has more action and more engaging characters for them to relate to. In the end, X2: X-Men United is a fantastic film from Bryan Singer.
Bryan Singer Films: (The Usual Suspects) - (Apt. Pupil) - X-Men - (Superman Returns) - (Valkyrie) - (Jack the Giant Slayer) - X-Men: Days of Future Past - X-Men Apocalypse - (Bohemian Rhapsody)
X-Men Films: X-Men III: The Last Stand - X-Men Origins: Wolverine - X-Men: First Class - The Wolverine - Logan (2017 film) - Deadpool 2 – (X-Men: Dark Phoenix) - (New Mutants)
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