Three years after the enormous success of “X-Men”, 20th Century Fox released “X2: X-Men United”. The sequel reunited most of the original film’s cast along with director Bryan Singer. Where “X-Men” introduced us to the world of these warring mutants, “X2: X-Men United” blew that world wide open, and delivered to audiences a sequel easily superior to its predecessor.
“X2: X-Men United” basically picks up where “X-Men” left off, Wolverine is still searching for some hint as to who he really is, Magneto is locked away, while Professor Xavier and the rest of the X-Men are trying to ensure peace between humans and mutants while maintaining a low profile. Meanwhile, secretly waging a personal war upon all mutants is a renegade Colonel named Stryker (Brian Cox), who is determined to see all mutants dead or dying, and if some normal people get in the way, so be it. To stop this madman and his powerful forces, the X-Men must stand together, alongside their sworn enemies if necessary, or else mutantkind’s days are numbered.
“X2: X-Men United” provided moviegoers with everything that was great about the original film, plus so much more. Boasting even more action, a story on a much grander scale, more impressive special effects, and not to mention more mutants, there was no doubt in my mind that “X2” would have what it takes to soar to even greater heights than its predecessor.
Written by screenwriters Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris, and David Hayter (“X-Men”) the story for this sequel continued many of the threads left dangling at the conclusion of the first film, while going off in an all-new and exciting direction (especially for fans of the comic books) for some of the characters. The first film spent much of its time focusing on Wolverine’s decision on whether or not to side with the X-Men against the villainous Magneto, in this film the focus still remains somewhat on Wolverine; however for this film to succeed the scope had to be increased, and “X2” never fails to meet that requirement. This time the story delves deeper into the relationships that comprise the team, and introduces some rather intense moments and new challenges for the characters to deal with. Within these challenges and the understandably heightened drama, one can definitely take note of the fact that the stakes were much higher in this installment and the decisions and actions being taken were going to have some very far reaching consequences for all involved.
The original film was a surprising movie for many people because of the amount of time spent within the story developing the characters, something that had generally been unheard of in many comic book adaptations. “X2” took the already established characters and dug even deeper (as I stated a moment ago), while at the same time introducing us to a couple of new main characters. I was surprised by the fact that in a two hour movie, the writers found enough time to continue exploring the already established characters left over from the initial film (of which there are several), while still managing to give us new characters to enjoy without skimping on their development as well
I found it fascinating how the inclusion of someone as bitter and bigoted as Colonel Stryker (Brian Cox) for the film’s primary villain worked as well as it did. His character if handled improperly could have ended up being just a militarized version of the Senator Kelly character from the original film; instead, he was a multi-layered character that didn’t just hate mutants because of what they could do or the fact that they were different. No, his reasons were much more complicated, and it was because of how richly developed his character was that he was such an interesting and without a doubt fearsome foe for the mutants. Brian Cox as an actor always delivers great performances in every film he appears in, and whether they are large or small roles, his character is always memorable (“The Bourne Supremacy” is an example of a larger role or “Braveheart” for a smaller example). As Stryker, Brian plays him as a patriot who only wants to eliminate the mutant problem for the sake of national security, but at the same time subtly conveys the sinister nature inherent in his crusade for what is essentially a mutant genocide without ever going over-the-top or venturing into your prototypical villain territory.
The other new character was the teleporting mutant known as Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming). While I’ve never been all that fond of the character in the comics, I must say that this film managed to make him a really intriguing, complex character and not to mention make teleporting one cool power to have (this had more to do with the incredible work of the visual effects team than anything else). In the comics Nightcrawler never seemed all that useful other than getting the team into a room that they couldn’t bust into as easily, but this film actually made him a useful addition to the team, and even a mutant that could be feared if provoked into action. As far as Alan’s portrayal of the character I would have to say that he did a great job with the role, and gave the character the perfect balance of self-doubt, faith, and quirkiness that allowed for such a strange creature to seem so real to the audience.
The rest of the cast for “X2: X-Men United” (meaning those reprising their roles from the first film) gave strong performances with only a minor gripe here or there, and some even improved upon what they had done prior. Hugh Jackman as Wolverine had already given the definitive performance as the character, but in this film he takes it even further by getting to explore some new territory with the hero. For instance we finally get to see what Wolverine can really do when allowed to cut loose (which made for an incredibly entertaining action sequence), also some new revelations about his past prompts him to doubt the kind of man he was prior to the hero he has become and to wonder if he really wants to know the secret behind his past.
For Shawn Ashmore, his character of Bobby Drake/Iceman was given so much more to do this time around. Before he was used as nothing more than the nice boy at school for Rogue to identify with; however, in this film he has become her boyfriend and is beginning to find his way on the path to becoming a future X-Man. If I had one minor complaint about Shawn’s performance it would be the fact that sometimes Bobby comes off as being a little too timid and insecure. Granted those attributes would be due to the writers, which of course took their cue from the comics to an extent, regardless the character at times appears too weak that you almost wonder what Rogue sees in him.
Unfortunately in a film packed with this many characters some get put on the backburner and aren’t given the screen time their character deserves. This would be the case for the mutant known as Cyclops (James Marsden). In the original film, Cyclops was given several key moments to shine as one of the integral members of the team; however, in this installment he is relegated to a handful of scenes. It’s a shame that a character as fun as Cyclops can be, and with as rich of a history as he has in the comics that the writers didn’t choose to do more with him. I guess sometimes the story just doesn’t work as well with some characters as it does with others. Even with the truncated role, James Marsden still brings the character to life in a manner perfectly befitting his comic book counterpart.
Lastly, director Bryan Singer (“X-Men” and “Superman Returns”) deserves mentioning as his hard work allowed for this film series to raise the bar in terms of what comic book movies should aspire to. With “X-Men” and especially with “X2” he proved that audiences want more than just visual effects extravaganzas and big fight sequences, they desire a story that sucks them in and remains grounded in a reality similar to our own, along with fully developed characters that they can invest in and relate to.
“X2: X-Men United” was an excellent movie and comic book adaptation rolled up in one. While “X-Men” was a really good movie, this one blows it out of the water with great ease. Granted there are a few minor complaints about some character treatment, but by and large everything in this adaptation worked brilliantly. Just like “The Dark Knight”, “X2: X-Men United” is a comic book sequel that transcends the stigma of being just another run-of-the-mill comic book movie and stands proud as one of the best ever made.
“X2: X-Men United” is rated PG-13 for violence, language, and mild sexuality.