X2 (United States, 2003)
The problem with X2 is essentially the same one that plagued X-Men: too many characters, resulting in too little screen time for each one. X2 may be the most ambitious superhero motion picture to date, but it doesn't work quite as well as Spider-Man or Superman, both of which are, in some ways, inferior. The reason is simple: in those movies, we get into the skin of the protagonist, whether it's nerdy Peter Parker or bumbling Clark Kent. In X-Men and its sequel, there are simply too many heroes running around. Unless you're a fan of the comic book series, you need a cheat sheet to keep them all straight – and that doesn't count the cameos (Colossus, Kitty Pride, Jubilee, etc.).
To be fair, X2 does a better job than X-Men, primarily because it isn't saddled with the baggage of having to introduce everyone. The only new major mutant is the blue-skinned teleporter Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming); everyone else is a returning player. Nevertheless, most of the X-Men come across as no more three-dimensional than their comic book counterparts. There are a few exceptions, with tough guy Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and telepath Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) leading the way. And one could make a case for teenager Rogue (Anna Paquin) and arch-villain Magneto (Ian McKellan). But there's still a lot of underused talent. Patrick Stewart (as Professor X, who runs the show), for example, is completely wasted, as is Halle Berry (as weather-controlling Storm). James Marsden's Cyclops, with his laserbeam eyes, has about the same amount of paltry screen time as he had in X-Men. Shapeshifter Mystique (Rebecca Romjin-Stamos) gets more exposure, but her personality remains a black hole.
Overall, however, once you get past issues related to trying to figure out who everyone is, how they relate to one another, and what their powers are, the movie turns out to be pretty entertaining – at least as good as the first one, and perhaps a little better. The ending is a little anti-climactic, but there are plenty of good action sequences leading up to it. And, depending on the direction in which the filmmakers decide to go, the closing sequences could represent a nice set up for the third movie. (Those familiar with the comic book series in the late '70s and early '80s can make some educated guesses about what may happen next.)
The story picks up where the first movie ended, preserving continuity. Wolverine is in the process of tracking down his roots, Magneto is trapped in his metal-deficient prison, and the mutant issue is being widely debated on a national political level. Then, when the mysterious Nightcrawler sneaks into the White House and nearly assassinates the U.S. President, General William Stryker (Brian Cox), a man with a vendetta against mutants, is given special powers to raid Professor X's school and detain everyone there. Suddenly, the mutants are scattered and under siege, Professor X is captured and brainwashed to be used as a weapon of genocide against his people, Magneto is free and working with the X-Men, and Jean Grey has discovered the terrifying depths of her mental powers. As the war begins, the casualties mount on both sides.
Visually, X2 is a sight to behold, with impressive special effects and a dynamic sense of place. There are some standout sequences. The first, and most memorable, opens the movie, with Nightcrawler teleporting and fighting his way through an army of Secret Service agents on his way to the Oval Office. Later, Wolverine squares off against Deathstrike (Kelly Hu), whose claws are as sharp as his. There's also a nifty scene in which Pyro (Aaron Stanford) uses his fire-controlling abilities to hold off the police. He loses control, and is only stopped when Rogue brings him to heel.
The appeal of X2 is probably less broad-based than that of a Spider-Man or Superman. Although it's possible to enjoy this movie without boasting any familiarity with the comic book (or, for that matter, having seen the first movie), director Bryan Singer has developed this project with the fans in mind. This is a Valentine to them, and they are likely to be the most enthusiastic respondents to the film. Yet, as big as Singer's canvas may be, he has yet to acquire the knack of how to metamorphose his ensemble from a group of comic book icons defined by their powers to multi-dimensional cinematic individuals. That's the quality that holds back X2 – instead of being a great movie, it's merely a solidly entertaining one. And an element of tragedy that occurs has far less impact than it might have had in a better rounded picture. X2 is a good way to start the 2003 Summer movie season, and it's a worthy companion piece to its predecessor, but for comic book fans in search of the Holy Grail, the quest must continue. And there's a big green guy lurking around the corner…
X2 (United States, 2003)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Screenplay: Michael Dougherty, Daniel P. Harris, Bryan Singer
Cinematography: Newton Thomas Sigel
Music: John Ottman
U.S. Release Date: 2003-05-02
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: Brian Cox, James Marsden, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, Patrick Stewart, Alan Cumming, Halle Berry, Shawn Ashmore, Hugh Jackman, Aaron Stanford, Ian McKellan, Rebecca Romjin-Stamos, Bruce Davision, Kelly Hu