‘X2: X-Men United’ is better than the original

'X2: X-Men United'
The mutants are together again, with some new members, in 'X2: X-Men United'
The mutants are together again, with some new members, in ‘X2: X-Men United’

[rating=4]Starring: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Anna Paquin, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Brian Cox, Alan Cumming
Director(s): Bryan Singer
Writer(s): Story by Zak Penn, David Hayter and Bryan Singer, Screenplay by Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris and David Hayter

It’s rare that a sequel proves to outdo the original, but X2 does pull it off with flying colors. This is chiefly because it does everything that a sequel is supposed to do: Build on original, expand the story, move it forward and make it different.

Now, doing a comic book film is challenging, but at the same time you are playing in a field that’s already been laid out. The characters have built in stories and arcs from being featured in comics for decades.

For example, much of what we’re learning about olverine (Hugh Jackman) was spelled out a long time ago in the comic books. Much of what’s displayed about Nightcrawler (Alan Cummings) has been long developed in the comics. The story of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) has been spelled out in the comics.

Of course, you don’t want to simply retell stories that have already been told, and X-Men 2: X-Men Uniteddoesn’t do that exactly. But, elements of the story were mined from the comic series.

The story begins with the introduction of Nightcrawler as he infiltrates the White House in an attempt to kill the President of the United States. We then learn that Wolverine has reached a dead end in his search for his forgotten past, and returns to Dr. Xavier’s School for the Gifted. Jean Grey is suffering from mysterious attacks concerning her telepathic powers, Magneto (Ian McKellen) is still in prison, and a military man (Brian Cox) requests that the President allow him to take down Xavier’s school which he believes is the base of operations for a secret group of mutants.

There are subplots and other elements which I’m not cover there, because it would probably take me this entire review to explain all that goes on in this story. What impresses me so much about this film — as well as the first one — is how they manage to fit so much into it. The X-Men is unlike most comic book series because it does surround one superhero in particular. With this tale you have a group of heroes, all with unique powers and stories.

The strength with the X-Men movies are the actors. These films have managed to merge so many amazing talents that they alone life the film above the par.

Hugh Jackman as Wolverine in 'X2: X-Men United'
Hugh Jackman as Wolverine in ‘X2: X-Men United’

Like the first film, Wolverine plays a major part in the story, and the character’s struggle with his own past and his place in the world is still a struggle for him. Hugh Jackman embodies the comic bad boy with perfection. And while his hair still looks ridiculous, they did manage to tame it a bit in a few scenes.

Rogue, played wonderfully by Anna Paquin, is also included but is not caught up in the central story as in the first. Her story does allow for more development of Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), who is only seen briefly in the first film. The two share a love relationship, but must find a way to overcome Rogue’s inability to come into physical contact with another person without sucking all their energy (kind of making lip-locking a bit of a challenge).

Of course, the heart and soul of these movies are the two elder statesmen, Patrick Stewart as leader of the X-Men, Dr. Xavier; and Ian McKellen as the evil Magneto. These two help anchor the film, lifting the quality of these films by their mere presence.

I was very excited by the idea that they decided to bring in one of the comic bookcharacters that I’ve always thought was one of the most interesting — after Wolverine — which was Nightcrawler. I loved his portrayal, which was beautifully brought to life by Alan Cummings. Cummings is a strong actor who is generally found playing creepy, sleazy characters. It was refreshing to see him playing someone who probably has more reason than the others to dislike and distrust humans, but instead feels for them.

Brian Singer has really managed to deliver two outstanding comic book films, a feat not matched since Superman and its sequel, Superman II (we’ll see in June if Raimi can do it with Spiderman). He did what many thought was impossible, taking a crew of superheroes and building excellent stories that managed to capture the themes of the comic.

The X-Men 2: X-Men United DVD includes a series of documentaries, many of which focusing on Nightcrawler and his “bamfing” — the term used for his teleportation power, which I thought was a truly beautiful effect. There are also a series of deleted scenes, most of which are pretty lame, to be honest. They don’t add much, and some are simply alternate versions of scenes from the movie that so subtle that you don’t necessarily notice the difference from how it appeared in the film.

The sexy Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is back in blue (and 'nude') as Mystique in 'X2: X-Men United'
The sexy Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is back in blue (and ‘nude’) as Mystique in ‘X2: X-Men United’

The audio commentary featuring Singer and his cinematopher, Newton Thomas Sigel, was also kind of dry. Some commentaries offer funny stories from filming, or insight into how the story developed and so forth. Those are generally entertaining. Then there are the commentaries that do little more than offer technical commentary, which is not terribly interesting to listen to and is generally devoid of humor.

Sigel does make several jokes throughout the commentary, but most are either ignored and go over the head of Singer. I was actually expecting a good commentary here, but was sorely disappointed. The only interesting thing was that Singer mentioned his stint and brief appearance in Star Trek: Nemesis, adding that he was a big Trek fan.

Perhaps Paramount should have listened to that commentary, because then maybe they’d ask him to do the next film. With the way he’s helmed the X-Men movies, I am confident he’d be able to put together a film that would be stars above any of the last few outings.

In the end, I found X-Men 2 to be a terrific addition to this comic book franchise, and actually got me excited about the prospects for a third film.

Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 2 hrs., 13 mins.

Michael Sheridan

Michael Sheridan has written, directed and produced more than a dozen short films under the banner of Maynard Films, and has worked as a writer for more than a decade for websites, magazines and newspapers.

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