X2 (2003, Bryan Singer)

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Aka: X-Men 2, X2: X-Men United

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Two opposing factions of mutants must join forces when a man called William Stryker plots to wipe them out…

Get used to multiples names…
* Back from the first film are good guys Logan aka Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Ororo Munroe aka Storm (Halle Berry), Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Scott Summers aka Cyclops (James Marsden), Marie aka Rogue (Anna Paquin), Bobby Drake aka Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), Charles Xavier aka Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and, in another gag cameo about walking through walls, Kitty Pryde (recast with Katie Stuart). Wolverine and Jean continue their flirtation – that is, until she sacrifices herself during the action climax for not terribly clear reasons. Sadly, Xavier spends a looong time in a catatonic stupor so Patrick Stewart is rather sidelined. There’s a nice bit where Bobby has to tell his parents he’s a mutant: it plays like a coming-out scene, reinforcing the theme and providing some gentle comic relief. Younger team members Rogue and Drake more than hold their own with the others.
* Added to the team for this film are John Allerdyce aka Pyro (Aaron Standford), a livewire student who switches sides late on, and Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), who can turn his body into metal.
* A character who starts off working for the bad guys (against his will) but then joins up with the heroes is Kurt Wagner aka Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming). He can teleport and has a strong religious faith. In one scene, he has a chat with Jean and Storm. Maybe they’re comparing notes on what it’s like to be in a James Bond film with Pierce Brosnan.
* The real villain of the piece is a military loon called William Stryker (an OTT Brian Cox), who has a history with Wolverine and a hatred of mutants. Despite this, he has a mostly mute mutant sidekick called Yuriko Oyama aka Lady Deathstrike (Kelly Hu).
* The previous film’s Big Bad – Erik Lehnsherr aka Magneto (Ian McKellen) – is back, as is his pal Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos). Initially, Magneto is in the same prison we saw at the end of the first film. Because of the threat posed by Styker, he later teams up with the good guys. Romijn-Stamos actually gets a scene sans make-up when her character pretends to be a sexy blonde woman.
* Oh, and Senator Kelly has a short appearance. Neat trick, seeing how he died in X-Men. (It’s actually Mystique pretending to be him: actor Bruce Davison returns.)

Crossovers and continuity: There are a few elements that will be contradicted or expanded in future movies.
* Younger versions of William Stryker will play key roles in both X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) and X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014). In this movie, Stryker says it’s been 15 years since he saw Wolverine, which doesn’t tally with what we learn later.
* Mystique and Nightcrawler share a moment in this film – it’s a nod to the fact they’re mother and son in the comic books.
* Jean Grey’s death is a deliberate setting up of plot for the next film, X-Men: The Last Stand (2006).

A comic-fan writes… Because I know next to nothing about the source material, I’ve asked my friend Johnathon Hughes to give a comic-reader’s view on this movie: “X2 brims with confidence and definitely owes more to its comic-book roots than the first film. The episodic structure, multiple story strands, ambitious scale and richer characterisation give it the feel of a graphic novel from the glory days of the 1980s, drawing heavily from God Loves, Man Kills with its political comment about prejudice against mutants, and a fan-pleasing nod to the Phoenix saga at the end – the final image mourning Jean and teasing what lies beneath Alkali Lake is heart-stopping for anyone who grew up imagining what would it be like if Dark Phoenix made it to the big screen. The downbeat ending and shifting allegiances also make it feel like part of an ongoing story, meaning you want to come back to see what happens next issue.”

Review: A big improvement on the (decent enough) first film. For a kick-off, this is more complex: there’s more intrigue, more excitement, generally more going on. At first, a number of subplots bounce around each other before clicking together nicely, and it’s a script where each scene pushes the story on in interesting ways. Editorially it works really well too: scenes often reach a crisis point then cut away to eke out tension. (The attack on the school is especially gripping.) There’s also a pleasing Empire Strikes Backsiness about how the team of regulars is split up as the shit hits the fan. Meanwhile, as the plot motors along, every character gets a meaningful journey or nice little moment. In short, it’s just notably better written than the first film. People’s powers tend to be shown rather than explained in dialogue, for example, while plot exposition is much more elegantly handled. One thing that fails to fly, however, is the Wolverine/Jean romance. There’s little chemistry between the actors and it’s hard to understand what they see in each other (beyond the fact they’re both played by attractive people). But the sombre ending teases the next film well…

Nine White Houses out of 10

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