This is a slightly disappointing sequel to the first X-MEN movie, which helped revive Hollywood interest in adapting comic books into big-budget productions. The same seriousness of intent is plainly visible, as everyone involved strives mightily to make a comic book movie that is much more than just a comic book movie. To a large extent they succeed, but at a fairly severe cost – the film’s higher aspirations sometimes weigh the action down, creating a story that is interesting but not always engaging, lacking the exuberance that could have made it truly exciting.
The script follows the narrative thread left open at the end of the original, with Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) seeking to solve the mystery of his origin. Along the way, the film, typical of sequels, gives much of what we saw before – only lots more of it. The plot holds some interest, with the two rival band of mutants (Dr. Xavier’s good-guy X-men and the bad-guy duo of Magneto and Mystique) teaming up to fight a common foe (one of those military-industrial complex types, played by Brian Cox), but the dramatic possibilities of this uneasy alliance are never fully explored (the audience is left to imagine much of the tension, based on the conflict seen in the first film).
There are lots of interesting highlights and memorable moments, such as when the villainous Mystique (Rebecca Romijin) attempts to seduce Wolverine by changing her appearance to that of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). The beautiful Romijin also gets to appear without her full-body makeup for a scene in which Mystique plays a credulous guard for a fool, knocking him out and injecting him some kind of liquid mettle (in order to facilitate Magneto’s escape from a non-metal prison cell that his powers cannot affect). Wolverine gets to duke it out with a female alter ego, Lady Deathstrike (Kelly Hu) with powers and abilities similar to his own – a cool fight scene even better than the confrontation with Sabertooth in the previous film. And of course, Jean Grey gets a wonderful martyr’s death as she uses her psychic powers to protect her comrades from a wall of rushing water after a dam explodes. (A final helicopter shot over the resulting lake that engulfs her, showing the shadow suggestive of a bird, leaves no doubt that she will be returning as Phoenix.)
The big strength of X2: X-MEN UNITED is also its most dangerous pitfall: the attempt to play the story for drama helps elevate the story above its comic book origins, but it also drags the film down, preventing it from reaching the giddy heights of entertainment seen in the SPIDER-MAN films. In the end, it’s a noble effort but not an entirely successful one.
X2: X-MEN UNITED (2003). Directed by Bryan Singer. Screenplay by David Hayter and Michale Dougherty & Dan Harris, from a story by Zak Penn and David Hayter & Bryan Singer, based on the Marvel comic book characters. Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Tyler Mane, Rebecca Romijin, Alan Cumming, Bruce Davis, Kelly Hu.
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