MRR's MOTW Review: "X2: X-Men United" Review

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As scientist named William Stryker discovers Professor X's secret school and Cerebro, Magneto's partner, Mystique, is planning to break her leader out of prison. But when Professor X's school is attacked by Stryker's forces, Logan, Rogue, Iceman and a few are lucky to escape. Those who remain meet in Boston, where they form an uneasy alliance with Magneto to stop Stryker and rescue Professor X.
3.5

MRR's MOTW Review: "X2: X-Men United" Review

-- Rating: PG-13 (violence, some sexuality, language)
Length: 133 minutes
Release Date: May 2, 2003
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Genre: Action/Adventure/Science Fiction

This follow-up to the successful 2000 film "X-Men," had a lot to live up to. The main cast from the first film made a return along with some new characters, including a new villain. Fans of the fifty-year-old comic series are already familiar with William Stryker (Brian Cox) and his drop-dead-gorgeous, more-than-a-sidekick Deathstrike (Kelly Hu). The world of these heroes and villains is one where mutated humans with superhuman abilities are still viewed with caution or even outright hatred by the majority of the normal human population. Never mind that it was the mutants who saved New York City and the Statue of Liberty.

The film's action begins with the introduction of another mutant familiar to comic book fans. Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) uses his teleporting ability to gain entry into the White House and threatens the President. This event sparks a call to contain the mutant problem, and it is also where Stryker becomes involved. For him, it simply isn't enough that the villain from the first film, Magneto, is imprisoned in a special non-metallic prison; Stryker wants all mutants eradicated, which leads to an uneasy alliance between Professor Xavier's (Patrick Stewart) team and Magneto's associate, Mystique (Rebecca Romijn).

The story is not a complete standalone, as the mythology from the first film is continued here. "X-Men" teased about a scary and forced past for Hugh Jackman's Wolverine, and the story is developed further in this installment. It is revealed that Stryker has knowledge of the program that converted Wolverine into a living super weapon, and the same procedure has been done to his own companion, Deathstrike. The encounter at the base hidden beneath Alkali Lake leads to a high-stakes, climactic finale for the film, and it provides more breadcrumbs as to the origin of Wolverine.

Hugh Jackman once again gives a strong performance as Wolverine, and it seems that this role was meant for him. Cummings' Nightcrawler is a different story, and his performance seems a bit unbalanced. While this character has always had a light-hearted and mischievous side in X-Men lore, he also struggles with his obvious differences and his faith in a God that at times seems like He has forsaken him. Cummings can pull off the sorrowful lost boy, but his faux-Germanic accent is a bit too much, and takes one out of the moment.

Brian Cox does the man-on-a-mission role quite convincingly, and Kelly Hu pulls off his martial-arts-armed minion in a manner that makes the viewer forget she is just an actress. She's vile, cunning, and a perfect match against Wolverine. Director Singer and his band of writers, including Michael Dougherty and Daniel P. Harris, did a masterful job of balancing this driving character action with some of the other key players, of whom there are many: Cyclops (James Marsden), Halle Berry's Storm, Anna Paquin's more adult Rogue, and the extremely important Jean Grey (Famke Jannsen). Everyone has a favorite character, but for a multi-character universe such as this, it's important to give each member of an ensemble cast some room to tell his or her part of the story and grow.

"X-Men" had a very introductory feel, in which the cast and crew were getting to know their characters and the story. "X2" is a much more polished production due to the performers' greater confidence in their roles and thanks to a larger budget for the movie. It has a darker story element and the action effects, along with pinches of romance, fun, and philosophy, are thrilling. The only area where this sequel is lacking is the element of surprise. The choice to not have a cliffhanger ending was the most surprising aspect, even if it did have incredible emotional resonance in the final moments. It's almost as if the production team was not sure if there would be a third film for the franchise because the final scene screamed closure and sacrifice for the greater good.

One of the most effective aspects of this film's dark side is the transformation of some of the mutant children into effective adult killing machines. This is a theme that has recurred throughout history; outsiders, who are feared or ridiculed, decide to make people pay for their suffering. The musical score is very ominous and heavy handed, but this is appropriate for the film. Like its predecessor, "X-2" is not the typical comic-book-hero movie. It brings to light much about the nature of humanity and what we do to one another out of fear.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5