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X2: X-Men United, written by Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris from a story by David Hayter, Zak Penn and Bryan Singer and the original comic book by Stan Lee, directed by Bryan Singer, 2003, 130 min.

X-Men 2 is a surprisingly interesting and mature movie, oddly structured, with less fighting and explosions than I was expecting of the first big summer blockbuster. Problems abound with the movie and itís by no means perfect. But it was a pleasing surprise and thatís not my usual response to such fare. Not every blockbuster even aims for the goal of spectacle-with-brains so thatís another mark in the movieís favour. And the timely issues of prejudice and loss of civil liberties inform the story of X2, not always successfully, and not always in a well-integrated manner. But again, I must say that X2 is a relatively enjoyable movie despite most of its flaws.

The movie opens with a bang. A mutant who we come to know as Nightcrawler infiltrates the White House; with extreme agility and his ability to teleport, he makes a mockery of the Secret Service protection, and leaves a knife stabbed into the desk next to the President, seemingly as a warning. This is the slightest provocation needed by the villain of the movie, General Stryker, to convince the government that mutants are dangerous, need to be registered, and so forth. Stryker also goes ahead with his own more secret and more dangerous plans. Meanwhile, Professor Xavier is still running his school for mutants, and in one of the big action sequences, some of the government soldiers try to take over the school for the purposes of registering all the mutants. Wolverine, Rogue, Iceman, and Pyro escape, while Storm and Jean Grey are out of town trying to track down Nightcrawler. A welter of mutants are introduced here, some familiar from the first movie (for those who havenít read the comic books), some new; all are relatively easy to keep track of, but the problem is that the movie simply doesnít have time to give each character much in the way of meaningful action or dialogue.

The grand outline of the plot gradually reveals itself: Stryker has kidnapped Xavier and wants to use Xavierís colossal mental powers, in coordination with the mental-enhancement machine known as Cerebro, to eliminate all mutants in one massive mental strike. He has a way of controlling mutants, which is how he forced Nightcrawler to invade the White House at the beginning of the movie. This is also how he got the information about Cerebro and Xavier from Magneto, the arch-villain of the first movie. But Magneto is not the right person to cross; for one thing, he still has a friend on the outside, in the person of the shapeshifting Mystique. He soon escapes, and the two mutant villains are soon in league with the many mutant heroes in order to stop Strykerís devastating plan. Of course Magneto has his own agenda...

Most of the special effects in the movie are subordinated to the needs of the plot or the characters, which is how it should be. Nightcrawlerís teleportation scenes in particular are effective, although the powers of Iceman and Pyro respectively are also interesting and impressive (and impressively staged). Mystiqueís shapeshifting is also pretty nifty, and she manages to fool most of the people she has to in the pursuit of her goals. Her infiltration of Strykerís base was probably my favourite part of the movie.

Unfortunately, X2 just has too many characters. Perhaps thatís the burden the movie inevitably has to bear, and this is likely the best anyone could have done with the material. All the same, three characters suffered most because of this. Professor X is supposed to be the leader of the mutant heroes, but he spends most of the movie in captivity, and most of that captivity as the dupe of an illusion. Cyclops is supposed to be one point of a love triangle, but we hardly see him. Pyro is a young hothead, who canít really understand Xavierís patience with humans. Thereís a moment later on in the movie where he makes an important moral decision and I know many people who saw the movie and missed that moment altogether. Three characters well served by the plot were Wolverine (as usual), Mystique, and Nightcrawler. I also liked the working relationship between Magneto and Mystique.

Many aspects of X2 ask us to accept some odd bits of logic. Some of these are typical superhero things, like the vastly destructive or constructive powers that mutations seem to bestow. Thatís a premise that has to be granted. Strykerís control of mutants was shown but never made sensible. In particular, I found that the final fight between Wolverine and a Stryker-controlled mutant named Deathstrike was mostly pointless. Earlier on, Singer gives us hints that Strykerís control wears off and that the mutants who work for him were doing so against their will. Why then did Deathstrike have to die? Why couldnít Wolverine just wait for the control to dissipate?

X2 ends in such a way that itís blatantly clear that another sequel is on the way soon. I was not surprised. Hopefully as much attention and care will be paid to the next movie as to this one, a dicey proposition with sequels. And a somewhat more streamlined approach wouldnít hurt either.

Last modified: June 1, 2003

Copyright © 2003 by James Schellenberg (

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