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X2: X-Men United

Starring: Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan
Director: Bryan Singer
Genre: Action
Year: 2003
Rating: 4 / 5

Reviewed by Guest Scribe Legend

The thing about adaptations is that they’re never exactly like the source material they draw from. The sooner you accept this principle, the sooner you’ll be able to enjoy such a movie. Thus, a crucial criterion for evaluating a film of this type is its faithfulness to the source. X2: X-Men United passes muster in this regard with a qualified yes. Picking up where X-Men left off, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is on a quest to find more about his origin. Magneto, the X-Men’s principal nemesis, is confined to a plastic prison where his metal manipulation abilities have no effect. The shape-shifter Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) has taken the guise of Senator Kelly (Bruce Davison). And of course, the other X-Men and their pupils are alive and well at their school in Westchester.

The film opens in a wham-bam thrilling fight sequence in which a new mutant, Nightcrawler (well-portrayed by Alan Cumming), has a go at breaching White House security. This attack brings the movie’s main villain, William Stryker (Brian Cox), to the forefront, seeking a crackdown on the mutant menace from the presidency, resulting in an attack on the X-Men’s facility.

With a cast of so many characters, director Brian Singer does a great job of keeping tabs on all of them and switching between plot developments. Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Cyclops (James Marsden) head for an audience with Magneto while Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and Storm (Halle Berry) attempt to track down Nightcrawler. Back at the school, Wolverine and the pupils, most notably Rogue (Anna Paquin), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and Pyro (Aaron Stanford) attempt to escape Stryker’s goons. These scenes involve plenty of nice cameos for fans of the comic book, including an intangibility act by Shadowcat (Katie Stuart), some muscle from steel-skinned Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), and an ear-splitting scream from Siryn (Shauna Kain).

The fractioned team — and their former enemies — must come together to thwart Stryker’s plan, which is no less than extermination of mutantkind, an obsession fueled by deep-seated family issues. This is a logical turn for the X-Men franchise to take, to show both sides of the coin. In the first film, Magneto’s threat was that of exerting mutant superiority under a looming possibility of government regulation of mutants. Here, we have a rogue government operative attempting to wipe out mutants so humankind wins the evolutionary war. Both threats are equally ominous to the X-Men, whose mantra is peaceful coexistence between mutant and human.

Naturally, what we have here is action extraordinaire, easily outstripping its predecessor with eye-popping effects. We see some great shape-shifting from Mystique, teleportation by the acrobatic Nightcrawler, displays of telekinesis from Jean Grey and oodles more. And of course, there’s plenty of cool fight scenes, again with Nightcrawler and Mystique taking honors, but with Wolverine, Cyclops and the under-explored Lady Deathstrike (Kelly Hu) certainly putting on a show as well. The plot does not suffer unduly by concentrating on the fact that these characters are, after all, superheroes. With a healthier running time than the original, X2 does manage to let us see what more of the main characters can do with their powers and abilities, and generally what they’re like. One character particularly ignored is Cyclops, the uptight field leader of the team in a role well-suited for James Marsden. However, his lack of presence works wonders in freeing up air time for many of the other characters and allowing Halle Berry as Storm to take a leading role in the action, more befitting of her Hollywood status.

So, is X2 faithful to the comic book? Certainly, the spirit of the comic book remains intact, with the underlying theme of genetic war and the need to deal with extremists on both sides of the spectrum. The disparities are far too many to mention, and few alarm me significantly. Again, this is a new canon being formed, so minor departures are understandable. For instance, Rogue’s powers are a shadow of her comic book version, but they are as she might reasonably exist in a younger incarnation. More alarming is Professor Xavier, whose abilities and susceptibilities seem way out of whack. Having extensive knowledge of the comic, that was my major bone to pick. Other things are minor annoyances, like the fact that Colossus is not Russian and that there should be more teenagers and not little kiddies running around the school. Mutant powers develop at puberty, after all. However, these things don’t significantly influence the plot, and therefore should not significantly detract from a comic book fan’s enjoyment of the film.

By the same token, there is plenty that caters to readers of the comic that others might not catch. For instance, as computer files are raided, a clever eye might pick up names like Artie Maddicks and Xi’an Coy Manh from the database, minor characters in the X-Men mythos. When Professor Xavier says, “I know a girl who can walk through walls,” we know he’s speaking of Shadowcat, although her character has not been properly introduced. The most pandering to the comic book crowd, however, happens in the grand finale of the film, in a surprising sequence involving Jean Grey. Without fully spoiling things, I will rest on the fact that those with a solid knowledge of X-Men lore have an understanding of what really happened, and a clue of what might happen in future sequels, for which the film practically begs.

X2 marks a very solid effort and is, in my mind, far more enjoyable than the first film despite an obscure villain. It should be noted that many do not recognize William Stryker from the comic. He is in fact a character adapted from a 1980s X-Men graphic novel known as God Loves, Man Kills. But X2: X-Men United feels so much more like an X-Men story and adventure than its predecessor does, which scores big points. There’s a lot to like here, even for those who have not seen the first film and have never picked up the comic.

Cast:

Patrick Stewart..........Professor X
Ian McKellan..........Magneto
Hugh Jackman..........Wolverine
Famke Janssen..........Jean Grey
James Marsden..........Cyclops
Halle Berry..........Storm
Anna Paquin..........Rogue

Certification: Rated PG-13.
Running Time: 134 minutes.

Additional Info: Internet Movie Database
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