X-Men 2 surpasses its predecessor by telling a tight, fast moving story while simultaneously giving fans almost everything they wanted.
The story picks up shortly after the end of the first film. The X-Men are back at Xavier’s mansion, dabbling with normalcy. Rogue, life-force absorbing, power-stealing teenager, has a boyfriend in the form of the ice-wielding Bobby Drake, and both are happy that their biggest problem in life is figuring out how to kiss without Rogue knocking Bobby into next week. Wolverine is off doing loner-type things, namely tracking down his lost history, while Jean Grey, Cyclops and Storm have settled back into their roles as teachers to the next generation of mutants.
But all is not well in mutantdom. A teleporting, blue-skinned mutant has attacked the president, bamfing his way past dozens of secret agents in order to pin a message favoring “Mutant Liberation” into the president’s desk with a dagger. This provocation, on top of Magento’s failed plot to convert the world’s leaders into mutants, gives Col. Striker, the leader of a militant anti-mutant faction within the U.S. government, the opportunity he needs to take the fight to his hated enemies.
As this new battle unfolds, the X-Men find themselves in an uneasy alliance with Magneto and his fledgling Brotherhood of Mutants, as both he and Xavier find themselves pushed to their very limits by the struggle.
A Movie Fans Can Love
I’ve been reading X-Men comic books steadily since high school (round about 1989) and have managed to collect a solid run of Uncanny X-Men from around 150 forward. I’ve read all the great X-Men storylines — “Days of Future Past”, “X-Tinction Agenda”, “Mutant Massacre”– and soaked up a huge amount of X-Men lore. What I enjoyed most about X2 is how well aspects of this lore were woven into the larger story, providing dozens of little touches that turned a straight-forward story into something a fanboy can get excited about.
During the course of this movie, we catch glimpses of Shadowcat (the teenager who can run through walls), Colossus (the student who turns himself into steel) and Syren (the girl who’s scream woke up the entire school). An un-furry, un-Beast-like Hank McCooy appears as a talking head on the TV, and we catch a glimpse of Remy LeBeau (aka Gambit) in a mutant database.
But the biggest hat tip, and the one that truly had me going pumped going out of the theatre (and watching the DVD) was Jean Grey’s subplot. In the movie, we learned that Jean’s powers have been surging since Magneto’s failed mutation attempt at Liberty Island. For casual viewers, this is no big deal, but for fans, well, it’s a clear nod to a certain classic storyline known as the Dark Phoenix Saga. That speculation turns into certainty at the movies end, as the Phoenix affect flares large and director Bryan Singer tells us in know uncertain terms what X3 is going to be about.
Ignoring the Quibbles
If I wanted to do the anal-retentive fan thing, I could find plenty to fume about. Nightcrawler, one of my favorite characters, is supposed to be covered in blue fur; instead he’s covered with tattoos. Bobby Drake (Iceman) is one of the founding X-Men, here he’s reduced to a teenager. Pyro’s a full-blown member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants; here he’s the fire to Drake’s ice. While everyone else goes by their codename, Jean Gray is never referred to as Marvel Girl. And Lady Deathstrike? Why they didn’t even give her name in the movie, nor the reason why she really wants to kill Wolverine.
I could do all that, and fixate endlessly over the differences between film and page, but I won’t because the important thing is that Singer was able to perfectly capture the feel of the comic book. Even more so than in the first film, X2 lives and breaths the mutant reality. The characters maybe tweaked, the story may not be out of any title I ever read, but this is–at a fundamental level–an X-Men movie.
The libertarian in me enjoyed the fact that the enemy was rogue elements within our own government, rather than some Big Business boogiemen, which so many films default to nowadays. This theme resonates–or should resonate–with people living in a world with color-coded terrorism. The thinking behind the PATRIOT Act, with all its loopholes and secret warrants, doesn’t seem all that different from Stryker’s own rationalizations for launching an attack on a “mutant training facility”.
The movie is not perfect. The story is serviceable, but while it echoes the great tales of the X-Men, it is not itself one of those great tales. It’s a far cry from the complexity and depth of Singer’s own The Usual Suspects, but this is a flaw shared by most comic book movies, so I won’t come down to hard about that. I’m just happy that the plot didn’t have any major gaping wholes in it.
The movie’s climatic ending felt contrived to me; how many times have we seen the cliched high-tech car/plane/boat/rocketship that fails at some crucial moment, thus creating dramatic tension? It can work–such failures established the Millennium Falcon as a character in Star Wars, and the malfunction DeLorean was a running joke in the Back to the Future movies–but here it seems forced.
And then there’s the title. As with Spiderman 2, Hollywood had all sorts of great sequel names they could have used for this movie: The Uncanny X-Men, The Astonishing X-Men, etc. Instead, they choose to go with the most generic title possible only tagging on the lame (and redundant) “X-Men United” title when someone decided that X2 was just a wee bit too boring.
X-Men 2 isn’t the perfect X-Men movie — for that, we need a few Sentinels, The Hellfire Club and a little lady known as Dark Phoenix — but its getting closer. Fans will enjoy the hidden extras scattered throughout the script while others should appreciate its fast-paced, heroic storyline.
- X-Men 2: X-Men United
- Director: Bryan Singer
- Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart
- Running Time: 132 minutes
- Buy it from Amazon.com