X2: X-Men United

Trent reviews one of the most anticipated movies of the year, Bryan Singer’s “X2: X-men United”, starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Brian Cox and Halle Berry. He explains why this is what X-men fans and movie-goers alike have been waiting for since the characters first outing.

Okay, this is what comic book movies should be like. Just give the fans what they want, and everybody wins. And what did the fans want? More characters? They got it. More action? They got it. More fun? Yep (and of course, cameos cameos cameos). This is a much faster and more exciting ride than the first, the two-and-a-bit hours just fly by.

First of all, let’s get the basic plot elements out of the way. After a mutant-related security attack on the Whitehouse, ideas of a mutant registration act return. The security scare also (and more importantly) brings forth an anti-mutant movement led by former army commander William Stryker that is not only a threat to the X-Men, but to mutantkind as a whole. Based on the classic Chris Claremont tale “God Loves, Man Kills”, it manages to stray away from the original plot enough not to make it predictable for those in the know.

Thankfully, most of the original cast members are back for the sequel. Left out this time are Sabretooth and Toad, both of which didn’t really add much to the ensemble anyway (so this is what happens to a Toad when it gets struck by lightning). It seems that for those returning, the acting is on par (Sir Ian McKellen and Partrick Stewart) or better than before. The focus on Professor X and Magneto seems to take a backseat in order to make way for their younger co-stars. That said, they both still retain moderately large roles and their conflicting ideals still manage to be heard amongst the other more immediate events of the film. Some more of their powerful conversations would have been appreciated as the two actors play off and compliment each other nicely.

Hugh Jackman, once again, was Wolverine. Jackman has said in a number of interviews that he found it much easier to get into character this time, and it shows. In X2, Logan continues his search for details of his mysterious past to which Stryker seems to know a thing or two about. He has more of those odd flashbacks of bits and pieces of his Weapon X operation and finds out more than he bargained for when the past meets with the present. Not to mention a good deal of berserker rage, something unheard of in 1999’s “X-men”. And is in the comics, it seems almost all of the women in the comics have some chemistry with Logan

Although James Marsden’s Cyclops seemed to be absent for most of the film, the scenes he did appear in were performed to perfection. He gave a really emotional performance in the latter scenes especially, giving a side to Scott that is rarely ever seen in the comic book. In contrast, Cyclops’ telepathic/telekinetic wife, Jean Grey (well-acted by Famke Janssen), has a much larger role than, and has grown notably since “X-men”. Not only in character (the Wolverine-Jean-Cyclops love triangle is explored much more vividly), but also in power, suggesting the return of a certain cosmic entity.

Despite some “controversy” Halle Berry has gotten much more screen time in her role as the weather controlling Storm, yet has mysteriously lost her African accent (an inconsistency that can be overlooked). Although her dialogue is vastly out of synch with the source material giving the impression that the writers don’t really know what to do with her. Storm manages to be a major player this time (instead of some pretty inanimate piece of furniture she seemed to be in “X-Men”). She takes on the role of a powerful leader-type, and enjoys at least one nice character moment (I really enjoyed her scene with Nightcrawler on the blackbird).

Rogue, Iceman and Pyro (played by Anna Paquin, Shawn Ashmore, and Aaron Stanford respectively) represent the student aspect of the ensemble. The movie explores Rogue and Bobby’s relationship and the intimacy problems they face due to Rogue’s energy absorbing powers. Although it’s odd seeing Rogue with anyone but Gambit (why isn’t he in the movie again?), the two young actors make it work in the little onscreen time they have. It’s nice to see Rogue acting a bit more outgoing, but there’s no ‘sugah’ speaking southern belle to be seen, still, she’s portrayed effortlessly by Paquin. Ashmore gives a gentle side to Iceman that I appreciated. Completing the fire and ice contrast, Pyro steadily becomes darker and is more willing to use his mutant talents offensively, catching the eye of Magneto(who is shopping for new members of his brotherhood).

Not to be left completely alone, the shape-shifting Mystique returns as the sole member of Magneto’s brotherhood. And, it has to be said, she kicks ass. She oozes a stealth and sexuality in every scene she’s in. Rebecca Romijn Stamos adds this cheekiness to the character that was really appreciated by the audience (the scene where she gives Stryker the finger is one of my favourites). A real surprise stand-out character (I knew she’d be cool, but how she was handled here was just perfect).

As well as returning regulars, X2 introduces some interesting new characters. The most notable of these is, of course, William Stryker, but he is overshadowed by the demon-like Christian, Kurt Wagner (AKA Nightcrawler). As one of my favourites from the comics, I was pleasantly surprised at how spot-on both his characterization and movement/powers were. His innocence did not seem corny at all as I’d feared, neither did his religious nature. It was a pleasure watching Alan Cumming teleport around on screen, the definitive scene-stealer.

Lady Deathstrike (she is never called that in the movie by the way) did her job just fine, despite only having one line (Kelly Hu can make quite an impression without talking). Acting as Stryker’s personal assistant, Yuriko Oyama is a mutant here instead of a cyborg and is presented as a streamlined, more efficient, female Wolverine. I for one would have loved for her to stay a cyborg, it would’ve made that fight a lot more gory (it’d also lose that pg-13 rating in the process). She’s the movie’s replacement for Wolverine’s other rival; Sabretooth. Although both Sabretooth and Deathstrike are tagged as Wolverine’s ‘arch enemies’, there’s little evidence in the movies to support this claim besides having a battle now and then. Perhaps the defeat of Yuriko could have been a bit more drawn out, revealing the past the two have shared. It’s disappointing that she’s never really used until near the end, but with such a large cast, it was understandable.

The villainous Stryker, based on Reverend Stryker from “God Loves, Man Kills”, is beautifully acted by Brian Cox. He really adds to the movie by blindly backing the anti-mutant movement with some strange ideas on how mutants should be treated and controlled. Despite his wicked ways it does seem a little strange that so many powerful mutants are need to team up to defeat a small regular human army led by a baseline human, but that’s plot devices for you. He still manages to be threatening despite his little immediate power.

Nothing says increased budget like a big wad of special effects. Ranging from subtle but impressive effects (such as Rogue) to exciting ominous power displays (Storm and Jean finally get to use their powers how they’re supposed to), X2 has some exciting visuals to offer. Newcomer Nightcrawler’s “bamf” teleport was spot on with how I thought it should be, and thankfully, he gets to teleport quite a bit making for some stunning action scenes(the first scene he’s in is visually stunning, and a great way to start). Jean Grey almost has an energy signature this time with the constant phoenix imagery appearing when her powers go out of control (the Cyclops and Jean fight scene was just plain nice to look at). Storm now uses a variety of weather effects, with a very cool tornado scene showing off her talents. You can tell the production team really aimed for creativity (Magneto’s amazing escape scene) as well as teamwork when it comes to their respective talents which reflects the “X-men United” title. It’s nice to have unique visual effects for almost every mutant cast member. The music is nothing outstanding, but still very good. A few powerful pieces here and there, standard epic blockbuster fare. Both the music and sound effects really add to the scope of the sequel (partly because they were so loud).

Complimenting those special effects and another aspect stood out in particular as being vastly improved over the original, would have to be X2’s fight sequences. Whilst Storm, Jean and Magneto shine aided by special effects, Wolverine, Mystique, Nightcrawler and Lady Deathstrike are the real crowd pleasers in this department. From a stunning opening scene (that will surely be remembered for years) to a gritty cat and dog fight between Wolverine and Deathstrike to the acrobatic prowess of Mystique they never fail to impress; not to mention an exciting attack on the school scene showcasing a number of cameos. Speaking of cameos, I (and the audience) would have loved to see more of Colossus and Shadowcat. There was even an opportunity for the armoured Russian (accent sold separately), but sadly nothing eventuated.

A lot of critics have commented that the basic themes exploring tolerance, prejudice and equality that have been a constant with the franchise haven’t evolved much since the first movie. While I’d be inclined to somewhat agree with that statement, ‘somewhat’ on the basis that comic book movies shouldn’t need to. It’s not what they’re about. X2 is what they’re all about- entertainment in its purest form. Making it one of the best, if not the best, super hero movie I’ve seen.

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