Movie review by Greg Carlson
The good news is that the weakest thing about “X2: X-Men United” is its limp title, another one of those shorthand sequel acronyms bestowed apparently for the benefit of the attention-span challenged or the near-illiterate (see: “T2,” “T3,” MiB 2,” MI:2,” etc.). Marquee notwithstanding, director Bryan Singer proved the last time out that he was clearly the man for the job – a smart storyteller with an occasionally stunning sense of visual grandeur, and more importantly, deep and abiding affection for the source material. The consensus among fans was that, for the most part, he got it right.
On the colorful page, one of the hallmarks of Marvel Comics is a preoccupation with brooding, depressed heroes plagued with problems not easily overcome by their awesome powers. Singer lavished attention on this detail in the first “X-Men,” and healthy doses of the same themes attended both “Spider-Man” and “Daredevil” (the jury is still out on the yet-to-be-released Hulk movie – Ang Lee is a proven director, but that artificial-looking CG in the preview is drawing muffled snickers and shocked gasps). With its recurring motifs of genocide, oppression, and estrangement, the “X-Men” series manages to strike a timely chord.
“X2” opens with a spectacular set-piece that introduces us to blue-skinned, fork-tailed teleporter Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) as he demonstrates how effortlessly he can endanger anyone, even the President of the United States of America. The reasons for Nightcrawler’s attack on the Oval Office are revealed in time, but suffice it to say that influential people want plenty of ammunition for their initiative to marginalize mutants by drafting legislation that would erode equal rights and privileges (downright eerie how closely the Mutant Registration Act mirrors the real-life Patriot Act). Fortunately, any semblance of plot is quickly relegated to the background, as Singer rotates the concerns of the movie toward its unique inhabitants.
In addition to the original line-up, “X2” adds Nightcrawler, Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), Pyro (Aaron Stanford), Deathstrike (Kelly Hu), and a handful of other characters who might figure more prominently in additional installments of the story. Once the required presentations are made, the balance of the movie is spread out among old favorites like Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, very trenchant), who digs deeper into his past in order to piece together gaps in his memory. Once again, some characters fade into the background: Halle Berry’s Storm isn’t given much more to do than the first time around, and Cyclops (James Marsden) is only trotted out when the plot absolutely demands his presence.
Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen are as good as ever playing rivals Professor X and Magneto. Villains always get to have more fun, though, and it is McKellen who relishes every droll bon mot in his re-teaming with sexy shapeshifter Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, who makes the most of her more expanded role). The inveterate Brian Cox is also greatly appreciated as a mysterious military man with ties to Wolverine. While this sizable ensemble presents Singer with a formidable obstacle in the allotment of equal screen time, the director adroitly sketches in just enough for each participant to come alive. It will be interesting to see where he takes us next time.
This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 5/5/03.