Combustible Celluloid
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With: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Anna Paquin, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Brian Cox, Alan Cumming, Bruce Davison, Helly Hu
Written by: Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris, David Hayter, based on a story by Zak Penn, David Hayter, Bryan Singer
Directed by: Bryan Singer
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi action/violence, some sexuality and brief language
Running Time: 133
Date: 04/24/2003

X2: X-Men United (2003)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Mutants Need Love Too

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Perhaps the most amazing thing about the new sequel X2, subtitled X-Men United, is that it's made strictly for comic book fans; the rest of the world is not invited. For that reason -- because it hasn't been stretched thin to accommodate first-timers -- it may be the best super-hero movie yet made.

Of course, some of these movies, such as Richard Lester's Superman II, Tim Burton's two Batman films and Sam Raimi's Spider-Man, are stamped with personal artistic visions, but Bryan Singer's X-Men films remain the truest to the core reasons we like -- and need -- super-heroes.

And while the first X-Men introduced us to the various mutant characters, X2 simply plunges us in, starting not long after the first movie has left off.

Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is up North, walking through the snow and sucking on a cigar, looking for some clue to his past. Rogue (Anna Paquin) is in puppy-love with Iceman (Shawn Ashore) but can't kiss him without draining out his life-force -- while Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) has become increasingly unable to control her powers.

Bad guy Magneto (Ian McKellen) is still in his plastic prison and the sexy Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) tries to get him out, while occasionally masquerading as Senator Robert Kelly (Bruce Davison), who, of course, died in the first movie.

The Senator runs into a new face in Washington, General William Stryker (Brian Cox), who is just as bent on eliminating mutants as Kelly was in the last film.

To that end, a mysterious assassin breaks into the White House and gets within a hair's breadth of the president's head. Funny thing, he's blue and when he teleports, he leaves behind a puff of black sulfur. His name is Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming), and he's the newest X-man. (We find out later that he wasn't exactly himself during the attack.)

Singer juggles an enormous number of subplots, and each one gets its own place and time; each one feels equal to all the rest. Wolverine's secret crush on Jean Grey is just as important as Pyro's (Aaron Stanford) impatience at having to remain a trainee.

Singer and screenwriters David Hayter (X-Men, The Scorpion King), Dan Harris and Michael Dougherty, manage a good amount of conflict without dialogue, relying on their outstanding cast's talent and charisma. For instance, we get more of an idea of Storm (Halle Berry) this time, just from a few lingering seconds looking into her eyes.

But of course, the selling point of the X-Men movies is the action, and X2 delivers. The scene in which Mystique helps break Magneto out of prison alone is worth the price of admission, but we also have Nightcrawler's debut, Wolverine's fight with Deathstrike (Kelly Hu), an airplane chase and a lot more.

The special effects are above par, and Singer is one of the few filmmakers who understands that the first rule of a great action scene is that we can see it. He doesn't edit faster than the human eye can blink.

While this stuff draws us in, the intense character conflicts are what keep us there. Wolverine may be one of the coolest badasses around, but he's also a tortured soul, horribly lonely and confused, prone to drinking too much beer, and does not play well with others. The rest of the team all wrestle with their demons, too, and very few living, breathing audience members will fail to identify with at least one of them.

My few small complaints all revolve around the Stryker character, who is just a bit too much of a one-dimensional moustache-twister to be effective -- even though Cox manages to tone him down a bit through his performance. I did admire the idea of Magneto teaming up with Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) to fight the greater evil -- this was one of my favorite director Howard Hawks' usual motifs.

Die-hard X-Men comic book readers will get a kick out of small cameos by Colossus and Kitty Pryde (a.k.a. Shadowcat), as well as brief mentions of the characters who will become Beast and Gambit, hopefully in future sequels.

And, truth be told, this is one series I hope continues for a good long while.

A sequel, X-Men: The Last Stand, was released in 2006.

DVD Details: Another spectacular 2-disc set, this must-have DVD contains two audio commentary tracks, several featurettes, deleted and extended scenes and six photo galleries (with so many beautiful women in your cast, you need a lot of photos).

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