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Heroes of the Zeroes: X2: X-Men United

by on December 9, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“X2: X-Men United”
Rated PG-13

Juggling at least seven different plots, 2003’s 133-minute “X2: X-Men United” wasn’t much for the whole brevity thing as was its 104-minute predecessor.

Good thing, as Bryan Singer’s introductory “X-Men” film felt tentatively truncated in hesitant hopes these mutants at large would generate a franchise.

Singer’s first blockbuster foray into directorial carte blanche effortlessly entertained, thanks to brisk pacing and Singer’s own sure-handed direction. (When Singer bailed on a hastily thrown-together third installment to film “Superman Returns,” that job went to Brett Ratner — a director marking the franchise only with feces.)

Struggles with rage, alienation and faith rarely shine through explosions and rescues, but Singer paid as much attention to storytelling as spectacle — allowing “X-Men’s” messaging to make its points without sappiness.

Ramping up the political undertones of human-mutant relations, “X2” puts harmonious coexistence asunder after a presidential assassination attempt. Fearing war, X-Men leader Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) uncovers a mutant-genocide plot hatched by General William Stryker (Brian Cox), who harbors personal hatred for the species.

Though blockbuster bloat was inevitable (a pull-out-all-the-stops finale goes on too long and romantic entanglements ensue among nearly every X-Man and Woman), “X2” dexterously balances action, comedy and drama.

A battle between Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Deathstrike (Kelly Hu) evokes the climactic brutality of “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” and the introduction of another wheelchair-bound mutant proves a powerful, uncommonly somber moment.

As its mutant characters differ from humans, “X2” evolved differently from most other comic-book cash cows into something sadder, saucier and significantly smarter.