The Marvel Movies: X2: X-Men United
The “Empire Strikes Back” of the “X-Men” series, “X2” not only followed up on the pretty-darn-good original film but improved upon its every aspect — raising the stakes and the scale while seamlessly introducing new characters and growing bit players from the first film into full-fledged members of the team.
Following the events of the first film, Magneto (Ian McKellan) is still in his plastic prison and, for the moment, the Mutant Registration Act has been defeated.
But that doesn’t mean all is wine and roses for Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and company: A villain from their past, William Stryker (a phenomenal Brian Cox), who has both the President’s ear and a connection to mutants, is determined to enact his twisted will upon all of mutant kind.
Stryker also shares a past with Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, coming into his own in this film), who continues to explore his past.
As you might suspect, Magneto doesn’t stay imprisoned for long, and his escape is a daring, imaginative sequence that uses characters as chess pieces (as does the rest of the film).
Among the new characters, the Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) enters the fray, exploding into the film in a spectacular prologue where, under mind control, he attempts to assassinate the President of the United States.
The action only ramps up from there as we discover Stryker’s plan, finally unfurling in the film’s gigantic climax at an underground base hidden within a dam.
It’s the combination of character development, action and pure emotion that drives the film, where even secondary characters have motivations; a wonderful moment a lesser film would have cut for time finds the shapeshifting Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) propositioning Wolverine, at first disguising herself as Wolvie’s crush, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), then purring, “No one has left scars like you.” He rejects her, but not before offering herself as whomever Logan wants: Storm, Rogue, then finally Stryker, who holds the keys to Wolverine’s past.
Speaking of Rogue (Anna Paquin), her arc continues as she continues to develop her relationship with Bobby Drake (Shawn Ashmore), known to you and me as Iceman. She still cannot touch anyone, but young love burns hot, and when the would-be lovers finally steal a momentary kiss, the result is both a cute sight gag and a wonderful moment for Rogue.
McKellan is marvelous as Magneto, who both plays, and is played by, the game. He and Mystique form a tenuous alliance with the X-Men, but he continues to serve his own interests. He proves a most charismatic, tempting dark side, tempting young Pyro (Aaron Standford) by asking him a simple question: “What’s your name?” When he answers, “John,” Magneto, without batting an eye, replies, “What’s your real name?”
The brilliant finale connects all of the arcs, successfully juggles all of the characters, answers the questions introduced in the film and creates a few more, such as Jean’s ever-burgeoning powers. It all boils into an ultimately wrenching conclusion where a most unlikely character sacrifices it all to save the group, but with a tantalizing hope that the third film will handle a character arc that had fanboys leaving the theater salivating at the prospect of a third film.
Next time: Eric Bana gets green!
Previous Marvel Movie Entries
Conan the Barbarian (1982)
Conan the Destroyer (1984)
Red Sonja (1985)
Howard the Duck (1986)
The Punisher (1989)
Captain America (1990)
The Fantastic Four (1994)
Blade II (2002)