Apr 19, 2015

Review: X2 [X-Men 2: X-Men United] (2003)

I consider the first X-Men movie to be the beginning of the modern superhero era. With Batman & Robin putting the entire genre into doubt in 1997, here was a movie that wasn't just about action sequences, loud sets and ridiculous villains. Human themes like acceptance and alienation are explored and it also helps when you have a great cast. That especially goes for the Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart connection. Their duality happens to be one of the best things in the entire X-Men franchise.

Even if X-Men is still far from the best superhero movie ever made, it was surprisingly competent. So how do you follow up on something like that? With an additional $50 million approved for the budget, Bryan Singer and producer Tom DeSanto wanted X2 to be like what Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back was to Star Wars. Talk about reaching for the stars. I mean, how rare is it that sequels end up being better than their originals? Practically never would be as good a guess as any.


At a Glance

Genre: action, adventure, sci-fi
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Produced by: Lauren Shuler Donner, Ralph Winter, Avi Arad, etc.
Written by: Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris, David Hayter
Music by: John Ottman
Running time: 134 minutes
Production company: Donners' Company, Marvel Enterprises, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, etc.
Distributed by: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, Gemini Film, 20th Century Fox, etc.
Country: United States, Canada
Language: English, German
Budget: $110,000,000
Box office: $407,711,549 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Anna Paquin, Rebecca Romijn, Brian Cox, Alan Cumming, Bruce Davison, Aaron Stanford, Shawn Ashmore, Kelly Hu, Katie Stuart, Kea Wong, Cotter Smith, Chiara Zanni 



An unknown mutant attacks the White House, putting tensions between mutants and humans at an all-time high. Using Cerebro, Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) tracks down this mystery mutant and sends Storm (Halle Berry) and Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) to pick him up. With Logan (Hugh Jackman) arriving after having tried to find out more about his past, he's left to watch over the school while Xavier goes to visit Magneto (Ian McKellen) in prison. Unbeknownst to anyone, US military scientist William Stryker (Brian Cox) gets permission from the president to take action on the mutant problem.


Just like X-Men surprised, X2 surprises even more. It represents a maturation in the best possible sense for the series. Continuing to explore the same themes of X-Men, Bryan Singer's follow-up feels even richer with the additional thirty minutes of runtime that isn't just put towards action sequences. With so many characters, it would've been too easy for X2 to have come off as heavy and unfocused. Overall, every character seems to get a fair amount of screen time and you get a proper, non-superficial feel for them which is quite an accomplishment.

To me that's one of the best things about X-Men and that goes even more so for X2. This Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris and David Hayter script juggles everybody pretty fairly. Every character just seems to be involved. OK, I'll admit that Storm is more or less unnecessary and I don't much care for her story, but at least Halle Berry has been unshackled from doing the South African accent which seemed a bit unwieldy for her. Honestly, I feel like the Storm character is more or less an excuse at putting a big name and face on a poster. At least she does get some interesting scenes where she utilizes her powers to pretty cool effect.

There will always be complaints that Logan/Wolverine gets too much screen time though. But let's be honest, Wolverine is just awesome. X2 is where we finally get some questions answered in regards to his past and it's pretty interesting if you ask me. Hugh Jackman is clearly more prepared for the role in terms of physique and I think his character is written with a little more intelligence when it comes to being so prickly. His surliness just feels a little less cartoony.

Other standouts predictably include Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. McKellen in particular is just so effective in his villain role. He gets some really great scenes to show off his powerful delivery without ever falling into scene chewing. Not to mention Brian Cox who's perfectly cast as William Stryker. Pretty much just channeling his Hannibal Lector from Manhunter, I'm not complaining. You couldn't ask for a better anti-mutant agenda-holding antagonist. Stryker's backstory has some meat and you can totally understand his point-of-view too.

There is a bit more action in X2, but less individual fight scenes compared to X-Men. That's OK I suppose, but I love a good fight scene though. CGI doesn't seem to be as heavily used, but that's only because the effects are so much more improved since X-Men which is great news. Funny how X-Men still received an Academy Award nomination for its special effects. The editing and choreography for some of the fights seem a bit off at times, but certainly the best is saved for almost last when Logan faces off against Lady Deathstrike (Kelly Hu).

X2 builds up to a big finish. It's maybe a little bit cheesy with what happens close to the end, but overall Bryan Singer keeps things satisfyingly thrilling. With one of the best juggle jobs in superhero movie history, you can't really complain when you're watching big players like Jackman, Stewart, McKellen and Cox. The at-times CGI-heavy action succeeds more than it fails, even twelve years later. All in all, X2 is an impressive improvement over its predecessor.



Related Reviews:

X-Men (2000) 
X-Men: The Last Stand [X-Men 3: The Last Stand] (2006) 
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) 
X-Men: First Class (2011) 
The Wolverine (2013)

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