The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
'X-Men' sequel will please
fans of Marvel's mutants


May 8, 2003
By Franklin Harris

X-Men fans should be pleased. "X2: X-Men United" is one of the handful of sequels that surpass their predecessors. Probably that has a lot to do with director Bryan Singer's having modeled the film after two other overachieving follow-ups, "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan." Hints of both, especially the latter, are everywhere throughout "X2."

No Trekkie can watch the final minutes of "X2" and not think of "The Wrath of Khan." The music even evokes James Horner's "Khan" score.

Still, despite these cinematic tips of the hat, "X2" is first and foremost an X-Men film. I've seen it twice, and I've yet to catch all of the subtle references to the Marvel comic book upon which "X2" is based.

"X2" picks up where the first film, "X-Men," left off.

Relations between humans and mutants have deteriorated following a mutant attack on a United Nations conference near Liberty Island. During the film's spectacular opening sequence, a mutant tries to assassinate the U.S. president and comes within inches of succeeding.

Fearful that the assassination attempt will strengthen anti-mutant sentiment, the X-Men, mutants who defend a world that hates and fears them, move to find the attacker and those behind him.

What follows isn't so much a story as it is several loosely related plots, all moving toward a common end. Appropriately, the complex plot structure is reminiscent of an "X-Men" comic book.

A rogue military officer, Col. Stryker (Brian Cox), has a score to settle with all mutants, in particular with Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), the leader of the X-Men. Stryker sets into motion an elaborate scheme to kidnap Xavier, steal Xavier's telepathy-boosting computer and use the two to kill every mutant on Earth.

To defeat Stryker, the X-Men join forces with their most deadly enemy, Magneto (Ian McKellen), leader of a more militant band of mutants.

There is less philosophizing than in the previous film. Xavier and Magneto's dynamic of mutant-human cooperation vs. mutant superiority is a background fixture. There isn't really time for it, given everything else that is going on.

First, there is Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), who is still trying to unravel his mysterious past and learn the truth about the experiments that gave him his razor-sharp claws and indestructible skeleton.

Then, two of the X-Men, Jean (Famke Janssen) and Storm (Halle Berry), search for the mutant who attacked the president. The would-be killer turns out to be Kurt Wagner, otherwise known as Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming), a demonic-looking mutant possessing ironically strong faith in God and the ability to teleport instantly from place to place.

Meanwhile, Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), one of Magneto's Brotherhood of Mutants, hatches a plan to rescue her leader from the plastic prison that renders his magnetic powers ineffective.

All this may sound confusing, but Singer does an admirable job of bringing it all together.

With so much happening, however, some characters get shortchanged. Rogue (Anna Paquin), a major player last time, has almost nothing to do, and poor Cyclops (James Marsden) spends half the movie unconscious — not that he's really missed.

But the trade-offs are worth it. Cumming, Jackman, Stewart, McKellen and Janssen are all excellent in their respective roles. The only weak link in the cast is Berry, who seems vacant and lost even when given decent dialog and a vastly improved wig.

It's easy to see why Singer regards "X-Men" as simply a test run for "X2." Everything that didn't quite work in the first film comes off almost perfectly in this one.

One wonders how Singer plans to top himself again.

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