"Holy Sh*t!," says Wolverine: X2 is Stunning and Actually Intelligent
May 3, 2003
Pros: acting, characters, political, deep, special effects
Cons: Night Crawler, a bit confusing, maybe tried to do too much
The Bottom Line: I want to be the Bottom Line. It can morph into any form and even imitate the voice. The Bottom Line is hot.
I rarely go to see the same movie twice in the cinema. But, X2 was so phenomenal that I would see it again. In fact, I would have stayed in the theater and watched it again immediately.
While the first X-Men movie got bogged down with establishing characters and background for those of us who don't follow the comic (like me, so I appreciated that), the sequel cuts right into an action sequence involving an attack on the White House. People who are in the know realize that the perpetrator of this violence is Night Crawler (Alan Cumming), a "good guy" whose mind is being controlled by the violent faction of the mutant community.
In the first movie, the conflict was largely Magneto (Ian McKellen) and his followers vs. Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and his X-Men. Professor X is a Ghandi-like figure who stresses education and pacifism for mutants. At his "School for Gifted Youngsters" in Westchester County, NY,* he teaches mutants to control their powers. Magneto, on the other hand, survived the Holocaust but carries emotional scars and advocates a brutal revolution, killing all the humans. This premise can be interpreted to parallel the struggle for freedom by any number of marginalized groups in American society. A refreshing change from most action flicks that have been released in the past year or so, X-Men is not blatantly patriotic and makes interesting and relevant criticisms of American culture.
In X2 these two competing leaders, former friends, must reunite to fight the greater evil, a military scientist named William Stryker (Brian Cox), who is determined to exterminate all mutants. He has sent his mutant son Jason to Professor X's school in order to "cure him," but it has been a failure, and the boy ended up driving his mother to insanity through his gift of mind control. Stryker leads an attack on Professor X's school and attempts to kill all of the mutants. In order to stop him, the X-Men must join forces with their former foe, Magneto.
The failed attempt to "cure" the son of being a mutant relates to the underlying theme of homosexuality that runs throughout the X-Men films. There is even a coming out scene when Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) tells his family that he is a mutant. In the first film, there seemed to be a lot of sexual tension between Magneto and Professor X, but that premise is not as prominent in X2 as the two characters do not share very much screen time. Since many Americans fear those who are different, the government wants to institute mutant registration of these "freaks of nature" who could be a danger to the rest of society.
As in the first film, there is a good deal of interpersonal drama among Wolverine, Dr. Jean Grey, Cyclops, Iceman, and Rogue. The director seems to imply some type of romance between Storm and Night Crawler, which feels a bit superfluous and contrived. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), who is breathtaking despite his modern day A Flock of Seagulls hairdo, still carries a flame for Dr. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) although she has married Cyclops (James Marsden). Cyclops is so hot that if he takes off his sunglasses, his eyes can burn holes through buildings. Rogue (Anna Paquin) and Iceman are an item, but Rogue is still in love with Wolverine. Unfortunately, Rogue and Iceman still haven't figured out a way for them to touch without her stealing his powers and injuring him. Talk about sexual frustration!
The plot in X2 is more complex than in the first movie, and I felt a bit lost at times. Wolverine travels to Canada to try to discover his past; Night Crawler escapes to Boston**; and Professor X travels all over the place from Westchester to Magneto's plastic prison, to Stryker's underground lair. All these moves, although they are cool since the heroes use a futuristic jet, are kind of confusing, especially with the similarities in the layouts of the various headquarters.
There are also two layers of "bad guys," which made it difficult to figure out whom to root for. However, this ambiguity makes the film more intriguing and less clichéd than most. For once, the viewer has a certain degree of sympathy for almost every character on screen. However, I thought the filmmakers should have done more to establish the president's politics. We never hear him take a definitive stance on "the mutant problem," so it's hard to know whose side to take when Night Crawler invades the Oval Office.
The acting is excellent, especially the classic performances of Patrick Stewart (who looks just like my grandfather, incidentally), Hugh Jackman, and Ian McKellen. McKellen shines as the endearingly witty villain who outsmarts his opponents, makes impossible escapes and pokes fun at other people's hairstyles.
Halle Berry was disappointingly weak as Storm, but at least Storm is allowed to use her powers more in X2 than she did in the first one. Thankfully, she completely drops the dubious fake British accent that she used in the first half of the previous film. In terms of Night Crawler, I was confused as to the history of his character. We are supposed to sympathize with him since he is a devout Catholic with a devil's tail, but I find it difficult to take Alan Cumming seriously because he's generally so goofy. Also, his fake German accent was aggravating.
Rebecca Romijn-Stamos continues to impress as Mystique, the mutant who can morph into any form. I am so overcome with envy whenever I look at her! Unfortunately, Rogue's character is overlooked in X2, but, hopefully, she will be more integral to the next one.
X2, which is extraordinarily deep for an action movie, also includes some sharp humor, especially on the part of Wolverine and Magneto. One of my favorite parts is when Wolverine turns on the radio in the car he has just started with his claws and quickly turns it off because *NSYNC is playing. That particular boy-band won't stand the test of time, but the X-Men series, with its fantastic special effects, meaningful plot, intriguing characters, and brilliant acting, will (and should) continue for years to come. This movie introduces several young students who could play larger roles in the inevitable sequels.
______________ Footnotes * My friends from Westchester would like me to point out that it is not, as the movie claims, "upstate," but is, in fact, a suburb of New York City. ** As they fly in their jet, the X-Men pick up a radio feed from Hanscom Air Force Base, which is about 5 miles from my house. However, Iceman's house is clearly not actually in Boston proper.
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