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X2: X-MEN UNITED  (**)

Movie Review by:
Jim "Good Old JR" Rutkowski
Directed by:
Bryan Singer
Written by:
Daniel Harris, Zak Penn, Michael Dougherty & Dan Harris
Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellan,
Running time:
134 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some sexuality and brief language.
"...enjoyable and a slight improvement on its predecessor"
Of all the comic book adaptations that have become so increasingly popular as of late, I feel most disappointed by the showing of the X-Men movie series. Both movies in the series so far suffer from the same inherent plot problem, although it's easier to forgive in the sequel, the curiously titled X2. The follow-up improves upon the formula of the original and gives a significantly greater amount of action, but the formula is still rather expository in nature and the action has a tendency to be rather generic. But there's something relevant about this fictional world; there are themes present here that touch upon some of the problems of society. The heroes are outcasts and must hide that which makes them heroes in the first place to avoid the wrath of the people they want to protect, and the villains have understandable motives. Ultimately, both want different versions of the same thing. Something needs to happen for the stakes to be raised even higher and for the conflict to escalate. By the end of X2, we're still waiting for something to happen.

The movie opens with an intense action sequence, as a mutant nicknamed Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) attempts to assassinate the President. Nightcrawler is a transporter, which means he can instantaneously move from space to another, so even with the Secret Service shooting at the intruder, it manages to get incredibly close to the President. The attempt ultimately fails, but it raises the national suspicion surrounding mutants to a fever pitch. So when General William Stryker (Brian Cox) reveals the whereabouts of a mutant training facility in New York, an operation to detain the occupants is approved. Meanwhile, at the facility, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) has returned from his hunt to discover his origins after finding nothing. News of the assassination attempt has reached Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), and he sends Dr. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and Storm (Halle Berry) off to find Nightcrawler and bring him back to the mansion. Meanwhile, Xavier and Cyclops (James Marsden) will visit an old friend: Magneto (Ian McKellen). Little do they know that Stryker has been gathering information from Magneto and plans to make a visit to Xavier's school.

Some of this stuff is a little eerie. After the assassination attempt, there are suggestions of mutant registration (the political focus of the first movie), arrests without warrant, evidence, or purpose, and other paranoid, knee-jerk ideas. All pretty relevant, wouldn't you say? One of the virtues of the first movie was that it kept a similar social context in the foreground-primarily because of the Magneto's motives and Xavier's utopian ponderings-despite the incredible amount of exposition that was developed. Here, there's less to set up, but the screenplay somehow foregoes its social issues until a very late scene with the President. The reason behind this is probably time constraints, but I'm still trying to figure out why it takes well over two hours to tell this story. Most of it is setup for the eventual climax, which revolves around a replicated Cerebro device (it allows Xavier to find everyone on the planet) that Stryker intends to use to wipe out all mutants, with Xavier's power of concentration, of course. This is slightly less silly than the evil plot of the last movie, which had Magneto attempting to turn the world's leaders into mutants.

Where the sequel improves upon the original is in the quantity of action. The opening sequence is simply amazing-a barrage of bullets, fists, feet, and bodies flying in slow motion, special effects, and surprising tension. The rest of the action sequences never quite hit the level of the first, but director Bryan Singer handles them suitable skill and efficiency. The military invasion of the mutant academy is intense, allowing Wolverine's claws to get some exercise. A prison breakout is staged with creativity but could certainly have stood to be expanded upon. The climax takes place at, of all places, a dam, which leads to the obligatory series of events that will eventually cause it burst. There's a lot going on during the climax. Wolverine fights Lady Deathstrike (Kelly Hu), Stryker's personal assistant/experiment, who is also equipped with adamantium-enhanced skeletal system, Professor X is manipulated by an awkwardly introduced character, and the rest of the X-Men split up to do their assorted business. Editing-wise, there are problems keeping all of this flowing, which is a problem the entire narrative possesses.

X2 is enjoyable and marks a slight improvement upon its predecessor, but I can't help but feel that I had a similar response to this installment as I did original. The story thus far is simply building up to something greater-something more significant. Over the course both movies, characters talk about the impending war that's brewing among the intolerant and impatient on both sides-mutant and human-and it's about high time it started. The stage is set; let it play out.

X2:X-MEN UNITED 2003 20th Century Fox
All Rights Reserved.

Review 2003 Alternate Reality, Inc.



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