Copyright © 2003 by 20th Century Fox
The follow-up to X-Men, it continues with the struggles of mutants to blend in with the rest of mankind and be accepted as equals. Things take a turn for the worse when the President of the United States is almost assassinated by Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming), a mutant with teleporting abilities and sets off a series of investigations from William Stryker (Brian Cox) to find out more about Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Cerebro, the device used for locating mutants all over the world from Magneto (Ian McKellen), now locked up in a plastic prison. With the information obtained, the colonel storms into the X-Mansion and seizes Cerebro along with some of the mutant children. With the help from Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), who is back from Alkali Lake to supervise the children after failing to learn about his past, a handful of the youngsters were able to escape from Stryker and his men. As the team regroup, they discover a more sinister plan is set in motion by Stryker to rid of mutant kind for good that and can only be carried out by a very powerful mutant.
In a nutshell, X2 still remains as my favourite installment in the X-Men series. It is the Empire Strikes Back for comic-book adaptations. Due to the original’s success, it is evident that the budget has greatly expanded, allowing more screen time to showcase each mutant’s abilities. With an additional 30 minutes of running time from the original and you have the back stories for the main characters sufficiently covered previously, there is room for more cohesive story telling with bigger action sequences that not only enhance the strengths of these mutants but also to prove that the X-Men is indestructible when they are united against any threat thrown at them.
Highlights of such moments come during the intervention of two Air Force fighter jets on the X-Jet caused by a prior attack from Pyro (Aaron Stanford) and the rescue mission orchestrated by Magneto in Alkali Lake. The choreography definitely allowed Storm’s (Halle Berry) weather-controlling powers to be better realised here than in X-Men. The tornadoes that were ‘created’ to evade the fighter jets were especially impressive and memorable. Other noteworthy sequences worth mentioning would be the opening sequence where Nightcrawler attempts to assassinate the President in the White House and the climax when Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) sacrifices herself to save the team. They integrate so seamlessly with the drama that unfolds before that.
Relying on special effects alone does not a great movie make. What do Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones and Harry Potter all have in common? Besides being among the most successful franchises in movie history, each movie was able to top itself with a great story and consistent story telling. Of course it helps that they were effects laden but ultimately what separates the best from the mediocre is always going to be the story that you have invested in and characters that you care about long after the movie has ended. You get that in X2 too. The plot again focuses on the difficulties of being different and to get by peacefully with one another despite the differences. By now we are already acquainted with the main members of the team and fittingly the supporting roles of Jean, Storm and Iceman’s (Shawn Ashmore) roles have been widely expanded for this installment.
As for the new mutants introduced into the mix, notable standouts come from Nightcrawler, Pyro (a mutant who can manipulate with fire) and Deathstrike (Kelly Hu) who is the female equivalent of Wolverine. While it would have been nice to see more development in the latter especially Deathstrike, as she is relegated to merely a silent henchwoman, it at least makes up for a jaw dropping battle between herself and Wolverine. Too bad we will not see her again as I do think that her character still has a lot to offer. The same goes with Cyclops’ (James Marsden) importance in the sequel has diminished to being just another X-Men and not ‘The’ X-Man. Correct me if I am wrong but isn’t Cyclops supposed to be the second in command and the field leader of the X-Men? He certainly should be getting equal screen time with Wolverine, Jean and Storm. The filmmakers could have pit him against Wolverine to lead the rescue mission and with Jean being the central attraction, causes a lot of friction between the two to decide objectively. It is briefly explored in the beginning and could have taken a tad further.
By doing so, his characterisation will have more depth and we will know what a great leader he is meant to be as he will ultimately leave his personal feelings aside and make the best decisions for his team and the mission. Since it was a collective decision, we can only hope that the script writers will do justice to his character in future projects. At least the main antagonist this time around is from a human point of view. By looking from his perspective, we realise what ‘normal’ is capable of afflicting in the name of self preservation. It continues to address that being fearful of the unknown will only lead to unnecessary complications and does not in anyway help us to transcend to a more progressive future. This hatred for mutant kind is brought to life by the ever versatile Brian Cox who has been carving a name for himself with other supporting roles ranging from Troy to the Ring.
While it is expected that another sequel is going to be commissioned, it made sense that our most popular mutant, Wolverine’s past is being revealed very gradually for us to savour in the next serving. Here is hoping to more revelations in Pyro’s decision to join Magneto and the resurrection of Jean who eventually merges herself with the entity known as the Phoenix. A rare example of a sequel being more superior to the original, we will wait with eager anticipation for its follow-up.
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action/violence, some sexuality and brief language