X-2: X-Men United
Director(s): Bryan Singer
Writer(s): Dan Harris and Michael Dougherty
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Shawn Ashmore, Kelly Hu, Brian Cox, Alan Cumming, Anna Paquin, Rebecca Romijn, James Marsden, Famke Janssen, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman and Aaron Stanford
Reviewed by: Ian Evans on
Release Date(s)May 2, 2003 - Wide
Bryan Singer once again directs a laundry list of Marvel superheroes in X2: X-Men United.
At the start of this film, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), the cigar-chomping loner with the nasty claws is off trying to find his back-story while Magneto (Ian McKellen) still sits in his metal-free jail. When a blue-skinned prehensile-tailed teleporting mutant named Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) attacks the White House and almost kills the President, Gen William Stryker (Brian Cox) is given special orders to attack the mutant school run by Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and detain everyone there. Stryker, it seems, has a plan for mutant genocide and the mutants must work together to avoid being wiped out.
The problem with having so many mutants is that there’s just not enough screen time for each of them. This isn’t just a small club of superheroes, like Batman and Robin, but a whole darn school full of them. So we tend to see each particular mutant only when we need their particular ability. I’m pretty sure if there was a summer picnic in the film, Professor X could summon up a mutant named Melon Baller. There also seems to be a mismatch in their powers. The aptly named Storm (Halle Berry) can alter the weather at will, yet she’s a bit lower down on the hierarchy than Wolverine. He can fight with claws and heals quickly. Did I mention she can summon lightning and hurricanes at will? Who’s more useful in a fight against a powerful enemy? In a way, it’s almost like one of those celebrity-heavy road race movies like Cannonball Run, except with Famke Janssen and James Marsden instead of Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise.
All of these characters raise an issue for film-goers, of which there are two camps: those who know the X-Men comics and those who don’t. So the experience is different for the viewer who knows the whole family backwards and forwards and can debate whether this character can do this and that character can do that. It’s not always a self-contained story for those who aren’t experts in the X-Men universe. Perhaps the theatres could identify the comic book experts in the audience and seat groups of the uninitiated around them. For me, the X-Men run the danger of alienating themselves from a wider audience because it’s far easier to follow the story of a Superman or Spider-Man than it is a gaggle of mutants.
Still, Singer and his team keep us visually entertained, even if we do have to watch with a cheat sheet. The opening scene where Nightcrawler attacks the White House is a fun ride, while Storm and Jean Grey also have their moments with wonderfully woven special effects.
Hugh Jackman portrayal of Wolverine still gives us more insights into a character that is at once a loner, a leader, and even a supplier of some comic relief. Cox plays the mutant-hating Stryker with the cool evil of most larger-than-life villains. While McKellen’s Magneto is a bored megalomaniac, Stewart’s X just isn’t given the amount of time that you’d think the leader of the organization would get.
The film does have time though for some side discussions on what people consider normal. When Iceman “comes out” as a mutant to his family, his mother asks, “Have you tried not being a mutant?” Obviously that conversation takes place in many homes with a different context and again Singer allows the X-Men just enough time to explore the social issues. It’s nice to see that the story’s not just about epic battle scenes.