X-Men 2: X-Men United (2003) Movie Review

“X2”, the sequel to 2000’s “X-Men”, is a better movie than the original, but not by much. Considering that director Bryan Singer and his screenwriters were burdened with having to introduce the world of the X-Men, the original lacked what I called the “Wow Factor”. While “X2” is still not what I would like the franchise to be one day, and it does go on for about 20 minutes too long, the film does have its cool moments.

“X2” brings back the entire cast for another go-around. Instead of facing the menace of evil Magneto (Ian McKellen), the X-Men now has to contend with evil human Stryker (Brian Cox), a covert operations General with an ax to grind against the X-Men’s head honcho, Professor X (Patrick Stewart). After a failed assassination attempt on the President of the United States by mutant Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming), Stryker gets the go-ahead to raid the X-Men’s mansion. And just like that, the X-Men must unite to battle this new threat.

Actually the full title seems to suggest that the word “X-Men” is not only used for the good guys, but rather all mutants. I make this conclusion because later in the movie, the X-Men teams up with now-freed villain Magneto and shapeshifter Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) to rescue their captured friends. (And since the X-Men — the good guys — are already united, why would they have to “unite” again?) One of the captured X-Men includes Professor X, who Stryker plans to use to kill all the mutants on the planet using the Professor’s mutant-finding machine.

“X2” picks up pretty much where the original left off, with Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) still in search of his elusive past. It is revealed that Wolverine, like Professor X, has a history with Stryker, and in fact Stryker had a very large hand in “creating” Wolverine in the first place. And oh, ice-making mutant Bobby is still putting the moves on Rogue (Anna Paquin), while Wolverine is trying to get some lovin’ from Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), who is trying to stay faithful to boyfriend Cyclops (James Marsden), who gets captured by fingernails-for-knives Yuriko (Kelly Hu), who is some weird mutant under Stryker’s control.

If it sounds as if “X2” has way too many subplots for its own good, that’s probably because “X2” has way too many subplots for its own good. The movie constantly tries to give some screentime to its many subplots while at the same time trying to maintain a consistent A-plot involving Stryker’s attack on the X-Men. As a result, much of the movie feels condensed, not to mention more than a little contrived. For instance, it takes two of the X-Men a few hours to reach a destination by their super duper X-jet, but it takes the same two people nearly the whole day to return to help their captured friends?

In the third movie, I would strongly recommend to the studio that they change directors. While director Singer, who also helmed the first, seems to have a good handle on the franchise, he is either incapable, or unwilling, to let loose. As was the case with the first movie, “X2” just seems so…restrained. In fact, despite the movie’s many action sequences, it’s a brief sequence where Wolverine kills his way through Stryker’s soldiers during the X-Mansion assault that is the movie’s highlight. This, mind you, in a movie where a character can shoot beams out of his eyes and another can create storms out of nothing.

I just can’t shake the feeling that “X2” is holding back. For instance, why does the Bobby character, who can freeze an entire hallway, turn into Johnny Do Nothing when confronted by cops? Why not just freeze the cops, or throw up an ice shield like he did before? For that matter, Anna Paquin’s Rogue has absolutely nothing to do in the sequel except to make kissy-face with the Bobby character. And oh, she puts out a fire. Big whoops. It should also be noted that Halle Berry (“Die Another Day”), playing the weather-controlling Storm, has since given up on that weird accent she had in the original.

“X2” is a reasonably good movie, but for a big-budget Hollywood film, I expected so much more. The franchise has still not reached its strides in my opinion, and if anything it’s still playing too close to “reality”. The filmmakers need to make a choice to cut down on the characters and perhaps just follow Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, or go in a completely new tangent. As it stands, there were too many precious minutes wasted on the silly Rogue/Bobby relationship. Watching two horny toads trying to decide if they should or shouldn’t kiss is what I call lame, not to mention a big waste of time.

For those who cares, the ending of “X2” has given us a big hint as to the third installment’s storyline. It seems as if the Jean Grey/Phoenix crisis made popular in the comics will soon be coming to a big screen near you. Let’s hope they cut down on the kiddie factor this time around and focus on having adults smash the living heck out of each other with their groovy powers instead. As it stands, I’m still waiting for “X-Men” to wow me.

Bryan Singer (director)
CAST: Patrick Stewart …. Professor Charles Xavier
Hugh Jackman …. Logan
Ian McKellen …. Magneto
Halle Berry …. Storm
Famke Janssen …. Dr. Jean Grey
James Marsden …. Cyclops
Rebecca Romijn-Stamos …. Mystique
Brian Cox …. Gen. William Stryker
Alan Cumming …. Nightcrawler
Anna Paquin …. Rogue
Kelly Hu …. Yuriko Oyama

Buy X-Men 2: X-Men United on DVD