X2 Twice as Good
By Beth Hannan Rimmels
If comic book fans were relieved by director Bryan Singer’s adaptation of X-Men in 2000, they’re going to be ecstatic over X2.
The new film picks up an unspecified amount of time after the events of X-Men. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is still off searching for clues to his mysterious past. Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), the shape-shifter, is continuing her impersonation of the late Senator Kelly (played by Bruce Davison) pretending that the formerly mutant-hating politician has had a change of heart.
But the movie starts with a bang – or perhaps I should say, "bampf" – when an attempt is on the president’s life by a blue, demonic-looking, teleporting mutant espousing mutant freedom. Fans of the comic book will quickly recognize Nightcrawler, played perfectly by Alan Cumming, but shouldn’t be dismayed by such seemingly out of character behavior. All is eventually explained to complete satisfaction.
The attack, however, leads the president to authorize activities by Colonel William Stryker (Brian Cox, an under-appreciated unsung character actor for many years), who has a personal reason for hating mutants and prior associations with various characters. Needless to say, Stryker has an agenda of his own.
This time around we get a better, but still not complete, look at the Xavier School for Gifted Students, which is Professor Charles Xavier’s cover for both sheltering and training young mutants to be positive members of society as well as the headquarters for the X-Men, the group of adult mutants who protect a world that often hates them. Patrick Stewart returns as Xavier, bringing perfect emotional weight, integrity, compassion and strength to the role of the world’s most powerful telepath.
Actually most of the characters, and therefore cast, from last time returns, with the exceptions of Sabretooth and Toad. Screen time varies since the story requires such a large and varied ensemble cast but everyone does a stellar job, except for Halle Berry’s Storm, which once again is the weak acting link in the film.
Berry’s Oscar win not withstanding, the actress does not seem to understand the role of the weather-controlling mutant. Ororo Munroe in the comic book is regal and strong with a commanding presence. She can be nurturing and supportive or put someone in their place without being rude. While Berry’s performance is better this time, it’s still not on the mark. As in the last film, Berry’s line readings are main problem. Statements like "Hold onto something" should have been said as orders, not suggestions. However, both scripts indicate that Storm is sometimes afraid of humanity and also angry over how mutants are treated. The comic book Storm is no Pollyanna, but she did share more of Xavier’s viewpoint (namely that both humans and mutants must be judged on the basis of individual behavior rather than stereotyped as a group) than the film seems to indicate.
Which is not to say that other characters in the film hew exactly to their comic book counterpart (see the ComicSutra column on X2 for a more in-depth commentary), but at least the essence of the characters are there. Rogue’s (Anna Paquin) flirtation with Bobby "Iceman" Drake (Shawn Ashmore) is continuing, albeit as best as it can considering her inability to touch someone without absorbing their memories and powers. The triangle between Jean Gray (Famke Janssen), Scott "Cyclops" Summers (James Marsden) and Wolverine still has heat, and time in prison hasn't lessened Magneto's (Ian McKellen) tendency to be the ruthless counterpart to Xavier’s hopes of peace between mutants and humans.
Other characters featured this time include John "Pyro" Allerdyce (who was shown very briefly in the last film), a troubled student of Xavier’s, and villainess Yuriko Oyama (known in the comic book as Lady Deathstrike, though that name is not used in the film), played by Kelly Hu. Virtually all of Oyama’s backstory is neglected in the film, but at two hours and thirteen minutes, the film couldn’t spend too much time on the past. Those who haven’t read the comic or those who just never read about the character still get enough information to serve the film’s purposes.
Despite splitting the characters among four or more locations at times, the film’s storytelling is smooth and seamless. Special attention appears to have been paid to even small continuity details (more in that in ComicSutra), which is a welcome change from the general sloppiness that can often infect franchise films. The action sequences are excellent (I’m only expecting the upcoming Matrix films to top them for the year) but more importantly the characters are the key to the movie and even the various approaches to fighting is geared to their personalities. Wolverine's fight sequences this time seem even more true to the comic book character with his efficient brutality making it clear how he earned his nickname. Despite that, Singer shot the fight sequences carefully so that the audience can sense Wolverine's savagery while showing virtually no blood, thereby keeping the film appropriate for younger audiences.
Make no mistake that Singer and 20th Century Fox definitely wants the X-Men to be a thriving and continuing franchise. An almost unnoticed plot-point from the prior film was picked up here logically and sets the stage for a third film. Hell, it practically sits up and begs for the third film. Yet that’s not the end either. Other seeds were carefully planted that could be picked up a number of ways for future tales. So long as the care and craftsmanship of X2 continues in the future films, the series will be able to continue indefinitely.
Review © 2003 Beth Hannan Rimmels. Photo credits: Kerry Hayes/SMPSP. All photographs are TM and © 2003 Twentieth Century Fox. X-Men character likenesses: TM and © 2003 Marvel Characters, Inc.