Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

X2: X-Men United

Grade : A+ Year : 2003 Director : Bryan Singer Running Time : 2hr 14min Genre : , ,
Movie review score

Even as a fan of Bryan Singer’s “X-Men” back in 2000, I can still admit that film’s shortcomings in terms of length and tone. His 2003 sequel, and still the best film in this Marvel franchise (note: as of this review I have yet to see “X-Men: First Class”), nails everything that worked in the original film and improved on all that didn’t.

The differences are immediate: “X2” begins with a thrilling sequence where a teleporting mutant is on a mission to assassinate the President in the White House. The music, the editing, the camerawork in this sequence makes for one of the best action scenes in any comic book adaptation; it’s as if once Singer proved he could make an “X-Men” movie that was successful with audiences he was freed up to make the film he wanted. Here, his longtime collaboration with composer/editor John Ottman is of profound significance; Ottman was unavailable to work on the first “X-Men,” and comparing the two films it’s obvious the 2000 film suffered from his absence. That isn’t to say Singer’s collaborators on film one did a bad job but to merely acknowledge how a long-time collaboration can make a world of difference to a film. Ottman and Singer continued their terrific partnership with “Superman Returns” and “Valkyrie,” even if neither of those films were as successful as not only “X2” but the films previous to it in Ottman and Singer’s collaboration, namely “The Usual Suspects” and “Apt Pupil.”

The early mutant attempt on the President’s life kicks the story into high gear, as Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and the rest of his X-Men look to discover the truth on the attack. Was this a lone mutant, or is there something deeper, and more sinister, at work? Meanwhile, Wolverine (AKA Logan, played by Hugh Jackman) returns to Xavier’s School for the Gifted after the Professor sent him up north looking for answers about his past. The trip didn’t provide answers, but the events stemming from the mutant attack are about to shed some light on that past as Col. William Stryker (Brian Cox), who has years of experience dealing with mutants, is going to use this threat to pursue his own agenda to the “mutant problem.” (Anyone finding parallels in this story with Bush’s post-9/11 “War on Terror” would not be wrong.) Stryker has been visiting Magneto (Sir Ian McKellen) in prison to get intel about Xavier’s school for a raid. Stryker’s interest is in Xavier and the machine known as Cerebro at first, but when he crosses paths again with Wolverine, it’s obvious that there’s a history there we haven’t heard about, and Logan might finally get his answers.

Watching “X2,” it’s obvious to see why Singer and screenwriters Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris were successfully courted to reboot the “Superman” franchise over at Warner Bros. (even if their efforts were less than successful with many fans), leaving the “X-Men” franchise to director Brett Ratner for 2006’s ill-conceived “X-Men: The Last Stand,” which ended the trilogy Singer started. Singer and co. may have fudged with the established pre-conceptions of comic book fans and the mythos of the “X-Men” comics, but they understood what stories and characters would help make this universe accessible to audiences in a movie theatre. In the first film of the series, the bond between Logan and Rogue (the mutant played by Anna Paquin) was a superb entry point into the greater world the X-Men inhabit, and although Rogue has moved on to a relationship with Bobby (AKA Iceman, played by Shawn Ashmore) in this film, while Logan still pines for Famke Janssen’s telepathic Jean Grey (much to the chagrin of her husband Cyclops, played by James Marsden), these two characters still hover near the most important elements of “X2’s” story, which hits its emotional focal point when Rogue, Logan, Bobby, and John (Pyro, played by Aaron Stanford) head to Bobby’s parents house after Stryker has raided the school. All this time, Bobby’s parents have been under the impression that Bobby is going to just another private school for gifted children, but the tension between humanity and mutants is brought down to a personal level in this scene as Bobby’s family goes through all manner of reaction (and eventual rejection) to Bobby’s mutant nature. More than any other in the “X-Men” film franchise, this scene gets right to the heart of the appeal of “X-Men” as something people can identify with: yes, watching Wolverine rip apart the enemy and viewing the X-Men working together to save the world is exciting, but what really brings this series to its highest artistic levels are the ways these characters are brought to levels of believability for us.

On that level, it should be of no surprise that the new character that inspires our greatest level of sympathy in “X2” is the blue teleporter Nightcrawler, the mutant who tried to assassinate the President in the opening sequence. As played by Alan Cumming, Nightcrawler is a mysterious and mournful character– alone in the world, his only companion is his faith in God, and when he doesn’t feel like he has lived up to God’s plan for him, he marks his body as punishment. One of the X-Men who warms to Nightcrawler immediately is Storm (Halle Berry), whose anger towards humanity makes it difficult for her to experience that same faith Nightcrawler has. In their brief but compelling scenes together, the dynamic between these two very different worldviews gives Berry the best material her character had in this trilogy. What does it say about a comic book movie where its the underlying issues these characters are dealing with are far more interesting than the action scenes they find themselves in? For me, it says the filmmakers behind it had their priorities in order; after all, how else do you explain “X2’s” standing as one of the best superhero movies ever alongside “Spider-Man 2,” “The Dark Knight,” “Superman: The Movie,” and “Iron Man?”

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