Action Movie Fanatix Review: X2: X-Men United

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The Time Has Come For Those Who Are Different To Stand United.

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Anna Paquin, Rebecca Romijn, Brian Cox, Alan Cumming, Bruce Davison, Aaron Stanford, Shawn Ashmore, Kelly Hu, Katie Stuart, Daniel Cudmore, Peter Wingfield

Director: Bryan Singer

2003  |  133 Minutes  |  PG-13

“You are a god among insects.  Never let anyone tell you different.” – Magneto

With all the hubbub over X-Men: Days of Future Past recently, I have heard a lot of people talking X2 being the best X-Men film thus far… like that is saying something.  Well, I decided now is as good a time as any to go back and watch it again.  I don’t exactly have fond memories but I will try to be fair.

The X-Men join forces with Magneto’s Brotherhood to stop Colonel William Stryker, a new enemy bent on killing all of the world’s mutants.

First off, how awesome is Nightcrawler’s assault on the president at the beginning of the movie.  It still stands as one of the best superhero fight scenes of all time.  It is a rare example in this series of films of how a mutant with these kinds of powers would fight (and has fought in comics and cartoons).  The integration of his powers into his combat style is perfect.  Mutant combat should feel like this every time.

After this, a big chunk of the middle of the movie is almost completely actionless as we follow Wolvie on a babysitting mission with Rogue, Iceman and Pyro.

The entire team of X-Men in X2 consists of Wolverine, Storm, Jean Grey and kind of Nightcrawler.  Iceman, Kitty Pryde, Rogue and Colossus are all still in training (and/or captured).  Cyclops and Professor X are being mind controlled by Stryker.  It just feels like a really small group to make up the X-Men.  The X-Men seem incredibly ill-prepared for any sort of serious threat with such a miniscule team.

This all means that we don’t have the strong team feel that the X-Men should and characters like Storm still end up in the background and feeling paper thin.

Speaking of Storm, why does she sound so much like Halle Berry?  Before you jump all over me, I know it IS Halle Berry.  But why isn’t she talking (or attempting to talk) like the character of Storm – like she is actually from Africa?  She should be referencing some sort of goddess all the time and stuff.  Plus, to get her character correct, she should have been shown taking leadership of the X-Men in Professor X and Cyclops’ absence.

If there’s anything that Fox/Singer got completely right it is the casting of Daniel Cudmore for Colossus.  Holy crap is he perfect for Colossus… well except for the missing Russian accent.  The guy is just huge, just like Colossus.

If I was a bigger fan of hers I would be really pissed at how Lady Deathstrike is butchered in X2.  In the comics Lady Deathstrike is Yuriko Oyama, the daughter of the guy who first figured out how to bond adamantium to a human skeleton.  She later gets cybernetic enhancements giving her the crazy long arms and finger claws.  She also led a team of cybernetically enhanced mercenaries known as the Reavers and has some sort of weird obsession with killing Wolverine that somebody other than myself could probably go into great psychological detail about.  In X2 she is an almost silent bodyguard to Stryker.  She has the adamantium.  She grows longer finger nails.  But she doesn’t seem to be cybernetically enhanced (other than the fingers) and they turned her into some sort of mutant with a healing factor just to make her seem like a closer matchup for Wolverine.  Blah!

A huge part of the X-Comics was the diversity.  The civil rights movement was actually one of the original inspirations for the X-Men comics.  The X-Team has always featured men and women from all around the globe.  By Singer and Co. removing the ethnicities of the members of the group they have removed one of the core principles that the group was founded on.

I’ve always felt like the second movie in a franchise like this was too early to be teaming up with their mortal enemy.  It feels like a third movie sort of thing.  One movie (especially the first X-Men movie) isn’t enough time to establish just how big of a threat someone is.  To me it would have made more sense to establish Magneto as a super powerful threat in his own right in the first movie, then have him bring in the whole Brotherhood of Evil Mutants in the second and then give us our team up in the third for a really good mutual enemy.  Instead they reversed the order and gave us a really crappy X3… but we’ll get to that later.

The good?  Well, to be fair, the cast has mostly done a very good job with their parts.  Hugh Jackman IS Wolverine.  I can’t imagine anyone else playing Professor X ever.  Ian McKellen is a phenomenal actor and brings a huge amount of class and pain and anger to Magneto that most other actors would fail to accomplish.  And the new Pyro here in X2 quickly builds his character to the point where we can understand him jumping ship and joining Magneto.

The action is also much improved over the previous X-Men movie.  It feels a little less like these mutants have never fought with their powers before.  But there also isn’t a huge mutant blowout like there was at the end of X-Men or like we will see in The Last Stand.  Aside from the aforementioned Nightcrawler opening I would say Pyro’s big flame throwing scene is probably my personal favorite.

One of my favorite things about the first two X-Men movies is the references to X-Men characters not featured in the movie.  They always felt like little Easter eggs for fans of the X-Men comics that others might not catch.  I give Singer a lot of credit for doing this.  More movies from this genre should take note of this.  It gives their “real” fans a real payoff.  X2 features background cameos by Beast, Siryn, Jubilee, Kitty Pryde and Artie Maddicks plus references to Gambit, Quicksilver, Scarlett Witch, Proteus, Multiple Man, Psyche, Silver Samurai, Kane, Karma, Cannonball and Husk.  That’s a lot to keep your eyes open for while still enjoying what is really happening on screen.

As if this review wasn’t meandering enough, I feel the need for one last rant.  I apologize.  *deep breath*  There was absolutely no need for the X-Men history and member roster to have been twisted as much as Fox did with this movie series.  Why not have us join the X-Men many years after the X-Men had begun but give us a sense that there is some history there and that there are other mutants that came before.  Maybe throw a portrait of the original five up on the wall or something.  That way us X-Fans don’t feel cheated and the X-Men actually have someone to turn to if there is ever a big bad mutant menace like, say, Apocalypse, Mr. Sinister, Stryfe or even Magneto if he can ever get his act together in these movies.  Had Singer and Co. done this we wouldn’t have the original X-Men in this series be Beast, Havok, Mystique, Darwin, Banshee and Angel… nope not the correct Angel, this is a stripper with butterfly wings.  I can probably save that rant for a future review though…

X2: X-Men United wasn’t as bad as I had remembered.  In fact, it would be quite good if I didn’t know anything about the X-Men.  Unfortunately for me, it is hard to enjoy something called X-Men that doesn’t FEEL like X-Men.  X2, even though it is better than I remembered, is not my favorite X-Men movie.  That honor still goes to First Class.  For some reason the movie with the least real X-Men member characters is the one that most closely felt like an X-Men movie.  Go figure…

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