You read it right. Five stars out of five, this is a marvel
for all fankind. I’ve already got tickets to go see it again.
I spent some time going back over the movie, looking for weaknesses
and flaws. There are some, but they’re the sort of picayune
quibbles that it’s churlish to raise in the face of this tidal
wave of sheer film fun.
Not to say that X2: X-Men United doesn’t visit a couple
of thought-worthy issues. They are in fact its bread and butter,
namely, 1) Political/military agendas that are driven by fear
of the “other,” and 2) Diversity and Tolerance, with its gay
rights subtext. One of the finest moments of this movie is
the casualness with which Mystique (Romijn-Stamos)
answers Nightcrawler’s (Cumming) query about why, as
a shapeshifter, she doesn’t blend in with the non-mutants
instead of flaunting who she is: “Why should I have to?” There’s
no sledgehammering of the can’t-we-all-get-along theme in
X2: X-Men United, though acceptance is unmistakably
the underpinning of the entire X-Men universe.
X2: X-Men United begins in a seat of government, as
did the first X-Men movie, which began with Congressional
testimony. This time we start out on a White House tour, where
a suspicious visitor—heavy coat, hat pulled down low—manages
to breach the Secret Service perimeter and make a rather dramatic
political statement. The mutant “threat” has become such a
national security concern that Senator Kelly (Davison)
cannot dissuade the president from authorizing an “operation”
conducted by former military officer William Stryker (Cox).
On a night when nearly all adults are away and Wolverine (Jackman)
is babysitting the kids, Stryker’s forces invade the Professor
Xavier’s (Stewart) School for the Gifted to round up
mutants for “examination” and “interrogation.”
The screenwriters did a nice job of using things spoken of
euphemistically to recall to our minds the deadly euphemisms
of history, and the actors who deliver these lines do so without
moustache-twirling or foaming at the mouth. Singer,
who created the story (with David Hayter and Zak
Penn), continues his interest in exploring the characters
and lives of men who do terrible things in the name of the
state. Singer refuses to underestimate his audience, and little
traces of Apt Pupil, also with Ian McKellen,
leak out during X2. Stryker has designs on Cerebro,
the telepathy-amplifying machine built by Professor Xavier
and Eric Lensherr/Magneto (McKellen), which he plans to use
to exterminate mutants. X2: X-Men United takes its
name from the fact that mutants of both camps (think of Xavier
as MLK and Magneto as Malcolm in the by-any-means-necessary
days) must band together for their mutual defense.
The writers nicely fleshed out the personalities of characters
who were one-dimensional in X1. Wolverine remains aggressive
and blank, as befits a guy who cannot remember his life before
adamantine claws and amazing recuperative powers. To this
end, Hugh Jackman’s adroit Clint Eastwood portrayal,
complete with cigar and squint, is a perfect choice. Rogue
(Paquin) steps back here, providing room for characters
of her generation, among them boyfriend Iceman/Bobby Drake
(Ashmore), and brutal youth Pyro (Stanford).
Storm (Berry) blossomed into a whole person under the
influence of better (but not much) hair, lines that weren’t
embarrassing to deliver and hear, some psychology, and the
beginnings of a romance. But it’s Mystique who inspires the
most delighted admiration, evolving from the cartoonish blue
badass of the first movie into a woman working for her notion
of justice. She’s also given sexuality—something that was
missing in X1, despite her being essentially naked
throughout the movie.
X2 introduces an intelligent, devoutly religious character.
Explorations, no, even mere mentions of religion seem to be
one of the last movie taboos. I mean, you’ve seen fifty times
more sex up on the screen than you have religion, yes? And
oftimes, when the religious are depicted in movies, their
religion is either sheer idiocy, charlatanry (Elmer Gantry,
Marjoe, Leap Of Faith) or the kind of learning
that drives men mad (The Believer, Frailty).
Take it as a sign of storytelling maturity that X2
presents a character for whom faith is just a part of life,
the way that love or sex or curiosity is a part of life, instead
of a pathology.
Now let me pause to rhapsodize over the bad-ass smoke-ink
effect with which Nightcrawler materializes and dematerializes
(complete with the mighty satisfying sound effects from the
comics). This gauzy haze of midnight blue is Van Gogh-beautiful.
It spreads like blood in water. You want this for your screensaver.
You want to see it when you open and close applications from
now on, it’s that fine. It is the latest object of appreciation
to verify that a thousand words might, in fact, not be close
Singer and Co. have a nice feel for popular culture.
They maintain a deft balance between cute touches like that
distinctive ee-ee noise from Them! and the serious
issues that underlie this action movie. Here’s another check
in the plus column. Not only is there character development,
there’s mo’ betta action. See what a treat cool effects and
nicely choreographed fight scenes can be when arranged by
somebody who can actually edit. X2: X-Men United is
the compleat comics-inspired movie, and the stage is nicely
set for an X3. I won’t speculate on what that storyline
may hold, but keep your eyes peeled for a suggestive graffito
on a dumpster in the background: “Nature laughs last.”