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X2: X-Men United (PG-13)
20th Century Fox
Official Site
Director: Bryan Singer
Producers: Lauren Shuler Donner, Ralph Winter
Written by: Michael Dougherty & Dan Harris
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Brian Cox, Alan Cumming, Bruce Davison, Anna Paquin, Kelly Hu, Aaron Stanford, Shawn Ashmore

Rating: out of 5

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 to enough.

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.”

—Roxanne Bogucka


hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

It’s worth a full-price ticket.

It’s worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

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