In a lot of ways, “X2: X-Men United” is a relief. It’s a relief to see a sequel that measures up to the original (which hasn’t been done since the days of Empire Strikes Back, “Indiana Jones” and “Aliens”). It’s also a relief to see that Hollywood still understands how superhero movies work. While Spider-Man was a good flick, the more recent Daredevil hinted at a downslide of these films.
Now with a solid sequel to X-Men, we can hope forthcoming films like “The Amazing Spider-Man” and “The Hulk” will be good. (Of course, I just read the other day on the Internet that McG is in talks again to replace Brett Ratner at the helm for the latest Superman venture, so maybe that unfortunate downturn isn’t all that far away.)
The responsibility for making “X2” a good movie falls mainly on the shoulders of Bryan Singer. This young director has a great sense of how a plot needs to go in a simple action film. Still, mainstream drama and clever independent flavor isn’t lost on Singer either, who originally broke out into the industry with the inventive “The Usual Suspects.”
In fact, most of the folks that worked on X-Men have returned to “X2.” As these sequels progress, we’ll probably only need to worry when Bryan Singer is replaced by the next hot young director (like McG, perchance) and Christopher Lambert suddenly shows up as the new Professor X.
Of course, one has to give credit to the cast of “X2” as well. If you’ll remember from the first film, there was some painful dialogue that only remained bearable because it was spoken by tremendous actors like Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan. Similarly, Liam Neeson was able to pull off some really corny dialogue in The Phantom Menace. “X2” isn’t immune to bad dialogue – and the ending of the film has some pretty corny moments in it – but the actors in charge make it work.
More outrage is brewing in American politics against mutants, and it hits a peak when a mysterious teleporting mutant (Alan C*****g) almost succeeds in an assassination attack on the President of the United States. Using this attack to fuel his cause, General William Stryker (Brian Cox) lashes out against all mutants and lays siege to Dr. Charles Xavier’s School for the Gifted. (Of course, this school is really a superhero training ground, so needless to say, it’s a lot harder to take over than plowing across the desert to invade Baghdad.)
With the school overrun, the mutants go on the run to discover who was behind the assassination attempt. With this new enemy to all mutants, the X-Men must join forces with Magneto (Ian McKellan) to save Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and stop the dastardly General Stryker.
In some ways, “X2” is even better than the first X-Men simply because we don’t have to wade through any cumbersome origin stories. The film assumes that the audience has all seen the first film, and this isn’t a bad assumption. However, even if you haven’t seen X-Men, you won’t be lost in this sequel. Just know that there are mutants with extraordinary powers. Some mutants are good. Some mutants are bad. And Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) is in nothing but body paint. That should be enough to fill the seats.
Having not read the X-Men comic books (I’ve always been a DC man, myself), I can’t speak on the film’s ability to stick to original source material. However, I can say that it works well as a superhero movie. Hollywood has finally found a way to transfer comic books to the big screen. There has to be some updating of the costumes so they don’t look like dancer’s tights. But Hollywood has finally moved away from those ridiculous fake muscle suits from “Batman” and “The Flash” TV show.
Seeing “X2” in a crowded theatre is like waving a checkered flag over the screen and announcing the official beginning of the summer movie season. And it’s a great beginning. Let’s just hope that the bevy of summer flicks heading our way (including “The Matrix Reloaded,” “The Hulk” and “Terminator 3”) can measure up.