All this Summer, Movies We Love is transforming itself (by getting into a bikini) to celebrate the movies we love that came out in the hottest months. This week, we fall in love all over again with X2.

“Have you ever tried…not being a mutant?”

Synopsis

After a solitary mutant who can teleport attacks the President, a secret military squad led by a man named Stryker (Brian Cox) is given carte blanche to find and capture the students and teachers at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. But the mutants, especially Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), recently returned from his trip to the North, aren’t going to go quietly.

Instead, the team made up of Storm (Halle Berry), Jean Gray (Famke Janssen), Rogue (Anna Paquin), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), and Pyro (Aaron Stanford) work to seek out the squad’s base where they are holding the captured Professor X (Patrick Stewart). But the X-Men aren’t alone. Joining in the hunt is the telaporting assassin, Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming), Magneto (Ian McKellan) and Mystique (Rebecca Romijn), who have called a truce with the team in what may be an inevitable war with the human race.

Why We Love It

There’s a natural acceptance among the finer geek culture that the second part of a comic book superhero franchise has all the potential in the world of being better than its predecessor. The establishing of the hero, their world, their secret identity, and even possibly their gallery of supervillains has already been taken care of in the 90-150 minutes of the first film. The Legos have already been dumped out of the box, and the instructions have been looked over. It’s time to start building.

The best directors who handle such a franchise – Christopher Nolan and Sam Raimi to name a few but the best – understand this. So, too, does Bryan Singer. And so it goes that in May of 2003, X2: X-Men United, the sequel to 2000’s successful X-Men, was released. Like other sequels in the superhero subgenre, the film is superior to the one before it in just about every element. From the word “go,” the film locks you in for both great Summer excitement and a weighty, well-crafted narrative.

Even though there are more characters to be found in X2, hardly any of them feel short-changed, an issue that troubles superhero sequels even to this day. Films like Spider-Man 3 and Iron Man 2 are infamous for having the “weighed down” feeling, that the people behind them tried too hard to fit so many characters in that no one’s storyline feels complete.

This isn’t the case with X2, as Singer along with the screenwriters involved – too many to list here – do a fine job incorporating each character’s individual arc into the overall story at hand. When little character moments are included like the budding relationship between Rogue and Iceman, they’re done so with the backdrop of their central mission. Wolverine/Logan’s background is given the most depth, as it involves Stryker, who recognizes Wolverine and constantly teases with the promise of information. If any main character gets the short-change treatment, it’s Cyclops (James Marsden), who disappears for a long stretch of the film. He is given a few moments to shine through, especially in the film’s dramatic ending, so it almost makes up for it. However the middle of the film seems to just forget about him.

The action in X2 is of a higher and more budget-munching standard than X-Men. Lots of explosions, battles, and even mid-air chases are thrown into the keep the pace of the film going. Some of the CG involved isn’t of the highest quality, but it’s never so distracting to take you out of the excitement. In fact, the last half of X2 is one huge, action-filled conclusion with the team going through the military squad’s hidden base of operations. They arrive at the base a little over an hour into the film, and the energy is sustained for pretty much the entire last hour of the movie. This is also one aspect X2 has over other superhero movies that seem to leave the continual action out. You never find yourself bored by X2, something we can’t really say for a movie like Iron Man 2 – I swear that’s the last time I’ll harp on that movie.

And the end of X2 both gives us a satisfying conclusion to the story at and while also setting up precisely where it could go. At the time of its release, more than a few people were comparing it to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn. That comparison is not unjustified. Where the characters in this film are left at the end of X2, with the genuine weight that comes from the death of one of the major players, and with the slight tease that created fans of the X-Men comic books to instantly froth at the mouth, X2 left everyone satisfied yet chomping for a Part 3. Thankfully, Bryan Singer would return for X3: X-Men Unleashed in the Summer of 2006, and he would give us the greatest X-Men movie imaginable…oh, wait. Nevermind.

Moment We Fell In Love

The opening attack on the White House perpetrated by Nightcrawler is an action set piece work of art. With subtle hints in the very beginning that something isn’t quite right with this one particular tourist, it quickly ramps up into a flurry of beautiful camera movement, stellar stunt choreography, and even a little Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to accompany the action.

It’s a five-minute sequence that pulls the awe from the audience and primes their charges for the story that is about to unfold. And what’s more, it’s gets the audience pumped using a character that is in no way established in the film series before. We don’t know anything about Nightcrawler in this film series before that scene, but that doesn’t keep the opening of X2 from energizing us for what we are about to see.

Final Thoughts

X2 could very well easily fall into a list of the top 5 comic book superhero movie adaptations of all time. Just about every element works and works better than in the first X-Men movie. The battles are more exciting, the action is more energetic, and the characters and implementations of the mutant vs. human debate give the story a much-needed weight. It’s easily beyond the cartoonish, surface-level action of something like Fantastic Four or even the atrocity that was X-Men: The Last Stand.

Seriously, books could be written about how bad 20th Century Fox and Brett Ratner screwed over this series between X2 and X-Men: The Last Stand, but that’s not my place here. X2 is one of the best comic book adaptations in film history. It’s just a shame the open-ended story it leaves couldn’t have led to something more deserving.


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