The summer season kicks off with a bang with X2: X-Men United, the poorly-titled yet over-achieving sequel to the movie that started off this latest wave of comic book adaptations.
X2 brings back all of the stars from the first movie (Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, James Marsden and Ian McKellan), while adding several more recognizable faces. Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) has a big role, as do the villains Stryker (Brian Cox) and Lady Deathstrike (Kelly Hu, of The Scorpion King). Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and Pyro (Aaron Standford) have an increased presence, and fans of the genre will be treated to many cameos of characters, including Colossus, Siryn, Kitty Pride and Beast. All in all, X2 increases its character load three fold.
This is a very good thing. X-Men really has an unlimited wealth of character interactions and story arcs, all of which have been developed over decades of comic books. It has the potential to become the longest running comic book series.
Why do I say that after only two movies? Well, for starters, X2 is an awesome movie, but also it has a very deep and consistent theme that relates to many of modern day's events, plenty of characters to base stories on, and a running plot that is only going to get cooler as time goes on.
Look at Batman, Superman and even Spider-Man. All of those movies are centered around one hero who ultimately ends up fighting a bad guy or two. This is all well and good, but as seen by every comic book movie franchise ever created, a director will mess up along the way or audiences will just grow tired of seeing a couple of superheroes duking it out.
X2 does not appear to be going down the same path. It is a near-continuation of the previous film, connecting many of the loose ends left behind. It is rich with the theme of hatred of the unknown, which as many of us know will lead to the creation of the Sentinels and darker times ahead. Wolverine is continuing to search for his past (and finds a lot of it). Jean Grey is having some interesting things happen to her (which fans of the comic book or the television show will catch on to pretty quickly). Magneto is looking for a way to return to power...
Basically, the movie is excellent. It far exceeds its predecessor. The film is darker and moodier, but funnier and more exciting at the same time. The action scenes are great and plentiful, but X2 is not overwhelmed with them. The movie never slows its pace, and in fact is much more consistent than the original. It is a great movie.
X2 only stumbles in the final five minutes, as it becomes overly cheesy in more ways than one. The scene where all of the X-Men appear in the Oval Office is hokey to say the best. The emotional scene between Cyclops and Wolverine is pretty damn bad. Only the last shot of the lake makes up for anything.
Despite its shortcomings after the climax of the film, X2 is a tour de force to be reckoned with. It has all the makings of a great sequel, and, in fact, of a great movie. Those who know something of the comic books might understand things a little better, as Bryan Singer has planted multitudes of Easter eggs throughout the film (many of which, I'm sure, I missed). Still, even those just looking for a fun action movie will be entertained by one of the best sequels I've seen in a long time.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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