Review: X2: X-Men United

by Jake Sproul

Rating: (out of )

As you may have noticed, it has taken me a week to produce this review. The consequence of this is a diminished remembrance of the film, never a good thing when oneís goal is to write a quality movie review. The reason for the delay is valid though, in all the pre-debut hype of X2, I forgot to re-watch the first film. Even as I write this film, I only remember bits and pieces from the first. Adding to this is the nature of X2, a comic book adapted sequel, which already has a huge built-in fan base, which never makes it easier to write a review. So bare with me, as I attempt to muddle through this review which promises to be my worst since Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Something many people probably do not know, is that the first X-Men was a real risk for Fox. X-Men was the first comic book inspired movie to be seen at the theaters since the Batman & Robin disaster of 1997. X-Men was also the first comic book of Marvel to have the big screen treatment. When the first X-Men grossed 54 million in its opening weekend, Marvel was able to stick it to rival DC Comics, who previous had the jump on Marvel (with Superman and Batman film franchises) for about 25 years. The final gross for the first film was 157 million, which has lead the way for Spider-Man, Daredevil and later this summer, The Hulk for Marvel. Spider-Man made history with the biggest opening weekend ever at 114 million, Daredevil, a little know franchise, grossed 40 million its opening weekend, and now X2 has grossed 85 million in its first 3 days. The future for comic books on the silver screen looks very bright indeed.

There have been some interesting developments for the cast since the first X-Men. Hugh Jackman and Famke Jannsen have become significantly more noteworthy, Ian McKellen got an Oscar nod, and Halle Berry did one better, and won an Oscar. Yet everyone returns for the sequel, including director Bryan Singer. The second film follows a similar path as the first, in that its mutants vs. humans/US government. Without revealing too much, the story revolves around General William Stryker who wants to put an end to all mutant kind using Cerebro, which means an attack on Professor Xavierís School for the Gifted is imminent. This attack on mutantís causes Magnetoís clan to come together with Xavierís X-Men to confront and battle a common enemy. The X-Men arenít without domestic problems though, as the love triangle between Wolverine, Cyclops, and Jean Grey begins to heat up, and speaking of heating up, X-Kid Pyro begins to empathize with the mantraís of Magneto.

Having so many characters in a film proves a to be a problem. While a comic book series an infinite number of episodes, story arcs, and character spin-offs, the film has 133 minutes to develop 10+ characters, which of course it can never even get close to. Some characters get more screen time than otherís, Wolverine emerges as the star of X2 as he did the first as well, and Cyclops has probably 5 minutes on screen, total. The result is pathetic character development, which for a comic book movie isnít too terrible a crime, but a problem none the less. My suggestion for X3 is that Singer focus on 1-3 of his X-Men and just use the rest as plot devices and reasons to showcase various special effects. (While on the subject of X3, note to anyone in the marketing department, next time donít tack on a silly subtitle last minute...ďX-Men UnitedĒ - hmpf.) Having so many characters creates a story-telling problem, that Singer was not able to hurdle in X2. All the individual characters must have arcs of their own, yet there must be a common problem. With all these stories being told, the primary branch of the movie, the main story line, becomes cloudy. Difficulty to the audience member ensues when one tries to recall motives for characters actions, and has to skip back 45 minutes into the movie, because that was the last time that specific arc was dealt with.

Having not ever been a comic book fan or reader, I have only been exposed to the main-stream comic book heroes and franchises. (I never even heard of Daredevil until probably January.) Yet of the ones I am familiar with, X-Men is probably my favorite. The themes of alienation and uniqueness are socially important, which makes X-Men the most mature series. These social themes are very well translated from comic book the film by Singer. New addition Nightcrawler is frequently the basis for commentary as he is physically different. Nevertheless, the most touching scene of social separateness between mutants and humans is the ďcoming outĒ scene, when Bobby Drake, AKA, Iceman, admits to his parents that he is a mutant.

With so many characters than have so many different powers, Singer and his special effects team were able to create a plethora of interesting, dazzling, and unique special effects. I perceived that the first X-Men featured very limited use of special effects, which just didnít bode well for the genre of film. In spite of this, X2 not only has the perfect amount of special effects so that it reaches equilibrium with the telling of the story, but the tricks are placed well within the story, so as to not look frivolous or unnecessary. A personal favorite of mine was the tornado sequence, which many will recall from the trailers and TV spots.

There isnít much I can say about the acting of X2, as its pretty moot. Only a truly heinous performance would be distracting from the story and special effects, and fortunately, there isnít one. Of the group, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Famke Jannsen and Hugh Jackman gave probably the four strongest performances, but they also had the most screen time, so weigh that as you may. James Marsden, who plays the preppy Cyclops remains on my nerves from the first film. Its not his acting, but his character which is annoying. Luckily for the audience, he is unconscious for half the film.

Big event films like X2, always manage to trivialize the profession (or in my case, hopefully future profession) of film criticism. Whether we recommend these big productions or not, people will see them. Tons, and I mean tons of people saw last yearís Spider-Man, despite my negative endorsement. Conversely, tons of people will see X2, and this time, I will be able to recommend it to people whom ask. Despite some story problems, Bryan Singer should be proud to have directed two enjoyable films. One that, 3 years ago, reenergized a genre once thought deceased, and another that will help to positively sustain the rise of said genre financially, and critically.


© 2003 Jacob Sproul

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