X2: X-Men United
Grade: B+
Year: 2003
Director: Bryan Singer
Writer: Michael Dougherty
Genre: Action
Rated: PG-13
By Scott Spicciati

The entrance of Nightcrawler in the improved sequel, “X2: X-Men United,” is an exciting showcase of dazzling effects in a very in-evasive manner. While we know CGI is making Nightcrawler jump through walls and making him disappear at will, the presentation is so entertaining, we are focused on finding where Nightcrawler will reappear next rather than asking ourselves how it was done.

The movie opens in the White House, and the president finds himself in a hostile situation. An unnamed intruder has entered the building and the secret staff can’t locate it. Nightcrawler soon appears, and the first battle of the movie begins. It’s the best scene in the movie. However, we lose our focus somewhere in the middle of the C-grade screenplay, and we don’t get it back. From here on out it’s a long ride.

Everyone is back from the original: Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) continues to run his private school for young mutants, and Magneto (Ian McKellen) is still mad for some reason, probably because it is law to have a comic-book villain in a Marvel movie. As for new blood, we have Gen. William Stryker (Brian Cox), a government official whose job is to deal with the mutant population. We later meet his own personal mutant Yuriko (Kelly Hu), who acts more like a slave than a free-spirited mutant. Cox’s character is one of my favorites in the film, although he was much more colorful as "Manhunter's" Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

Unlike the first film, you can rely solely on the action and special effects to enjoy this movie. If you opt to take the analytical route, prepare for unanswered questions. For example, we know the government has no solution to the growing mutant problem. We hear about the Mutant Registration Act, and we wonder what good registration does when mutants can shape-shift and/or become completely undetectable at will.

Now back to our cast of super-heroes. You’ll recognize the main hero, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), the self-healing hothead who fights with blades that extend from his knuckles. Since the first time we saw him back in 2000, it looks like he has gained some control of his weapons. It also appears his haircut may have gotten worse since the first film. Next is Storm (Halle Berry), a soft-spoken woman who can control the weather with the twist of neck. She does so many times and I am sold on the fact she is the most powerful mutant in the group. Then there is Dr. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), another female who uses telekinesis an finds herself in a Pearl Harbor-like love triangle with Cyclops (James Marsden) and Wolverine. As you know, the popular Cyclops shoots laser beams from his eyes.

As for the mutant members of the Kids Club, we have Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), who can freeze things; Pyro (Aaron Stanford), a slightly more powerful flame-thrower although he needs the already existing presence of fire, and Rogue (Anna Paquin), who drains your energy by touching you. Her beauty is the only thing we would have missed had Rogue not made the sequel. The same goes for the other junior members. Their job is to be protected by the baby-sitters I’ve mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Our lead villain-mutant is Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), a beautiful shape-shifter. Although she doesn’t stand next to Stamos’s “Femme Fatale” character, she’s still deadly and a favorite of mine. I’ve already mentioned Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming), the teleporter who attacked the White House and reads the Bible in his spare time. He is also one of my favorites. What is it with me and villains?

It’s hard to describe the problems I have with this movie. I think it is the long duration. Much of the movie isn’t about special effects, but instead story and plot conflicts; two things rarely done well in this genre. The love conflict between the three characters is done poorly. I couldn’t help but laugh as Wolverine and Cyclops gave each other an evil competitive glare. They seemed to be focused on who deserves Dr. Grey more. I was focused on what looked goofier; Wolverine’s bad haircut or Cyclops’ bad sunglasses.

I’ve decided not to reveal anything about the plot to you. Just know that parties are out to save things while other parties have intentions to do the opposite. What I like is how the government plays a role in the ultimate fight. While it’s almost always good vs. evil, there are times when good is sitting next to evil in order to outdo another evil. With two different forces of evil, I found myself having a lot of fun watching the story unfold.

Some of the fight scenes are outstanding, although I found Wolverine’s in-the-end showdown to be slightly disappointing, short and overrated. From the trailer, we learn he isn’t the only one who sports metallic claws, and it’s only proper that the two fight to the death.

X-Man fans will be pleased to know “X2” is 2 hours and 15 minutes in duration; longer than the first, but it doesn’t accomplish much more. Some viewers have complained it drags out too much, but the duration is just right for Marvel lovers. Is an “X3” in the works? Let’s just say that after watching “X2,” a part III seems very likely.

“X2” has a lot of good things going for it that I didn’t expect to see. Not all of the characters are completely concrete, as some are good and convert to evil, while some start off bad and end on the good side. I also liked the poetic use of religion. It makes perfectly good sense that at least one (Nightcrawler) of the millions of mutants on Earth is Catholic. Look for a noble sacrifice in the end to shake things up a bit; it works as long as you don't concentrate too much on the execution.

“X2” is a very enjoyable film. The overall reaction was a little less than I expected from the advance-screening audience I was with. They generally excepted the movie, although about three of the trailers that proceeded the film got a louder applause. It looks like that dang “Matrix: Reloaded” trailer steals the show again.

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