based on characters by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Well, it was inevitable, considering my love for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and my love for bad movies. Seeing X-Men: First Class last summer made me fond of the mutants for the first time in my life, and I wanted to see more of their big-screen adventures, or at least watch the entire trilogy. While I don’t remember seeing ads for X-Men, I was paying more attention to movies when X2 came out, because this was the year The Return of the King was released. (If it doesn’t relate back to Tolkien or Zelda, I probably wasn’t paying attention.) So I nabbed it at the library while shelving and took it home.
X2 opens with an assassination attempt on the President of the United States by Kurt Wagner, a teleporting mutant. Anti-mutant sentiment reaches a fever pitch and is capitalized upon by William Striker, a government operative hellbent on eradicating mutants forever. Despite their attempts to uncover the hand behind the attack, Professor X and the rest of the X-Men are forced to team up with Magneto and his followers in order to fight back against Striker and save mutantkind.
X-Men was just the sort of big-budget mediocrity that I love to mock. X2 was… actually good. I ended up sitting rapt with attention with my arms around my knees on the couch, occasionally shouting at Bobby. (Because he is dumb.) The story is, obviously, a huge part of it; after setting the stage in X-Men, the scribes (Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris, and David Hayter) just get to do more with the characters. We see more of the domestic side that Marvel prides itself on considering, which is actually important to the story—part of the sheer horror of what Striker is doing is that he’s targeting adorable mutant children who normally spend their days being taught ethics, going on field trips, and generally being kids. Forcing Professor X and Magneto to work together is not only cool for the sheer team-up factor, but it’s also interesting because it plays the focus on how mutants interact with humans, rather than watching the mutants fight with each other. And on top of that, the characters are just more interesting here.
Well, okay, Cyclops remains fairly flat, but the characterization and the story go hand in hand. Watching Wolverine babysit the kids starts off amazingly hilarious (watch Wolverine and Bobby skirt around the fact that Bobby cannot have sex with his girlfriend!), but quickly shows you how much Wolverine identifies with and actually loves the group of people he’s found himself in when the night takes a horrible, horrible turn. Storm and Jean even become interesting, as they’re forced to take on leadership roles when the X-Men are scattered. The new addition, Kurt, is an interesting presence on the team—a calm and devout man unsure in his abilities. You become more invested in them here than you do in X-Men, because they feel more like real people. And on the purely indulgent side of things, I loved seeing Professor X upset about Magneto’s black eye (bestowed by a guard), as well as seeing Magneto and Mystique being a fun couple that does terrible things to people. (After giving Rogue a white streak in her hair from sheer trauma in the last film, they jokingly tell her that they like it here. Jerks.)
It also has better action sequences than the first film; the opening of this film, with Kurt’s attack on the president, is a particularly amazing piece that could only be done in this particular universe. The way it’s shot is just gripping. But the climax of the film is especially impressive. I watched X2 and X-Men: The Last Stand in one night, and I was hyperaware of this film’s two hour running time. (I am not a pleasant person when I don’t get enough sleep, but I had to watch both movies. I had to!) I got confused when the ending seemed to die down, and everything cleared up as things just got worse. It’s a rather organic turn of events, which I quite liked.
All of this doesn’t mean that it’s perfect—it isn’t. The film can’t resist some of the apologetic tongue-in-cheekness that made the first film a bit silly and Lady Deathstrike (Stryker’s unnamed right-hand woman) is pretty much unnecessary. But it’s a very good superhero film, as well as a very good X-Men film, exploring all the elements that make it unique. (And this is coming from someone who pretty much only knows Marvel through the films.) It’s also the best of the trilogy, but we’ll get to X-Men: The Last Stand soon enough…
Bottom line: X2 is the best in the X-Men film trilogy; having already set the stage in X-Men allows this film to explore an interesting story with characterization that the story is never forced to stop for, along with some truly thrilling action sequences. It’s not perfect, but it’s very, very good.
I rented this DVD from the public library.