X2: X-Men United

Bryan Singer has done what many wanted to do: created a hugely successful comic book franchise. The arrival of X2 was inevitable because of the popularity of the first, just as more X-Men sequels will surely come along. It helps that the comic book upon which the movies are based have a huge supply of character to choose from in adapting them from page to screen. X2: X-Men United is loosely adapted from the graphic novel God Loves, Man Kills by Chris Claremont and Brent Anderson. The story picks up right after the events of the first film, with Magento (Ian McKellan, The Two Towers, The Fellowship of the Ring) in a jail of plastic, and Professor X (Patrick Stewart, Star Trek: Nemesis, Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius) still teaching young mutants at his school for 'gifted' youngsters.

This film is better than the first in that it doesn't need to take the time to set up all the characters. The cast is large, but most of them have established personalities and powers from the first. It can focus more on action, and Singer (X-Men, Apt Pupil) makes sure to put in as many action sequences as possible. The problem is that the film feels more like a collection of action sequences, separated by bits of underdeveloped story. Even with story and screenplay credit going to Singer, Daniel P. Harris (The Killing of Candice Klein, Urban Chaos Theory), Michael Dougherty (Season's Greetings), David Hayter (The Scorpion King, X-Men), Zak Penn (Behind Enemy Lines, Inspector Gadget), the story still feels like a shell of something else. There are enough characters so the script can get away with skimping on character development, but story development is more essential. Luckily, Singer and crew are savvy enough to cover this up with all the hallmarks of a huge summer action movie.

The special effects are amazing, and the action sequences are intense. Each mutant has his/her own special power, spectacularly brought to life by special effects. It's only been a couple years, but the effects still look much better than in the first film. Among the newcomers include Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming, Nicholas Nickleby, Spy Kids 2), a blue, Catholic, teleport who looks like a demon, Bobby Drake (Shawn Ashmore, The Big House, X-Men), who can freeze things, and Pyro (Aaron Stanford, Tadpole, The 25th Hour), who can control fire. There are plenty of opportunities for all the mutants to use their powers, and Singer doesn't disappoint with the fight scenes. He has vividly brought to life scenes that were once only drawings in comics.

This, combined with some formidable acting talent (chief among them McKellan and Stewart) make X2 a much better movie than it actually is. Another new addition is Brian Cox (The 25th Hour, Adaptation), one of the best actors working today (and they're all born overseas...hmm). Cox is William Stryker, a shadowy government figure who uses an attempted assassination of the President to launch a strike on Xavier's school. With Jean Grey (Famke Janssen, I Spy, Don't Say a Word) and Storm (Halle Berry, Die Another Day, Monster's Ball) off searching for the assassin, the mansion is overrun and the X-Men separated. Logan (Hugh Jackman, Kate & Leopold, Swordfish) is back after a failed attempt to discover something about his past, only to find that he and Stryker share some connection in the past. Almost all of the rest of the cast from the original is back, as is the main theme of acceptance. The X-Men comic has always been an allegory about social issues. On a large scale, the mutant/human conflict mirrors similar conflicts between different races and/or religions. On a small scale, each mutant feels the same alienation and loneliness that teenagers experience. However the film isn't as heavy as this sounds, and moves extremely quickly from one scene to the next. X-Men United is, at its core, a big piece of summer fluff, but it's really well done fluff.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
2 hours, 14 minutes, Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action/violence, some sexuality, and brief language.

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