The first really big cheer during the preview for X2-X-MEN UNITED (the irony of that title sinks in later) came when Wolverine sunk his adamantium claws knuckle-deep into the chest of an anonymous paramilitary dude who had invaded Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters: the crowd, as they say, went wild. And I was right there with them; it reminded me of nothing so much as Waco. Mind you, this dark and brutal invasion occurs shortly after an energizing opening: a dark-skinned, devil-tailed mutant in a trench coat teleports from White House hallway to hallway, room to room, taking out Secret Service agents one by one, in an attempt to assasinate the President of the United States; he fails, but stabs the President’s desk with a dagger, festooned with a red ribbon bearing the slogan: MUTANT FREEDOM NOW!
X-Men, as written by Chris Claremont, had always richly indulged both persecuted outsider and powerful geek fantasies The first X-Men movie, also directed by Bryan Singer, was enjoyable to an extent, but was rather timid about evoking these fantasies. X2 is balls out and not your typical benign empowerment fantasy to be sure. Harry Potter wouldn’t last a week at the X-Men school. Despite the potential for ass-kicking (and we do get to see a lot more of each mutant’s powers, to the cheers of the audience), these kids’ abilities exact painful costs: exile, self-remonstrating guilt, secrecy, loneliness. Why? Because indeed their abilities are their identities. At one point, Magneto asks a fire-manipulating mutant, “What’s your real name?” when the boy at first answers with his given name rather than with Pyro, his X-name. When Iceman Bobby Drake has “something to tell” his parents the script utilizes the language of a gay teen’s coming out: Mom asks, “Bobby, can’t you just not be a mutant?” These asides make me think the increased use of mutant power special effects have to do with theme and not merely for sheer dazzling effect, as most mainstream reviewers lazily assert.
No one’s more emblematic of the theme of suffering for one’s mutant identity than Rogue, a teenager whose touch involuntarily drains the life and powers from her target; she can’t even kiss her boyfriend without hurting him. Potentially, she’s the most powerful mutant; not coincidentally, she’s also probably the most isolated and needy. Add rage to the previous list of characteristics and you get Wolverine, a highly complicated bearish (the stogie he’s smokin’ in an early scene made me chuckle) ex-paramilitary thug who can’t remember his past clearly. It’s eventually revealed that he was experimented upon by the same shadow-military organization that invaded the school. “You were an animal then and you’re an animal now!” bad guy Stryker tells Wolverine near the film’s end. Comic book cinema? Sure; but that’s your problem if you think that means a lack of richness and character development.
[I'll be adding more to this review as I mull this movie over; but, you'll have to check out my own site if you're interested in reading it.]