Thursday , April 25 2024
Another damn X-Men 2 review. . .

“Nature Laughs Last”

Of the myriad comic book movies announced for this year, the one I’ve least anticipated is X-Men 2. Saw the first ‘un, of course, and while I wasn’t bored watching it, I can’t say I was totally wrapped up in it either. Sure, X-Men had beaucoup character and story to introduce – but so did the first Lord Of The Rings chapter, and that puppy moved. X1, on the other hand, just sat there, most damningly in its rote Good/Bad Mutant showdown at the Statue of Liberty.
I’ve never especially been an avid X-addict: the original Lee & Kirby series was a decent start, but compared to their stint on Fantastic Four (where the team had several years to stretch the material), it never fulfilled its promise. When Chris Claremont retooled the group – adding former Hulk villain Wolverine to the mix and making the cast more multinational, I was only fitfully interested. Perhaps I was the wrong age for ’em, but arcs like “Dark Phoenix” (Jean Grey turns into godlike baddie – a plot that’s been replicated too many times since) didn’t work for me. Too strained; too contrived.
These days, Marvel’s X-books are a cottage industry by themselves. I’ve sampled a few – including Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men and the first year of the Ultimate book – but have limited working knowledge of all the presentday fannish minutia. So I had that strike going against the movie, too: part of the fun after all, with a flick like this lies in picking apart the difference ‘tween source comic and finished film.
And so it was a more-than-pleasant surprise to find myself actively enjoying X2: X-Men United. Unlike the first outing, director Bryan Singer and collaborators put together an action film with a fully fleshed conflict. After squandering so much screen time in the first flick with back story, Singer just jumps into the action and assumes the audience has all memorized their X-Men DVDs (not a bad assumption to make for the opening weekend crowd, at least). So when we see the liquefied Senator Kelly (Bruce Davison), we know something is fishy long before the figure gives us a conveniently revealing flash of mutant eye coloring.
The film’s basic plot is straightforward. Fanatical Army guy William Stryker (Brian Cox) is out to eradicate all mutants. Using a scantly explicated brainwashing drug on captured mutants Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Kurt “Nightcrawler” Wagner (Alan Cumming), he strives to foment war between human and mutant, first by sending agile teleporter Nightcrawler on an assault against the president, then by kidnapping kindly Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and some X-kiddies from Xavier’s School for Gifted Youth. Left to fend off Mutant Apocalypse: returning grown-ups Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Jean (Famke Janssen) and Storm (Halle Berry); half-formed students Rogue (Anna Paquin), Bobby “Iceman” Drake (Shawn Ashmore) and Pyro (Aaron Stanford); plus ee-vil mutant allies Magneto and the shape-shifting Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos).
Outside of fan-fave Wolverine’s kung-fu battle against adamantium-laced peer Deathstrike (Kelly Hu), the best action sequences belong to the putative bad muties: brainwashed Nightcrawer’s bravura attack on the Oval Office, Mystique’s infiltration of Stryker’s underground lair and Darth Pyro’s tantrum pyrotechnic display against an unfortunate squad of Boston cops. (The latter comes across as especially vicious since the poor humans on the receiving end have no way to fend off the flames.) All the other major characters get their brief CGI setpieces (neatest one visually is a series of tornadoes that Storm creates to discourage a pack of pursuing fighter jets), but most of it looked pretty rote. Only time Scott “Cyclops” Summers (James Marsden) really gets to cut loose, he’s been brainwhipped into attacking his lover Jean.
And then there’s poor Prof X: captured early in the pic (along with Cyclops), mentally reined by a “neural inhibitor” and victimized by Stryker’s son, a brain-controlling mutant who looks like he’s been lobotomized by Ron Popeil. Attempting to trick Xavier into activating Cerebro, the laser lightshow gizmo (am I only one who expects to hear Dark Side Of The Moon every time they turn this thing on?) that tracks both norms and mutants, the brain-swaying Stryker Jr. creates an imaginary version of the school and pretends to be a helpless li’l girl mutant. Watching this scene, I admit I momentarily got my franchises confused. Didn’t I see a bit like this in the first Star Trek: New Generation film? I thought, wondering if Whoopi Goldberg was gonna show.
What I kept waiting for was a moment when our wheelchair-bound headmaster finally shrugged off these puissant attempts at mental manipulation and (figuratively) stood up for himself. Didn’t get it, though. Like the elder faculty in the Harry Potter movies, the main thing wise adults exist to do is get rescued and tidy the mess afterwards. I don’t recall the Professor X of the early comics being so consistently ineffective, but as I said I haven’t been keeping up with X-book continuity all that faithfully, so he could just be growing old.
For our heroes, the biggest pleasures come in the small character moments: the Jean/Logan/Scott triangle, Rogue and Iceman struggling to hold their hormones in check, Nightcrawler explaining the iconography that’s been engraved all over his body, Mystique making a morph-filled play for Wolverine, the mutant kid who stays up all night remote controlling the teevee with the power of his mind. If much of the first flick served as a reminder that small moments were insufficient in a genre flick sans an adequate threat, the new entry shows how these same smallish bits can enhance a storyline with a decent ratio of menace.
Never thought I’d write this, but Singer and co. have actually got me anticipating X3 now. . .

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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