X2: X-MEN UNITED
Mike Goodridge in Los Angeles
Dir: Bryan Singer. US. 2003. 135mins.
Bryan Singer lifts the X-Men franchise out of the formulaic superhero realm in his rip-roaring sequel which, having had the scene set for it so efficiently by the 2000 smash original, is as subversive and sophisticated as any summer tentpole can expect to be. The first film grossed $157m domestically and $137m in international markets. Those figures should be surpassed - and quickly - bearing in mind Fox's unprecedentedly ambitious worldwide day-and-date release on May 2. The stunning effects work on show in the trailer and familiarity with the characters has already generated awareness in the marketplace which is through the roof. The film has at least two weeks to dominate before Warner Bros' Matrix fever takes over.
Taking up loose ends left open in the first film, X2 assumes the audience has seen its predecessor and immediately launches into the new adventure. It's the second instalment of a popcorn serial which whips along with gusto and opens up new loose ends which will be taken up in X3.
The film opens with an attack on the president's security in the White House itself by a blue mutant called Nightcrawler (Cumming) who can teleport himself from one place to another. Although the president escapes unscathed, William Stryker (Cox) whips up anti-Mutant feeling in the government and gets permission for an all-out attack on Professor Xavier's school for the gifted.
Wolverine (Jackman) meanwhile has been to Canada to investigate his past but has found nothing at Alkali Lake where Professor X (Stewart) told him he would find clues to his origins. On his return, he finds Rogue (Paquin) enjoying a romance with Bobby (Ashmore); Storm (Berry) and Jean Grey (Janssen) have flown to Boston to locate Nightcrawler and discover the motives for his attack; Professor X and Cyclops (Marsden) meanwhile have gone to visit Magneto (McKellen) who is still incarcerated in his plastic prison to discover his connection to the attack.
It is then that Stryker and his forces move into the school, capturing six of the gifted children and forcing the rest including Wolverine to flee. Once they are safe, Wolverine, Rogue, Bobby and Pyro (Stanford) set off to Bobby's parents house to hide out.
This stretch sees the film's most amusing scene in which Bobby "comes out" to his family as a mutant, prompting responses like "Do you have to be a Mutant' Can't you just be normal'" The comics' original agenda of likening the Mutants to the outsiders in society is made clearer here by Singer, who associates them with the gay community in a parallel which injects some seriousness into the proceedings. Will conservative middle Americans watching X2 in their local multiplexes get the joke'
All roads in the plot lead to Stryker whose connections to Nightcrawler as well as to Wolverine's past become clear as the action continues and it becomes clear he wants to wipe out the mutants altogether. The X-Men unite with Magneto and his assistant Mystique (Romijn-Stamos) in their quest to overcome the villain whose secret lair is hidden back at Alkali Lake.
The spectacle and humour of X2, combined with the smart storyline and multitude of characters make for rousing blockbuster entertainment. How long the same team of top-notch actors and film-makers can continue to commit to this disposable sci-fi is questionable. Unlike the Saturday morning serials of a bygone era, audiences will have a long wait before X3.
Prod cos: Marvel Enterprises, 20th Century Fox
Worldwide dist: 20th Century Fox
Exec prods: Avi Arad, Stan Lee, Tom DeSanto, Bryan Singer
Prods: Lauren Shuler Donner, Ralph Winter
Scr: Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris from a story by Singer, David Hayter & Zak Penn
Cinematography: Newton Thomas Siegel
Prod des: Guy Hendrix Dyas
Ed/music: John Ottman
Main cast: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Brian Cox, Alan Cumming, Bruce Davison, Anna Paquin, Kelly Hu, Aaron Stanford, Shawn Ashmore