Most helpful positive review
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Top shelf superhero movie
on May 8, 2003
The defining characteristic of "X2: X-Men United" is the approval bestowed upon it by fans of the origin comic books; whereas the original "X-Men" movie was seen as truncated and flat in parts, the sequel delivers the goods fans craved: a full half-hour more action, and a dazzling opening sequence that features a mutant attack on the U.S. President. The mutant is a newcomer: Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) a German circus runaway with blue skin that can bounce and teleport at alarming speeds. Director Bryan Singer watched his first "X-Men" effort start with a slow burn of introducing the setup and character; "X2" had the "geeks" bouncing out of their seats.
What follows is a superhero movie on par with "Spider-Man" and the best parts of the "Superman" and "Batman" series. "X2" is a too busy and farfetched, but it keeps twisting, and it features a great villain in Col. Styker (Brian Cox) a military scientist bent on erasing the mutants from the Earth. In theme and approach, "X2" is similar to the second and best installment of the "Star Trek" series, "Wrath of Khan" -- "X2" features a large sacrifice from a major character, and serves as a launching pad for future installments. Just about anything could happen in "X3," and that's a testament to how well this movie is structured. Every important mutant is still on the playing field.
After the Nightcrawler attack -- a spectacular, dizzying assault through the hallways of the White House right to the president's desk -- "X2" sends its characters in various directions. Stryker, who has the president's ear, convinces the chief that the mysterious mutant school run by wheelchair-bound Xavier (Patrick Stewart) could be behind the attack. The real source is a nifty twist, but Stryker nonetheless storms the school while Xavier is away visiting his imprisoned enemy/friend Magneto (Ian McKellen).
Though human, Stryker is as formidable as either Xavier or Magneto -- he has methods of coercing mutants, putting him in position to rid the world of them through Cerebro, a special tracking machine only Xavier can use; how Stryker tricks Xavier into using it is one of the movie's best secrets. Because Stryker means to destroy the mutants for good; Magneto sets aside his grudge match with Xavier to save both their hides, hence the title.
Stryker also holds the key to the identity of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), the steel-knuckled, mutton-chopped tough man of the mutant school. "X2" has a full plate of characters, but Jackman's the star; Wolverine does most of the fighting, and serves as a romantic possibility for X-woman Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), a telekinetic with growing strength and X-girl Rogue (Anna Paquin), whose powers were coveted in the original movie, but not worth much this time.
Also onboard is Storm (Halle Berry) who finds and connects with a confused Nightcrawler, and bad-girl Mystique (Rebecca Romejn-Stamos) whose shape-shifting gifts bust Magneto out of prison and hack into Stryker's computer for his master plan.
Singer strains to offer every mutant decent screen time, which spreads "X2" a little too thin in the middle; one mutant that figured prominently in the first movie, Cyclops (James Marsden), mostly tags along in the sequel. Despite the generosity, Cox and Jackman return the forefront again and again as Stryker and Wolverine size each other up. Cox, actually, has played a similar role once before in the terrible Keanu Reeves vehicle "Chain Reaction;" what seemed cartoonish about his military monster in that movie works just about perfect here. Jackman has a look about him that fits the part, and he's surprisingly funny to boot -- the throwaway lines of David Hayter's script are one of "X2's" prime pleasures.
There aren't as many action sequences as you'd expect -- the canvas is so big, a good part of the movie is spent just leaving and arriving -- and none match the opening Nightcrawler attack, but there is enough for a fight junkie to appreciate. And though there's a bit of social commentary mixed into the movie's fabric, "X2" is nothing less than a fantasy. There's a climax, so to speak, beyond the climax, and then another climax beyond that, which is annoying, but it sets the table for a major transformation of Jean's character. Singer obviously has his options wide open for the third installment, which will presumably pit good and bad mutants against one another again. "X2" ends with Magneto having gained a precious new weapon for round three.
For what it does, "X2" does it very well. Singer is clearly serious about not letting the franchise descend into camp as "Batman" and "Superman" eventually did -- there are dumb moments, but they're quickly forgotten. It improves on the original and improves the chances of the series at the same time.