Gene Therapy (X2:X-Men United, 2003)
While it had it’s flaws, X-Men was a solid enough success to warrant a sequel. X-Men 2 went into production under Singer’s guidance. You do not fix what is not broke after all. And Singer got people excited by suggesting this was going to be his Empire Strikes Back.
Picking up pretty much where we left off, mutants are still feared, Magneto is in a cell of plastic, receiving visits from Professor X, who is trying to win his friend back.
In an excellent setup, we are introduced to Nightcrawler. He has infiltrated the White House with a band of tourists and takes off to assassinate the President. It is a really thrilling sequence that sets the film into motion. Professor X and the X-men start trying to locate this mutant who tried to kill the president.
The President is holding meetings with his advisors and General Stryker (played excellently by Brian Cox) . Stryker is the very type of person Magneto fears coming to power. He distrusts and despises mutants, and seeks to eradicate them. And part of that is to put an end to the threat he sees in the Xavier School for Gifted Children. He has been collecting information using as ort of “truth serum/mind control” on mutants.
That evening, with only Wolverine to watch over the kids, Cyclops and Professor X go to see Magneto, while Storm and Jean Grey track down Nightcrawler. Magneto has managed to set up an elaborate and exciting escape. At the same time, Jean and Storm have located Nightcrawler hiding in a church that is under renovation. They are surprised to find a somewhat timid and fearful mutant, not the hardened terrorist one might expect.
While this is going on, Stryker launches an assault on the school. It is here that he is surprised to discover Wolverine, suggesting Stryker may have answers to Wolverine’s past. Wolverine escape with Rogue, Bobby/Iceman and John/Pyro.
Ultimately, the mutants all meet up, knowing they must fight together to stop Stryker’s madness. He plans to use tech and Xavier to destroy all mutants. This leads Magneto and the X-Men to work together in an assault on Stryker’s underground bunker. They save the Xavier, Cyclops and the students but Magneto has no intention of trusting Xavier’s lofty goals and takes off, Pyro in tow. In their attempt to get out safely, The X-Men find themselves suffering another loss.
X2 really set the bar for Super-hero films. In describing it as his Empire, Singer really hit the nail on the head. It is a bit darker than it’s predecessor, the stakes seem higher and the losses more painful. Oh yeah, it ends on a cliffhanger of sorts. All the things that the X-Men comics excel at are present in Singer’s film.
The story functions both in allegory and straightforward adventure. There is humor, heartache, mystery and excitement. The writing really capture the characters, giving the performer and director a solid road map.
Nightcrawler is played to perfection by Alan Cummings. He is the sensitive and compassionate spiritual soul, but also the free-spirited swashbuckling showman. As I mentioned, Cox really hits it out of the park as Stryker. A menacing zealot, willing to sacrifice the dignity of his own child in his thirst for vengeance.
Not shockingly, of course, McKellen’s portrayal of Magneto is top notch. Bringing depth and thoughtfulness to the character. He has many great moments both exciting (his clever escape scene) and quiet (he has a nice moment where he discusses what it is to be a mutant in the world with Pyro. It is seductive in it’s emotional appeal).
Jackman shows a real affinity for the character of Wolverine. He’s able to bring together both the gruffness and genuine protectiveness that has long been a part of the character. And he still managed to pull off crazy “berserker rage” with Wolverine. This is also some terrific moments of humor for the character.
The pairing of Rogue and Iceman works real well in the film. Their attempts to navigate a relationship without touch is nicely handled. Both Sean Ashmore and Anna Paquin have a sweet chemistry that sells the relationship.
Some complain about the heavy handed-ness of the mutant=gay subtext. But the thing about the X-Men is, they address the “subtext of the times”. There was a time when mutant=race was the primary read…but the gay subtext is a pretty natural fit.
Like I said, the film raised the bar. X2 is easily still one of the top five super-hero films. It manages to both be enjoyable for a newer fan with plenty to reward the die-hard fan. This is a solid film that still holds up.