U.S. Release Date: May 2, 2003
Distributor: Fox
Director: Bryan Singer
Writer: Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris, David Hayter, Zak Penn (Story)
Producer: Avi Arad (executive), Tom DeSanto (executive), Lauren Schuler Donner, Kevin Feige, Stan Lee (executive), Bryan Singer (executive), Ralph Winter
Composer: John Ottman
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Anna Paquin, Rebecca Romijn, Brian Cox, Alan Cumming
Running Time: 2 hours and 14 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (sci-fi action/violence, some sexuality and brief language)

All Action, No Evolution
by C.A. Wolski

Picking up where the first movie left off, X2: X-Men United suffers from the same flaws as its predecessor, namely emphasizing action over plot and character development.

With the popular X-Men comic book series as its basis, all of the elements for a good story are here—romance, betrayal, questions of identity—underpinned with a contemporary and relevant thematic device, racism, in the continuing human versus mutant story arc introduced in the first movie. Again, there are governmental forces at work that would be very happy to see all of the mutants exterminated. This time it is in the form of Colonel Stryker (the wonderfully villainous Brian Cox). Bitter that his son is a mutant, he is convinced that mutantkind must be eradicated.

Another narrative thread left over is amnesiac Wolverine's (Hugh Jackman) quest to find the secret of his origins. The large cast including the returning Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Storm (Halle Berry), Cyclops (James Marsden), Ice Man (Shawn Ashmore) and Rogue (Anna Paquin) is expanded with the introduction of several new characters such as Pyro (Aaron Stanford) and Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming). In addition, the main bad mutants from the first movie Magneto (Ian McKellan) and Mystique (Rebecca Romjin-Stamos) are back as well. The epic size of the cast and director Bryan Singer's efforts to give everybody a little screen time and back story help create a muddle while raising some interesting unexplored issues. For instance, the implication of the mutant gene getting passed by the father is never addressed with anti-mutant Stryker.

But the fundamental problem is that the plot tries to do too much and achieves too little. It just serves to set up the action sequences. The excellent and exciting, albeit overlong and somewhat incongruous action sequences never really allow the picture to get going. There are a couple of emotional moments, but they're a bit flat, particularly the climax (which fans of the comic will know is a set up for the third installment).

Comic books are America's mythology, a fact tacitly acknowledged almost weekly on the television show Smallville, and this is perhaps where X2 stumbles most. It needs to mythologize the story of the mutants and focus on one character (Wolverine, Jean Grey, Professor X) and push everyone else into the background. In a weekly TV program large casts can be more deftly handled and story lines developed over time. In a two-hour movie, that's almost impossible to do, particularly if the emphasis is action.

This is not to say that X2 is a complete failure. McKellan and Romijn-Stamos are terrific, particularly the latter who is deliciously primal in her portrayal of shape-shifting Mystique. There are also nice nods to long-time fans with appearances by Colossus and Hank McCoy in pre-mutant guise. And the climactic (one of several) battle between Wolverine and Deathstryke (an absolutely wasted Kelly Hu) is terrific, exciting, fast, brutal, serious. But the ending, just leaves one empty and hoping that The Hulk and The Matrix Reloaded will be able to deliver the one-two punch of action and plot that is so desperately lacking in X2.

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