Should I Watch..? 'X-Men 2'
What's the big deal?
X-Men 2 (also known as X2) is an action superhero film released in 2003 and is based on the superhero team of the same name produced by Marvel Comics. The sequel to X-Men, the film was released before the creation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in 2008 and was directed once again by Bryan Singer. The film is loosely based on the graphic novel 'God Loves, Man Kills' and sees the X-Men forced to team up with their sworn enemies the Brotherhood in order to combat a genocidal military leader intent on wiping out mutantkind. The ensemble cast includes Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Brian Cox, Anna Paquin and Alan Cumming. Like the first film, the film received a warm reception from critics and audiences alike with global earnings in excess of $407 million. The film would be followed in 2006 by X-Men: The Last Stand.
What's it about?
After a failed assassination attempt on the life of the US President by the mutant Nightcrawler, Wolverine returns to Charles Xavier's School For The Gifted in order to assist Professor Xavier and the X-Men in tracking Nightcrawler down. Xavier and Cyclops go to speak to the imprisoned Magneto while Storm and Jean Grey go to bring Nightcrawler in. However, the assassination attempt has political implications - the President authorises a military strike on Xavier's compound led by Colonel William Stryker. Colossus leads some of the students to safety although many are rounded up by Stryker's men.
As Wolverine, Rogue, Pyro and Iceman escape the chaos, Stryker's true target becomes clear - capturing Professor Xavier, Stryker intends to use the psychic's mutant-detecting machine Cerebro in order to locate and eradicate mutants wherever they may be found. With Stryker's forces operating with impunity across the US, the X-Men have no choice but to work alongside Magneto's villainous Brotherhood if they stand any chance of surviving.
Logan / Wolverine
Professor Charles Xavier
Erik Lehnsherr / Magneto
Ororo Munroe / Storm
Scott Summers / Cyclops
Raven Darkholme / Mystique
Col. William Stryker
Kurt Wagner / Nightcrawler
Sen. Robert Kelly
Marie D'Ancanto / Rogue
Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris & David Hayter*
Release Date (UK)
1st May, 2003
Action, Sci-Fi, Superhero
What's to like?
Not needing to bother with detailing the obligatory origins of the many characters on screen, X-Men 2 throws you straight into the action and in this regard remains a quality product. The returning cast from the first film feel more confident in their roles than before and despite Jackman's Wolverine remaining the main focus, the film gives other roles more to do like Stewart's Professor X and Paquin's Rogue. But personally, I enjoyed the newcomers just as much - Cox is typically wicked as the megalomaniac Stryker but Cumming is brilliant as Nightcrawler, looking as freakish and otherworldly as the character should.
Although the story is fairly predictable, it allows the latent allegory of the comics to raise to the top - pitching mutants against humanity, it explores the themes of racism and prejudice that elevates the series above the usual comic-book exploits of guys like Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four. As before, the effects are also great with imaginative and explosive action scenes that gives everyone a chance to cause a little chaos. Director Singer makes you buy into the film through his obvious appreciation for the characters. I also enjoyed the little humorous touches that help to lighten the mood - the film has a darker tone and style than the first film and the odd comic moment here and there helps prevent things getting too bleak.
- Professor X's wheelchair was sold to a lawyer after filming wrapped on the first film. So when production started on this film, the film-makers realised that they needed the chair back. The lawyer agreed to rent the chair back to the studio for a significant fee, according to Patrick Stewart.
- This is one of four X-Men films where co-creator Stan Lee does not make a cameo. Whenever asked at conventions why he doesn't appear in films where he is expected to, Lee usually replies "nobody asked me".
- The role of Stryker changed dramatically from the version in the comics where he is a fundamentalist Christian evangelist fuelled by bigotry who launches a crusade against mutants. Presumably, this was done to avoid upsetting religious groups.
What's not to like?
X-Men 2 was released at a time when movie studios were starting to wake up to the potential of comic-book adaptations, a time when superhero films were seen as being cheesy or simple summer box-office grabbers. Consider the likes of The Punisher or Daredevil which bombed with critics and audiences. These days, fans are spoiled by the professionalism and excitement that typifies the MCU and it's easy to forget that it's not that long ago that such films were seen as a risk. Part of the strength of the MCU is how the films all link together and it's noticeable that this film only really harks back to the first film. Only hardcore comic fans will get all the references hidden in this film.
My only real gripe is that the film struggles to manage all the characters on screen. Wolverine gets most of the screen time but other characters are most interesting to me, especially considering how many solo films the Angriest Canadian has since had. I'm more intrigued by Rogue's relationship with Iceman (played by Shawn Ashmore) which is hinted at but not really explored. The film seems to focus more on action and story-telling rather than character development, something which can kill a superhero film if ignored. Granted, the characters aren't as underwritten as they were in the shambolic League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen but I wanted to really know and care about these characters.
Should I watch it?
It may have been superseded by latter X-Men films and the MCU in general but X-Men 2 is still a worthwhile watch. It's fun and exciting but resolutely comic-book in style, compared to the more serious graphic-novel tone of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy. It also lacks the authenticity of the MCU but on its own, the film is a more-than-worthy sequel to the original.
Great For: fans of the comics, seeing how far comic-book films have come, destroying studio expectations
Not So Great For: the endless other sequels, anyone hoping for characterisation, Brian Cox's chances for playing a good guy for once
What else should I watch?
The series would start to stumble after the release of X-Men: The Last Stand which was an off-kilter and over-ambitious attempt to finish off the trilogy. But given how much the films had made, 20th Century Fox were never going to let the series rest peacefully so they unleashed the first solo outing for Jackman's signature role. X-Men Origins: Wolverine was an utterly ham-fisted attempt to rescue the role which got so much wrong, Ryan Reynolds is still mocking it in his Deadpool movies.
Now that we have been spoilt by the amazing Avengers Assemble, superhero teams have found the going even tougher but that hasn't stopped the X-Men just yet. After the series was rebooted in 2011 with X-Men: First Class, the revived series has so far managed to remain in the good-books of critics. They even brought the old crew back for the timeline-jumping Days Of Future Past and also have links with Reynolds' hugely successful Deadpool spin-offs.
© 2018 Benjamin Cox