Tuesday, May 31, 2011

X-Men [Indeterminate Amount of Time] Day 5: Review of X2

We’ve established that the original X-Men film was very good.  It wasn’t perfect but it was well above the standards of comic book films established at the time.  Both a critical and a financial success 20th Century Fox immediately green lit a sequel, thus X2, sometimes called X2: X-Men United, hit theaters in 2003. Bryan Singer was brought back in to direct and a script, again with an annoying amount of hands involved, was developed.  Pretty much the entire cast returned as well to reprise their roles with notable exceptions of Tyler Mane and Ray Park presumably because the filmmakers decided that Sabertooth’s connection to Wolverine was too boring a plot to carry a film (See: X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and clearly Storm’s line “Do you know what happens to a toad, etc.” from the first film was so awful that it physically killed Toad.  I’m pretty sure that’s in the script.   Anyway during pre-production it was decided very early that the story would be a modified re-telling of the little remembered graphic novel X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills which isn’t the most famous X-Men story but one of the most tied to the Human Rights aspects of the books.

Like with its predecessor we know the ending to story; generally considered superior to the first one it made over four hundred million dollars worldwide and convinced Fox to make another one as clearly they’ve never heard of the phrase “quit while you’re ahead”.   I certainly recall thinking this film was amazing when I saw it in theaters but that was a long time ago and I’m much more bitter towards this particular franchise than I was before.  Does it hold up eight years later?

Click below to find out.

Wolverine and some less important people

Following the events of the first film Logan (Hugh Jackman) has left Xavier’s mansion to find clues about his missing past at Alkali Lake, per Professor X’s (Sir Patrick Stewart) suggestion.  However while he heads to where he hopes answers await the President of the United States is nearly killed by a mutant assassin very publically.  Deeply afraid of what consequences for such an act may have for the already shaky mutant/human relationship Professor X prepares to mobilize the X-Men to get to the bottom of this mystery and hopefully find the would-be killer before the government does.  No one yet realized that there is a far more sinister plot afoot.

First of all the title of this movie sucks. “X2”?  That sound like something a ridiculously un-hip middle aged guy would come up with in a vain effort to make something “cool” for the kids. What the hell is wrong “X-Men 2” or even simply “X-Men United”?  X2 just sounds silly.   It’s the dumbest sounding name for an X-Men property I’ve ever heard.

Anyway the thing that is most obvious about this film is that it feels much bigger than the first one.  The cast is larger, there are more locations, the fight scenes are more elaborate and the stakes in the plot are higher.   In the first movie Magneto was in danger of accidentally killing a ton of world leaders but here the fate of all mutants hangs in the balance.  The scale has gone up.  Also the filmmakers at this point had found their footing so a lot of things that didn’t work have either been jettisoned or fixed.  Everything runs more smoothly, for lack of a better term.

Speaking of the plot I was happy that it was so different from the first one and the villain is a much less ambiguous character. Where Magneto wasn’t truly an “evil” antagonist William Stryker was portrayed as a much more heartless and unjustified monster, which I like as a change of pace.  Even with the differences everything still felt like a fairly natural progression from the events of the first film.   This flick feels like it’s’ own movie while at the same time firmly rooted in the 2000 movies continuity.   I like that a lot.  Wolverine’s presence as the main character (Again?), while not the greatest thing in the world, firmly wrapped his story up in an extremely satisfying way and all logic would point to any sequel going a different route and finally focusing on a different person (Bwahahaha, I crack myself up.   Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though; we’ll wait for the next movie’s review).

He's supposed to be a preacher.  I DO NOT mind the change
I really liked how rooted in real world equality issues this movie is.   Bobby Drake’s interaction with his parents as he “comes out” to them was very fascinating.  Was it subtle?  Nope, but I don’t think it needed to be.   These characters work best when used in way that forces us to look at our society’s own problem.   Sure there isn’t a dude out there trying to build a weapon that will kill all gay people (At least I freaking hope there isn’t!) but there certainly is a lot of persecution out there.  Bryan Singer is very good at this blend and even to this day he’s the only director I feel comfortable with helming an X-Men movie (Prove me wrong, Matthew Vaughn!).

The action sequences in the movie are pretty good.   Clearly as far as showcasing everyone’s powers this film worked well, especially concerning the opening scene of Alan Cumming, as Nightcrawler, fighting off the secret service with badass use of teleportation.  If I can admit that the first X-Men film has mostly held up in eleven years than X2 still (Mostly) looks really good as far as effects go (Though Storm’s “white-eye” effect looks pretty bad here, possibly much worse than the first movie).

This movie features a large cast; possibly slightly too large.  Hugh Jackman as Wolverine works just as well here as it did in the first film, just as Sir Ian McKellen does.  Between the two of them and Alan Cumming’s fantastic portrayal of Nightcrawler there is no lack of awesome characters played by awesome actors to be found here.  Sir Patrick Stewart does well with what he has, it’s Patrick Stewart after all, but Xavier is relegated from supporting character to plot device so he doesn’t have all that much to do.  The reason Stryker works well as a villain is because Brian Cox delivers a great performance for a clearly complex character.  It’s really hard to imagine anyone else playing the role (Coughcoughwolverinemoviecough).  Shawn Ashmore as Bobby Drake was pretty good, I suppose, but I really liked that they took the time to flesh out his character upon expanding his role in this movie.  If I recall correctly Iceman will be one of the very few characters in the X-Men film series that actually grow throughout the three films (Confirmation forthcoming).

Unfortunately the rest of the cast suffer from he same issue s the first film: a lack of focus on their characters.  Storm has a few more conversations with other characters and plays a larger role in the resolution of the conflict, I’ll give them that, but unfortunately Halle Berry is pretty mediocre as Storm and the character comes off as kind of bland.  Of course Halle Berry is almost always mediocre in everything she does, Oscar or no Oscar.  Anyway Storm was more important here but I wish she had stayed in the background.  Also where the hell was her accent from the first film?   Yeah, it was awful but just throwing it out seems like a bizarre continuity issue with the films.  Also despite having a subplot where she has become much more powerful and a small romantic tension story with Wolverine (*Grumble*) Jean Grey doesn’t really do much of anything in the film until the very end, but it’s clearly setting up for the sequel so I guess I can forgive that.   I’m not sure if it was Famke Janssen’s acting or the script (I’d bet it was the script) but Jean comes off very wooden and insincere and it was kind of annoying to watch.

One of these people is a fantastic and brilliant actor
The other starred in "Catwoman"

As for James Marsden as Cyclops?  As if having his one decent character scene in the first film turned against him wasn’t enough in this movie he’s taken out by the enemy fairly early in the film and only makes a return during the climax and what little lines he does get aren’t not very flattering .  Which is great because who doesn’t want to see one of their favorite fictional characters look like a whiny wimp who is barely even a supporting character.   Anna “Let’s Go Back to Your Coffin” Paquin is strangely around through most of the film but literally does nothing of any importance whatsoever, being eclipsed by her new boyfriend Iceman.  Seeing as she was arguably the secondary lead of the last movie hers may be the biggest demotion of all.  But I’m sure that both of them will have fulfilling roles in the next X-Men film.

Huh. Why did I suddenly get a cold shiver?

Of course with so many characters popping up in the movie is this really a surprise?  This flick is packed with people who probably didn’t need to be hanging around but do anyway purely for fan service.  The worst culprit: Lady Deathstrike, played by the non-Japanese Kelly Hu, appears despite being much, much different from her comic book counterpart seemingly sole for the purpose of having a character with that name so fanboys could go “Hey! I know that person! Awesome!”   Still it’s not too bad, it just feel a bit bloated.

One major issue I had was the very end of the film during the [SPOILER] confrontation between the X-Men and the President of the United States.  Despite what Xavier said I feel like the President would have been 100% in the right for taking the whole conversation as a threat from the mutant race and proof that they are a dangerous enemy.  That he didn’t immediately go on television and declare the “War on Mutant Terrorism” seems pretty strange to me.  There were also a few silly scenes that didn’t really fit into the whole “Genocide” plot in the film.

Hey, at least Cyclops got a badass longcoast this time
Honestly there’s not much wrong with this film.  Another X-Men adventure carried by key actors and great special effects.  I liked the plot and I liked the villain but a lot of the protagonists are again underutilized and that’s pretty annoying.  As for whether this or the first one is the better film…I think I’ll leave that up for you to decide yourself.  While the first X-Men surprised me with how much I liked it X2 isn’t as good as I remember it being.  It’s still a really good film, to be sure, but it’s not the great spectacle I thought it was when I was younger.  Perhaps there’s a bit too much going on and a few too many characters running around, but if that’s the case it only slightly hurts the film.  If you liked the first one you’ll like this one, though it doesn’t enter Spider-Man 2 or The Dark Knight level of awesome sequel.

I give X2 4 Adorable Pandas out of 5.


-Key actors as key characters were AWESOME

-The special effects are were great

-Nightcrawler vs. the Secret Service and Magneto’s escape form prison are two of my favorite scenes in superhero movies

-The movie does a good job of setting up for a sequel without being annoyingly blatant about it (Take note Iron Man 2)


-Halle Berry is in this movie

-All X-Men who are not Wolverine take a backseat to him…again

-Probably too many characters, t the point that a few of them felt shoehorned.

-Awful title

Okay, one more X-Men film left to review before X-Men: First Class hits theaters this weekend. Seeing as Bryan Singer has had two whole films to master the art of X-Men movie making it’s very likely that he’ll be able make another one at least as good as the last two-

What’s that? He dropped out of the film in pre-production?  Wait, then who the hell directed X-Men 3?


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