This second installment in the X-Men film franchise accomplishes what a second installment should. For a moment, let’s consider X-Men as a trial run, a toe-in-the-water effort by Fox to test their formula and gauge the profitabilty of their newly acquired franchise. Bear with this oversimplification and we understand the tepid efforts of that first film and its relationship with its sequel. X-Men featured a select few of the characters in the comics world. On one side of the ledger (See Footnote #1 below) we have Professor Charles Xavier, Wolverine, Jean Grey, Storm, Cyclops, and young Rogue (with brief cameos by Iceman and Pyro). In the other corner we have The King of Magnetism, Magneto; The Woman of a 1000 Faces, Mystique; Toad the Tongued and Sabretooth that Big Guy at a Party with No Social Skills. We are introduced to the basic Martin Luther King, Jr. vs Malcolm X versions of Professor X and Magneto and the world of mutants.
But with X2, we are taken much further into the X-Men ethos. New themes blend into the cinematic universe along with a deep roster of X-Men and other members of the comic world. Impressively, the new characters join the line-up not just to strut their mutagenic stuff but to add to the themes explored in the first film and establish some new ones. We meet Nightcrawler who affords the film one of its most fantastic scenes (the opening fight at the White House) as well as one of its more compelling themes. Through Nightcrawler we explore the importance of faith and religion in the X-Men world, a topic afforded a great deal of time in the comics. Iceman’s character allows us to explore one of the most important themes of the X-Men universe when he visits his childhood home. In that visit he reveals his mutant abilities to his parents, effectively “coming out” to his personal world. His mother asks, “have you ever tried not being a mutant” a refrain commonly associated with the struggle among the LGBT community. Just a few minutes later we watch as Pyro gives into the Dark Side of the Force by attacking police officers sent to round-up the “mutant enemy.” Plenty of cameos litter the sequences shot in the Xavier School (shout out to Kitty Pryde and Colossus, two personal favorites) but in general new characters are added which contribute to the forward progress of the film.
X2 offers many improvements over its predecessor and its faults are generally carry-overs from that first film. Character backgrounds and origin stories are bastardized and the film treats the comics like an a la carte menu, taking what it wants and abandoning the rest. Regardless of these pilferies, X2 proves entertaining and a solid expansion from the first film in the series. What happens next is a different story.
Footnote #1: Yes, ledger is an unfair word to use here as it implies an unchanging allegiance of characters to one side of the fight. The X-Men comics and media afford their characters a considerable degree of ambiguity in this regard while the early films don’t always honor this effective ambiguity. Pyro could be considered an exception although once he switches to Magneto’s camp he is resolute. Magneto himself shows a great deal more internal debating, likely aided by the fact that he is portrayed by Ian McKellen.
Bottomline: A mostly coherent and entertaining film that adds depth to the original, X2 convinces us to keep watching the franchise even if the next films beg us to stop.
Flashback/Backslide’s Marvel Blogathon continues Thursday, January 29th with a review of Hulk (2003)! Check out the most recent entry in the Blogathon; a review of 2005’s Elektra written by Movierob.
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