X-Men 2 (2003), Runtime - 133 mins, Cert 12A.

Director - Bryan Singer.

Writer - Michael Dougherty.

Starring - Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Sir Ian McKellan, Halle Berry, Alan Cumming, Anna Paquin, James Marsden, Famke Janssen, Brian Cox, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Aaron Stanford, Kelly Hu, Bruce Davison & Shawn Ashmore.

 

Premise - After an attack on the US president by a mutant, paranoia about the mutant threat grips the world. General Stryker (Brian Cox) takes advantage of this and requests permission to mount an attack on Xavierís (Patrick Stewart) school for the gifted. Stryker is also having frequent meetings with Magneto (Sir Ian McKellan) in his plastic prison. Meanwhile, in Canada, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is searching for clues to his past.

BAMF! X2 doesnít start with a bang, it starts with a BAMF! The BAMF of Nightcrawler teleporting through the walls of the White House in an effort to get to the President. The opening moments of X2 tell you exactly what you are getting with this film, Nightcrawler teleports through walls, through secret service guys; heís so fast they are firing their guns at puffs of blue mist. This scene tells you that X2 is the very definition of bigger, better, more.

X-Men was a huge hit, it paved the way for the myriad of comic book flicks that we are currently seeing, it also paved the way for itís own sequel. As good as X-Men was it lacked scope, the effects werenít what they could be and the ending was a little low key. X2ís bigger budget is plain for all to see. Thereís no way you can accuse this film of being low key.

Director Bryan Singer has upped the ante in all the right areas. The story is grander, based on a story from the comic that ran in the 80ís X2 covers a lot of ground in its lengthy runtime. Taking a leaf out of The Empire Strikes Back book, the team gets split up and we find Wolverine, Rogue, Iceman and Pyro escaping form the clutches of Stryker. Jean Grey and Storm try to find the mysterious Nightcrawler and Xavier and Cyclops visit Magneto to try and figure out what Stryker is up to. Itís a lot to follow, but Singer hardly lets the pace drop and zings between all the threads giving each enough time to develop and then moves on to the next.

Singer is helped no end by his long time friend and co-worker John Ottman who handles both the editing and the scoring. Another complaint of the first film was the relatively weak score, it wasnít grand enough for a Super Hero flick, well Ottman sees to that. His score here is wonderful, it soars when it should soar and it laments when it should lament. His editing is also of the highest calibre. At itís best in the many frenetic action scenes. In particular the opening scene I mentioned and in the epic Wolverine vs. Deathstrike battle.

X2 isnít only about the effects and the action though. One of the things that the first film did succeed at was developing interesting characters and creating nice, dynamic relationships between them. The sequel expands these relationships and builds new ones as well. The love triangle between Jean, Scott and Logan is again a driving force and even although Cyclops is out of the loop for much of the film, the relationship moves forward through the actions of Jean and Logan.

Rouge and Iceman have some great scenes together, itís just young love, but the fact that they cannot even have the slightest of contact holds them back. When they finally get to kiss, itís wonderful. Nightcrawler and Storm have one of my favourite relationships. Storm can see in Kurt the kind of pain and prejudice that she suffered in Africa. When Kurt tells Storm where his scars come from, well, itís amazing. The relationship that I found the most interesting was that between Magneto and Pyro. Fans of the comic will be fully aware of where Pyroís future lies, but that doesnít mean that the journey is any less exciting. The way Magneto tells Pyro exactly what he wants to hear is excellent.

Considering that the vast majority of the cast are returning to roles that they have previously played, itís of little wonder that everybody does exceptional work. Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellan are the heavyweights, Shakespearian trained actors who add gravitas and dignity to the film. Both have slightly reduced roles, but neither drops the ball.

Hugh Jackman is again called upon to be a leader and he doesnít falter. I said it before and Iíll say it again, this guy is Wolverine. If you doubted it before then witness Jackmanís berserker rage against the commandoís that try to attack the mansion, wow. Famke Janssen steps up to a bigger role this time around and does an amazing job of showing the power that is slowly building in her. Halle Berry got a lot of flack for her accent the last time and that has been addressed here. She is good, but her best scenes come, as I said with Nightcrawler.

Speaking of which, Alan Cumming is simply out of this world as Kurt Wagner. I never thought that this small Scot could pull it off, but he does. Nightcrawler was easily my favourite character in the film. Another Scot who does good work is Brain Cox. His Stryker is evil, but Cox never takes it too far. He has his reasons for what he is doing and he has the most dangerous weapon of all, he thinks he is right. When you see what he has done to his own kin there is no doubt in your mind that this guy can and will do anything to reach his goals.

Anna Paquin doesnít have much to do, but like I said her relationship with Bobby is excellent. Shawn Ashmore reprises his role as Bobby Drake and he nails him. The cockiness is there for all to see and I can only hope that future films allow him to develop Iceman further. Aaron Stanford is again great as Pyro, you can see the frustration inside him bubbling under with every look. Kelly Hu is basically the hired help as Deathstrike, but she leaves a lasting impression after her battle with Wolverine, amazing.

James Marsden has the least screen time of the major characters, but he has the hardest task. He has some tough scenes and for him to put over the emotion required without the audience seeing his eyes is something special. Rebecca Romijn-Stamos perhaps sees the biggest increase in screen time and dialogue and itís just as well. She has some amazing scenes with Wolverine and the dynamic that exists between her and Magneto is very interesting. Keep an eye out for Daniel Cudmore as Colossus, only a very small role, but one that I hope gets expanded in further films. His interaction with Wolverine is priceless.

X2 is a geekís wet dream. Peppered throughout the film are small, sly references to mutants, places and events that will take a DVD and a pause button to uncover fully. I did manage to spot Kitty ĎShadowcatí Pride, Jubilee and Hank ĎBeastí McCoy as far as mutant cameoís go. Also I spotted a folder on Strykerís computer marked Muir Island. Things like this will mean little to Joe public who is just looking for a good action flick, but for fans of the comic it just adds to the complete world that the X-Men inhabit.

If I was to nitpick I would say that the film does become bogged down a couple of times with exposition, but itís never for long as Singer keeps the pace very sprightly. Thatís just nitpicking though; any fan of the X-Men is going to adore this film. Singer has taken the world he created with the first film and has opened it up; uncovering a universe that still has many, many great stories to tell. I can only hope that all the required parties sign on the dotted line for X3. Because, when anybody that knows the X-Men sees the final frame, well letís just say that their spine will tingle, their hair will stand on end and they will be thinking of only one thing. When does the next one come out?

 

/10.

Poster quote Ė X hits the spot, again!

See X2 if you enjoyed Ė X-Men, Spider-Man, Daredevil.