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X2: X-Men United By Matt Singer
You have these images in your head as comic book reader. While comics are a highly visual medium, they are also an interactive one; even the best artist can only communicate so much on the page, and that’s where you come in. You pick how people’s voices sound, how they move, the motivation behind the dialogue. The excitement for the hardcore fans of these superhero characters is because the movie is - under the best circumstances - a way to bear out our own private super hero movies. The intensely personal nature of the medium is also the reason these geeks lash out so violently when things don’t appear quite as they “should;” in the comics world each reader is the ultimate director, thus their opinion is more important than anyone besides the actual creators.
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The best thing you can say about X2 is that no matter who you are and how you saw the X-Men comics, there will be something in here equal or even vastly superior to your own vision. X-Men was immediately hailed as a creative success simply because it wasn’t a total disaster; most comic book adaptations besides the first two Superman and Batman films were awful. Rewatching it today it has its flaws and its charms, but it accomplished its task of getting anyone who wasn’t familiar with these characters up to speed and maintaining the interests of those who already knew what was going on by embracing the source material and understanding what made it so powerful and eternally popular. X2: X-Men United takes things a step further because the assumption is now everyone is on the same page and we can really get down to business at hand which is truly making a “comic book movie.” X2 may not be the best comic book adaptation, but it is probably the first one to truly take a comic book, and translate the pure experience of reading a serial super hero saga to the screen. New characters are introduced, our old favorites show off some new cool tricks, lives change, and we are left eagerly anticipating the next issue, or sequel as it were.
After the same Professor Xavier monologue, and a title sequence leading to what now appears to be the X-Men franchise official opening trademark - the doors of the Cerebro chamber spinning to the unlock position as the camera zooms into the door’s blue neon center - we are introduced to Alan Cumming’s outstanding portrayal of German blue-skinned Nightcrawler, during an assassination attempt on no less than the President of the United States. Director Bryan Singer’s liberal and ultra-cool use of Nightcrawler’s teleportation powers is exactly the sort of thing comic book fans relish in these movies, seeing a character they’ve loved for years not only come to life, but used in more imaginative ways than even comic books had been able to capture.
Refusing to dumb down the content for the audience, X2 features no less than four interconnected subplots running concurrently throughout the main storyline, as the X-Men are attacked by an army scientist named William Stryker (the perfectly fiendish Brian Cox), who has a personal grudge against mutants which poses a problem after he ascertains the location of Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Meanwhile, the Wolverine-Jean Grey-Cyclops love triangle grows deeper (played by Hugh Jackman, Famke Janssen, and James Marsden respectively), Wolverine investigates more of his mysterious past, and Magneto (Ian McKellen) languishes in his plastic prison, yearning for a chance of escape.
To accommodate all the rich, comics-style subplots the running time of this sequel has swelled to over two hours, but there’s rarely a dull moment. Actors who were strong in the first film, like Jackman and McKellen, have grown more comfortable in their roles, and those who were weaker, like Halle Berry as Storm and especially Janssen (who’s never been better in anything I’ve seen her in), start to pull their weight. Really, everything in X2 is bigger and better: from the special effects, like Nightcrawler’s teleporting, to the fight scenes where Wolverine is allowed to be truly feral and vicious, particularly in the siege of the mansion and the climactic battle with Deathstrike (Kelly Hu), which is about as brutal as any PG-13 movie can get.
It’s amazing that Singer, who allegedly never read an X-Men comic before getting this job, has done as right by his source material as he has (According to what I’ve read, producer Tom DeSanto is a stickler for the comics continuity). In X2, he has made a movie that functions equally well as a straight summer action film and geek fulfillment. It’s really outstanding entertainment, nervy, exciting, slyly comical. It sets a high bar for the rest of the summer’s movies. For once, a movie’s excellent trailers didn’t sell a crummy movie; they barely hinted at the coolness in store.