Jul 18, 2014

[Movies] X2 (2003)

The first X-Men movie was a decent achievement in film making, but of course it also felt like it was still testing the waters of how things could go. The sequel, X2, certainly took off the kid gloves and tries to fully embrace the superhero nature of the characters through the colorful medium known as the Hollywood blockbuster.

Love it or hate it, the movie was quite the financial success and did pretty well even among movie critics. And personally, I have to admit that I enjoyed this movie a lot more than the first one, probably because of how campy it ended up being and of course how awesome Nightcrawler was implemented as a character.

Of course on the comic book front, the story only borrowed elements from certain comic book stories while significantly twisting others into weird forms. If I were more of an X-Men comic book fan or purist, then I suppose I would have been a bit more offended by how things turned out. Even without that context, I could recognize how there was an attempt to mix and match different elements of the X-Men mythos into a single movie, which sort of muddied things a bit towards the end.

Synopsis: X2 or X2: X-Men United was a 2003 superhero movie directed by Bryan Singer. The screenplay by Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris, and David Hayter derived elements of its story from the Chris Claremont story arc "God Loves, Man Kills".

The movie begins in a rather grand way - with a teleporting mutant by the name of Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) attempting to assassinate the President of the United States as part of some mutant propaganda effort. This attack allows one Colonel William Stryker (Brian Cox) to get more support from the White house for his own anti-mutant efforts. Meanwhile Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and the X-Men work on trying to locate the missing assassin. In time they're able to use Cerebro to find him and discover him to be a god-fearing mutant with little to no memory of what had happened.

Xavier and Cyclops (James Marsden) then try to visit Magneto (Ian McKellen) in his plastic prison to see if he knew anything about the incident, but in turn are captured by Stryker and his forces. This coincides with an attack on Xavier's school in an attempt to capture as many mutant children as possible. And as all this is happening, Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) has been disguised as Senator Robert Kelly (still played by Bruce Davison) since the events in the first movie given her own efforts to locate Magneto.

As a sequel, I suppose it was only expected that they folks behind it would try to take things up a notch as part of the "traditional" Hollywood design. And in this case, they certainly had a lot of that going on with a somewhat bigger plot (evil government-military conspiracy!) and an even greater number of mutants. And I'm not just talking about the primary cast - the rather extended scenes in the school leading up to the assault were also a great excuse to feature more characters and have fans trying to guess who the kids represented.

And for the most part, the movie really worked. Stryker was a decent enough villain with the obligatory strangely complicated plan to exterminate all mutants on the plant. It's strange how he was able to come up with a second Cerebro so easily and so close to the design of the original given he only really needed a few more pieces at the end before he could get things together. But hey, this is superhero movie logic and so I suppose we can let some things slide.

The movie really opted to escalate things with more complicated fight scenes and more liberal use of their various abilities. The opening sequence with Nightcrawler alone was brilliant done and probably the first time that I appreciate just how cool a character he was. Now I concede that I was never a big X-Men comic book fan and so I probably missed out a lot on Kurt Wagner's finder moments, but on the surface it was a little hard to appreciate teleportation as a power. As is the way of movies, showcasing how far the power set could be used in such a vivid, audiovisual format really helped sell the idea in a majorly impactful way.

If anything, the whole Wolverine sub-plot was probably the weakest part of the movie that tried to tack on too much to the pre-existing story. There was a definite desire to involve the whole story of Wolverine's origins and the infamous Weapon X program, but it wasn't quite ideal to attempt this with the rest of the story. And shifting the Stryker character to also become the man responsible for Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) becoming the killer that he is was just a bit much. It was a blatant effort to try and capitalize on Wolverine's character and thus it diverted focus away from what was really important - the main plot. And what did this get us in the end? A very sad version of Lady Deathstrike (played by Kelly Hu) without any of the nuances of the original character.

X2 was an improvement of the first movie and a nice way to continue on with a superhero movie franchise. Sure it wasn't perfect and it helped cement the odd Hollywood habit of not bothering to explore the original comic book stories in significant detail. Still, for all the fun it provided, the movie gets 4 spotlight moments for each mutant power out of a possible 5.

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