Known variously as X2, X-Men 2 and X2: X-Men United, because the marketing people simply couldn’t figure out which title was sillier, this sequel to Bryan Singer’s triumphant 2000 reinvention of the comic book movie is jam-packed with comic-y shenanigans and turns the volume on everything up to eleven. More action! More conspiracies! More costumes! More mutants! And a whole lot more Wolverine, of course, because he was the breakout star of X-Men and, rather like Justice League is currently undergoing reshoots after the success of Wonder Woman to make sure that the Amazing Amazon is in sufficient fan-pleasing scenes, the X-folks knew on what side their fandom was buttered.
The Wolverine side is pretty simple, actually, for all that it is a tale that gets drawn out painstakingly over at least five more Wolverine-heavy installments. Logan (Hugh Jackman) is searching for a clue to his past, since his memories, you will recall, had been erased at some point pre-the last film and he still has only the vaguest idea of his personal history, let alone even something as basic as his age. What a stroke — a deathstroke! Ha! Sorry — of luck, then, that the biggest baddest mutant racist in the world, Colonel William Stryker (Brian Cox), is on the mutant rampage now that their existence has been revealed to the world, and he gets permission from the US President to invade Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, a suspected mutant training ground.
It’s hard to blame the President for giving the go ahead, since he has just survived an assassination attempt from the teleporting Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming), who was brainwashed into becoming a killer, against his own gentle and religious nature. Turns out, ha! It was Stryker’s son who did the brainwashing, since he is a mind-controlling mutant, making Stryker really just a terrible parent as well as a genocidal lunatic.
But all this comes later! First, Stryker and his team attack the school, his true plan being to capture Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and force him to locate all the mutants on Earth using the Cerebro 2.0 he’s had built in his evil military lair. But while he’s there he happens to run into Logan, escaping with Rogue (Anna Paquin), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and the volatile Pyro (Aaron Stanford). And Stryker knows Logan!
No time for a proper catch up right then, though, as Stryker has some kidnapping to do and Logan and the kids have to first stop by Iceman’s house — “Have you tried… not being a mutant?” asks his mother as the Buffy the Vampire Slayer writers commence court proceedings — and then go rendezvous with Storm (Halle Berry), a de-programmed Nightcrawler and Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) who is somewhat distraught since her man Cyclops (James Marsden) has been taken alongside Xavier, as well a few of the school’s students that need not concern us now, or at all, really.
The remaining school kids, by the way, get taken to safety under the aegis of the indomitable Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), who really needs to be put on the front lines more often, he’s a giant made of metal, for Stan’s sake. (Deadpool gets it.)
Meanwhile, Magneto (Ian McKellen) escapes from his metal-proof prison in a most ingenious of supervillain-ian manners, with the help of his ever-faithful Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) of course, and he and his Brotherhood of Mutants join up with our remaining X-Folk to put a stop to Stryker’s mass-murdering ways.
See! So many mutants!
From there, the action barely lets up, and it gets even more intense when Wolverine — discovering more about his past in this movie than he has in a century or so — ends up at Stryker’s compound and confronts the anti-him, Lady Deathstroke (Kelly Hu). See, not one but two adamantium skeletons and claws in this movie, kids! (Logan gets it.) They tussle a lot, and it is all very spectacularly choreographed, if not ever in very much doubt, victor-wise. (And, wait, what?!? Wolverine was created by Stryker?!? What a wholly unexpected development. Hey, movie! Revenge of the Sith wants its lame reveal back.)
It’s all very tumultuous there in Stryker’s super double-black site, and between rescuing their comrades from imprisonment and brainwashing and also raiding Stryker’s files, our merry band also has to escape a collapsing dam, because damn that Stryker, he built his evil fortress on a dam. It seems like everyone is going to drown, except hey, Jean hasn’t had too much to do in this movie, so maybe she can heroically sacrifice herself so that everyone else can live while they just kind of… leave her at the bottom of a lake they don’t bother trying to dredge or anything, the jerks. (I’m being flippant here to hide my very real tears, shed at this scene every damn — forgive me — time.)
Also, Pyro goes to the dark side and Storm really doesn’t do all that much. Nightcrawler becomes the new fan favorite, because he is the best. Then Xavier just casually drops by the Oval Office, because hey, he is also kind of the best.
There are a lot of bests in the movie. In fact, it is close to the best X-Men movie, only a notch below the paradigm-shifting first one and miles ahead of X3 and the prequels and the Wolverine double bill. (Deadpool and Logan are in a league of their own.) True, there is a lot going on, probably too much, but it is tense, it is exciting, it is well-shot and it is pretty faithful to both the comic and the film that preceded it. It even has Kitty Pride and Jubilee in it.
All in all, an excellent sophomore effort for the X-Crew. Just maybe… next time, less is more, okay guys? (This memo coming to you from the future under the heading of “Too little, WAY too late…”)
Comic Book Adaptation | PG-13 | 134 minutes
Based on X-Men by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee
Story by David Hayter, Bryan Singer, Zak Penn
Screenplay by Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris, David Hayter
Directed by Bryan Singer
Starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn, Anna Paquin, Alan Cumming, Kelly Hu