X2: X-Men United
directed by Bryan Singer
(20th Century Fox, 2003)

The sequel to 2000's popular X-Men movie upped the ante by bringing even more mutants, both good and evil, into the flock. But, despite a massive collection of superpowers -- and a lot of strangely blue skin -- X2 doesn't live up to the standard set by its predecessor.

The good mutants, under the guidance of Prof. Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and senior X-Men Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Cyclops (James Marsden) and Storm (Halle Berry), educate their young wards in the basics of English, math, history and walking through walls at Xavier's upstate New York academy. At the same time, they fly around the world to fight bad mutants while promoting peace between their kind and those jealous humans, and saving the likes of Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) -- a German Catholic with a demonic tail, fewer than 10 digits and the ability to teleport -- from evil control.

Meanwhile, top bad guy Magneto (Ian McKellen, shorn of his Gandalf locks) has escaped from prison (in one of the film's best sequences) and -- with the aid of naked shapeshifter Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), whose talents apparently extend to fingerprints and vocal cords -- means to rid the world of pesky humans like angry military man William Stryker (Brian Cox), whose own mutant son projects big hallucinations and drools.

That's a pretty full plate for one movie, and there's plenty more besides. Still, I spent most of my two hours waiting for something to happen.

Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of earnest looks and cold stares. Some good impassioned conversations. A couple of hugs, even. And a Noble Sacrifice that tries to outSpock The Wrath of Khan but doesn't come close in emotional power. Mutant powers aside, the filmmakers had to blow up a dam just to get a little bit of suspenseful tension in this film. You'll spend less time worried about a dramatic conclusion than you will wondering how Rogue (Anna Paquin) can pursue a relationship with Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) without sapping his powers and leaving him a cold husk on the floor.

When a minor romantic subplot has more kick to it than the action in an action flick, somebody needs to consider a new script.

Also disturbing in X2 is the sight of a "hero" slaughtering without hesitation or remorse members of the U.S. Special Forces who were, after all, just following orders and were using nonlethal means of attack. How did that slip through the rewrite?

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 20 March 2004

Buy it from Amazon.com.