X-Men 2

X-Men 2

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

This difficult second movie doesn't quite live up to the promise of the first, but holds out the hope of a still better sequel. Initially it takes on too many different story strands for its own good, jumping between characters with no real focus, but as time goes on the plot becomes sharper and more satisfying.

In some ways, its disorganisation is an appealing quality, as it avoids playing out exactly the same way as every other action blockbuster, with neat patterns of plot and subplot. However, my suspicion is that it would be difficult for a newcomer to follow. There's a lot in there which (for a change) is aimed directly at those familiar with the comics, and a lot more which relies on audience members having seen the first movie.

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Continuing to explore themes of mutant identity, discrimination, and prejudice based on fear, X2 is centered on a predictable political conspiracy which it just about gets away with because it is played refreshingly straight. Its reluctance to take a dogmatic moral stance is definitely an asset here. Disappointing, then, that Magneto's final act is both extremist and at odds with his own previously expressed concerns. A subtler variant might have been believable, but this just jars. Fortunately, it's the only significant character inconsistency, though there are several other character actions which seem wayward because they are underdeveloped.

Again - with Mystique's interest in Wolverine, the manipulation of Deathstrike, and Rogue's conflicting adolescent emotions - it seems that X2 has bitten off more than it can chew. Surviving through this confusion, mostly thanks to strong performances, is the Wolverine/Jean Grey/Cyclops love triangle, which provides the story with much needed energy when it pauses between action sequences. It's easier to care about these people than the perpetually calm Professor Xavier or the stock poor little children in danger.

The best thing about X2, however, is Nightcrawler. After a frightening initial action scene which recreates almost perfectly the style of the comics, we are introduced to a character who is gentle, intelligent, passionate, and deeply weird in a way which the other X-men just can't compete with.

Nightcrawler reminds us what it is to be a mutant, to be an outsider with no chance of hiding it - to be vulnerable because of the colour of one's skin. This is the powerful political element which the first film handled so well; here, it is Nightcrawler who restores it. It's also brave, in this day and age, for a blockbuster film to include a devoutly Christian character. It is Nightcrawler's faith, not romantic love or nonsense about the deaths of millions, which gives this film its emotional core. Alan Cumming was an inspired choice for the role; his is a performance which should not be missed.

This film casts its net a lot more widely than the first, letting us see little bits of action from a range of different characters, not focusing so strongly on Wolverine. Some US critics have praised it for the strong roles it offers for women. These are, however, nothing remarkable by the standards of the genre.

Mystique gets to demonstrate her intelligence and non-mutant skills, and has a lot more room to develop as a character, which is important to the balance of the story since Magneto's aloofness makes him emotionally less accessible. Mystique must carry the passion required to justify their aims. Storm gets more to do this time, probably because of Halle Berry's increased box office clout, yet we don't delve any deeper into her background or motivation. Jean Grey's role promises to expand in the next instalment, so she finally has the chance to flex her acting muscles in the latter part of the film; however, up until then, she's offered little material but angst.

Still, it's interesting to compare her handling of emotionally complex situations with that of the teenaged characters, who are pleasingly convincing, acting their age, with no sudden bursts of adult confidence and no inappropriate heroics. Pyro's rebelliousness and the romance between Rogue and Bobby will probably please younger audiences; they're well judged so as to do so without irritating everybody else.

What concerns some viewers most about a film like this is, inevitably, the quality of the special effects. X2 is very good in this regard. It doesn't overreach itself, often preferring tried and tested technologies to cutting edge flashiness, and this does it a great service, as almost everything looks believable. The Nightcrawler effects are visually the most impressive, and are certainly exciting. There are lots of dramatic explosions, especially where we see a plane ripped apart in mid air. Magneto's escape is beautifully realised, and intelligently plotted, too, not relying on any bullshit about him simply being smarter than his captors. If only he had continued in that manner throughout the film, he might have been a truly terrifying adversary.

X2 feels very much like a step on the way to something else; but if you can forgive it that, and its occasional hastiness, it's well worth going to see.

Reviewed on: 27 Jun 2007
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The mutant X-Men battle to survive against a psychopathic military man with a right wing agenda.
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Angus Wolfe Murray ***1/2

Director: Bryan Singer

Writer: Dan Harris, Michael Dougherty, based on characters from Marvel Comics

Starring: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Anna Paquin, Alan Cumming, Brian Cox, Kelly Hu, Shawn Ashmore, Aaron Stanford

Year: 2003

Runtime: 128 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US

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