Three years after the success of X-Men, director Bryan Singer finally released the follow up. With the success of the first and other super hero films raising the bar in the meantime, the question was asked, could Singer make a similar impact with this sequel? Would this film not suffer from the second syndrome?
X-Men 2 saw the return of all of the main cast from the first film with characters Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), Cyclops (James Marsden), Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Storm (Halle Berry) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), as well as the bad guys in Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos).
This story sees the human hostility to mutants continuing and now Magneto’s forces and those of the X-Men must work together to overcome the threat posed by a long-time anti-mutant military expert General William Stryker (Brian Cox). The covert plot sees Stryker using mutants themselves to heighten the problem through an attempt on the President by a teleporter called Kurt Wagner also known as the Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming). Stryker’s desire is for the complete elimination of what he views as the mutant problem. Stryker’s history covers both the ongoing Wolverine quest for recovering his origins as well as a failed attempt by Xavier to help out a mutant who had very close ties to Stryker himself.
In his quest the general takes the fight to the very mansion that houses the Xavier’s student mutants as well as taking Xavier captive to help with his plans.
The movie also sees the need to continue other sub-plots from the first film, such as the romance between Rogue and Bobby (aka Ice-Man). The interweaving love triangles of Logan liking Jean, and Mystique liking Logan and whilst Bobby likes Rogue, he’s concerned that Rogue might have a liking for Logan as well. It keeps things on a level in terms of relational complexity anyway.
There are less corny lines, that’s for sure. Some of the jokes are sharper, which is helpful when you’re still dealing with big themes like belonging, trust and redemption. There are interesting new characters particularly that of Pyro who starts off as a friend of Bobby and Rogue’s. They deal with the complexity of family stories fairly well.
There is also the interesting deal of one of the X-Men having to make what appears to be the ultimate sacrifice to allow the team to reach their destination and perhaps see a victorious end to their mission. That part is played out fairly well too.
What is interesting character wise that in the two stories thus far the character of Scott/Cyclops has been a remarkably weak one. For the leader of the group and an apparent important figure in the team, his role has been purely instrumental on the lightest side, almost incidental as a trigger for Jean Grey to engage in life changing experiences especially with the danger of the Logan connection.
Meanwhile there are good performances from the likes of Brian Cox – who does the villain bit as Stryker, very well, with conviction. McKellen as Magneto isn’t as central to the film as the previous but he does well. Kudos as well to Aaron Stanford as Pyro who invests a role that isn’t the stand-out one with enough to be memorable – not an easy task in an ensemble piece.
Is X-Men 2 better than its predecessor? It improves on some of the weaknesses from the first show. It spreads the workload a lot more than it did as well, which gives more depth to other characters. The story as a result is better and that’s good, because this is a longer film and it needs to be better to take us through the various changes.
Overall it is a better X-Men film. It is not a great super-hero film, but it expresses the themes well and there is much for an X-Men fan to be pleased about the way it turns out. The set-up however, puts some pressure on the the inevitable third part of the trilogy to address the issues effectively. How does that turn out? Find out next week. (Yeah you could go watch The Last Stand yourself, but where’s the fun in that – read the review, THEN go watch it.)