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X2: X-Men United

X2: X-Men United

What She said:

She

As we move closer to the completion and release of the next X-Men movie, The He and I have been revisiting the originals from the early 2000s.  We recently went back and watched the second X-Men movie, X-Men United.  I remember seeing this in theaters and really liking it.  I had enjoyed the first flick and felt like this one just built upon the forward and positive momentum created by the original.  Coming back to the movie now, I was curious to know how it would hold up.

A testament to the times, when we popped the DVD into our PS3 we were appalled to find that our copy was in full-screen format.  I actually contemplated whether or not this would negatively affect our enjoyment of the movie and asked The He if we had another copy.  Alas, we did not, and so I hunkered down and tried to make the best of it. 

X2 brings us back to Professor Xavier’s school for the gifted (aka mutants), and all of our favorite characters—Jean Grey, Cyclops, Storm, Rogue.  The world around them has just been rocked by an assassination attempt on the President where a note is left asking for mutant freedom.  Again, mutants are under heavy scrutiny.  Wolverine hasn’t really been around, as he’s been on a personal journey to rediscover his past.  But he’s called back to base as others are sent out to try to figure out who was behind the assassination attempt.  While most of the school’s leadership is pursuing the case, the facility is attacked by government operative William Stryker’s men, who take many of the children hostage.  Wolverine and Rogue are fortunately able to get away, and try to link back up with Jean, Storm, and the others.  Professor X and Cyclops visit Magneto, who has been in prison, and are also taken hostage by Stryker.  Magneto, with the help of Mystique, is freed and it is revealed that Stryker’s ultimate goal is to destroy the entire mutant population.  To stop this, Magneto needs to team up with the X-Men to try to bring down Stryker and his forces (while also freeing the children and Professor X).  Of course, Magneto has his own hidden agenda.

Black Beauty

The plot is a little complicated, and I’ve tried to water it down for time’s sake.  Know that this movie does have a lot going on, and it feels pretty long.  It’s 134 minutes, which isn’t too terrible, but there are many segments to this flick.  There are a lot of stories and substories here.  For example, as all this is going on with Stryker trying to kill the mutants, Wolverine is also pursuing Stryker because he’s the man who helped create him.  Information about Wolverine’s past is slowly revealed.  We’re also introduced to a new character, Nightcrawler, who seems to have many demons and is the unfortunate victim of Stryker’s mind control serum.  Because of the complexity of the plot here, there isn’t much room for us to be re-introduced to most of the characters.  As such, it’s best to have recently viewed the first movie in advance of watching this one.

The action pretty much flows non-stop with this film, as the characters are split up, we follow them around multiple locations, and they are ultimately reunited.  There’s a good amount of fighting and exploding, and oodles of weather manipulation.  I have to admit that now, 10 years later, some of the special effects don’t quite stand the test of time.  However, other parts still look pretty good.  I think the cinematography in this film also reflects the era in which it was created as opposed to the type of camerawork and lighting that you’ll see in First Class.  The filming seems much more straightforward—not nearly as moody as First Class or the more recent Batman movies. 

This movie is bigger and badder than the first, and can feel a little weighty at times.  It accomplishes quite a bit in the time allocated to it, and as far as sequels are considered is a very strong entry to the field.  I’m not sure I liked it quite as much as the original, but it’s close.  I think, given the day and the mood, they could be interchangeable to me.  You can tell from beginning to end that you’re watching what was meant to be a blockbuster and a summer movie heavy hitter, and the film more often than not meets all my expectations.

Thumbs up.

Black Beauty

 

What He said:

He

The X-Men series is one of the most iconic comic book titles ever published. A big reason for its success is because mutants have always served as a metaphor for victims of racism, homophobia, and other kinds of prejudice. These types of issues are common ground for people from all different backgrounds. X-Men has always brought different communities together in that sense.

The movie opens up with an assassination attempt on the President by an unknown mutant (Alan Cumming).  The mutant – later discovered to be named Nightcrawler – gets within inches of the President before he’s shot by one of the Secret Service Agents. Despite his wound, he gets away before anyone can catch him and figure out what his motives were.

Black Beauty

Professor X (Patrick Stewart) is disturbed by this attack. He is an ambassador for mutant/human relations. The public is already leery of mutants and he’s worried how this incident will affect their opinions of other innocent mutants who had nothing to do with the attack. He uses his telepathy to figure out Nightcrawler’s location and sends Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and Storm (Halle Berry) to investigate.

Meanwhile, Colonel William Stryker (Brian Cox) has used this attack as motivation to encourage the President (Cotter Smith) to take actions against the mutants, specifically against Professor X and his school; which is both a haven for mutant children and cover for his superhero activities. Stryker is a fanatic who thinks all mutants need to be wiped off the face of the planet. There is no reasoning with him whatsoever. He is pretty much the human version of Magneto.

Speaking of Magneto (Ian McKellan), he is still in prison after his attack on the human race in the previous movie. Stryker has used Magneto’s friendship with Professor X as a way of finding out more about the Xavier School for the Gifted. In case you didn’t know, Magneto and Professor X go way back. They’re rivals, but old friends. Magneto believes in mutant superiority. He thinks mutation is nature’s way of telling him mutants are superior to humans. Professor X believes in coexistence and a peaceful solution between the two groups. 

Not that this isn’t a lot, but while this is going on, Wolverine is also trying to figure out his past. He (Hugh Jackman) still can’t remember anything further back than the last 15 or so years. Professor X has set him on the path of discovering who he is or used to be. He heads to an old military compound in Canada. Wolverine is a mutant, but he’s also been augmented with additional powers by some kind of experimentation. The metal that is attached to his entire skeleton is not one of his mutations. It was added to him because his healing factor prevented him from dying during the experimentation process. This makes him virtually indestructible.

Stryker is very serious about killing all the mutants and as his plans become more of a reality, the X-Men are forced to team up with Magneto and his evil henchmen. It’s a nice dynamic that differs greatly from the first movie. In the first film, it was the X-Men vs Magneto and his cronies. This time around, they are “allies” for lack of a better word. Neither group trusts the other. 

This movie definitely upped the action from the previous one. For example, they really let Wolverine loose this time around. It was simply awesome watching him go off on the bad guys. The character is an animal and he was really let out of his cage in this movie.

The focus on action didn’t come at the expense of storyline though. The issues of race relations, acceptance, tolerance, etc. are still very present. The thing I find interesting about this series is that the way it makes you feel about these issues. Racism and prejudice in general is obviously wrong and I’d never condone it. But I completely understand why Stryker feels the way he does. If someone has to register to own a gun, doesn’t it make sense that someone with the power to kill dozens, if not hundreds, or maybe even thousands of people, should have to register that power too? Not that Stryker’s belief that killing those people for simply existing makes no sense at all. He’s a madman. But I would be lying to you if I said I didn’t understand the motivation behind his fear. The idea of a superhuman is fun. Who wouldn’t want that kind of power? But it’s scary as shit. The idea that someone could squash the average person like a bug is terrifying, so I get why you’d want to keep tabs on them.

I also have to comment Ian McKellan’s performance. There’s a lot of good performances in this series. I love the portrayals of Wolverine, Jean Grey, and Professor X, but Magneto is fascinating. He’s a complete and total bastard, but the performance is so good. He’s one of those villains who is so good, that you end up paying more attention to him than the heroes. You’re not rooting for him, but paying attention to him.

Rating: Thumbs up.

This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on June 28, 2013.

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