Taking a look back at what is easily the best movie of the X-Men franchise. Yes, I am including the recent movies in that statement. Not that I really need to tell you, but there will be spoilers for X2.
Released: May 2, 2003
Director: Bryan Singer
Writers: David Hayter, Zak Penn, Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris
Stars: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Anna Paquin, Famke Janssen, Halle Berry, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn, Alan Cumming, Brian Cox, Shawn Ashmore, Aaron Stanford, Kelly Hu
X-Men did really well at the box office, essentially doubling the budget in its initial theatrical run. Spider-Man would come along two years later and break $100 million in one weekend. The film would go on to nearly quadruple its budget during its initial theater run. This baffled some studio heads because Sam Rami made a comic book film that remained loyal to its source material and didn’t revamp the characters or storyline to make things more appealing to those who don’t read comic books. X-Men help to introduce what a good superhero film could look like and Spider-Man built upon that success. All of this leads to Singer being given the freedom to make the second best sequel to a comic book franchise. (It was the best until Captain America: The Winter Soldier came along in 2014 and claimed the top spot.)
The opening attack by Nightcrawler (Cumming) on the President in the White House easily out does anything we saw in X-Men. Singer comes right out of the gate and shows us what he could have accomplished in the first film if he would have been given the full shooting schedule and a bit more money. Singer was also able to move the focus of the plot from Wolverine (who was our proxy into the mutant world) and make the film more of an ensemble spectacle that would see the heroes and villains from the first film team up to fight a common foe.
After the attack on the president Jean Grey (Janssen) and Storm (Berry) go in search for Nightcrawler while Professor X (Stewart) and Cyclops (Marsden) visit Magneto (McKellen) in his cell to find out if he knows anything about why a Mutant would attempt to kill the President. William Stryker (Cox) takes the opportunity to attack the school and take some of the children hostage while others escape. He also arranges for the kidnaping of Professor X and Cyclops. Stryker brainwashes Cyclops and other mutants for his own purposes and tricks the Professor into using a Cerebro copy to find and kill all of the mutants. It is up to Wolverine (Jackman), Rogue (Paquin), Bobby (Ashmore), and Pyro (Stanford) along with Nightcrawler, Jean, Storm, Magneto, and Mystique (Romijn) to find and stop Stryker.
Of course there is a lot more going on. Rouge and Bobby are flirting with a budding romance that can’t progress due to Rogue’s fear of hurting Bobby with her powers. Pyro is feeling the teenage rebellious bug that Magneto preys on. Jean is struggling with her powers and can’t understand the dreams she keeps having of something horrible coming. Wolverine is attempting to find answers to his past and seeing Stryker is bringing forward some painful memories. All while the Mutant Registration Act is looming over everyone’s head.
If feels like there is so much going on and the film does its best to balance everything out while planting the seeds to a bigger storyline to come in the third entry. The issues of Bobby and Rogue’s romance feel like they belong in the movie. How can you become physically close with someone who could potentially kill you with their touch? Bobby “coming out” as a mutant to his family sounded like a real conversation a teen could have with his parents when telling them he is gay. “Have you tried not being a mutant?” Ugh, my heart broke. You can’t have a movie with a group of teens in it and not have one of them be rebellious so why not add fuel to the fire (pun intended) by letting one of the antagonists bend his ear as to what he could be. We will get to Dark Phoenix seeds in a second.
The action sequences certainly help the films pacing. Like I said before the Nightcrawler attack on the President was excellent, but Wolverine going full berserker on Stryker’s forces attacking the school was magnificent. Something fans have wanted to see for some time. The final fight between Yuriko (Hu) and Wolverine was well choreographed and intense to watch. Wolverine realizing he killed a fellow Mutant that was fighting for someone against her will was heartbreaking. My only disappointment was Lady Deathstrike (her Mutant name in the comics that they never used) was relegated to henchman status (and a brainwashed one at that) and the major history between her and Wolverine in the comics was never mentioned. The best sequence was Magneto’s escape from his plastic prison. The idea that Mystique could inject a liquid metal into a guy’s blood stream was a little farfetched, but watching Magneto pull the metal out of the security guard’s body was gruesome in the best way.
There are some plot holes that often show up in movies this scale. Why does Mystique have a big crush on Wolverine all of a sudden? Why would she want to hook up with a guy that nearly killed her? I kinda thought she would be better than that. Magneto magically knowing the exact spot where Blackbird was going to crash so he can save all our heroes on board is a bit of a stretch.
The biggest offense is when Professor X uses the foe-Cerebro to try and kill all of the Mutants, then later all Humans, by triggering a migraine so bad their brains could explode. This would have caused some major catastrophes that the movie just glosses over. When the Mutants and Humans are given this debilitating migraine, a good chunk of them were probably driving a car. Not to mention the people flying planes at that moment. And the migraines last for a decent chunk of time so there would have been a significant amount of car and plane crashes which would have resulted in a whole lot of casualties. Not to mention any other activities people could be doing at that time that would cause them or someone else harm if they were to suddenly stop and drop. I guess we are not meant to think too hard on that one.
Finally the Dark Phoenix Saga that was teased out with the shadowy image in the lake at the end. I hoped that was where the next entry was heading when the fire around Jean’s eyes became more pronounced just before she sacrificed herself to save everyone else. I was so thrilled for this storyline to be made into a movie. Jean Grey becoming Dark Phoenix was an intense series that saw the once hero destroying whole worlds in her quest to gain power. I didn’t think they were going to go as far as they did in the comic, but I was excited to see how Singer’s vision for this epic story would turn out.
Too bad that movie never happened.
What did you think of X2: X-Men United? Were you impressed with how Singer was able to build the story into something better? How excited were you when you saw the phoenix outline in the lake? Let me know what you think in the comments section below and come back next Saturday for X-Men: The Last Stand.