(director: Bryan Singer; screenwriters: Michael Dougherty & Dan Harris/story is by Bryan Singer & David Hayter and Zak Penn/comic book characters created by Stan Lee; cinematographer: Newton Thomas Sigel; editor: Guy Hendrix Dyas; music: John Ottman; cast: Patrick Stewart (Charles Xavier), Hugh Jackman (Logan/Wolverine), Ian McKellen (Eric/Magneto), Halle Berry (Storm), Famke Janssen (Dr. Jean Grey), James Marsden (Scott/Cyclops), Rebecca Romijn-Stamos (Mystique), Brian Cox (Gen. William Stryker), Alan Cumming (Kurt /Nightcrawler), Bruce Davison (Senator Robert Kelly), Anna Paquin (Marie/Rogue), Bobby/Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), John /Pyro (Aaron Stanford), Yuriko/Deathstrike (Kelly Hu), Michael Reid MacKay (Jason 143); Runtime: 124; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Lauren Shuler Donner and Ralph Winter; 20th Century Fox; 2003)

“It’s not bad for a comic book story.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Bryan Singer’s sequel to his X-Men is a much more accomplished effort, as it all but gives up trying to make sense out of its far-fetched story and instead reaches for one thrilling special effect death defying scene after another. Again these Marvel Comic superheroes do their thing and confront that ‘mutant problem’ with style, but the film feels lighter and because of the amazing visuals is easier to watch. It’s probably a bit confusing if you’re not familiar with these comic book characters and the superpowers and issues they have, but the film does a nice job of taking you full-blast into the action and clearing things up on the run. If you stay with it and all you’re looking for is to be entertained and are not bothered that it’s all hokum and the battle scenes are muddled as far as what’s the objective, then X2 delivers big time. The costumes are eye-catching, the special effects are dazzling, the action is non-stop, and there are many appealing human touches and social statements made. One of the more sexy characters is covered in blue scales, who has the ability to change shapes, Mystique (Romijn-Stamos). The almost naked painted lady is asked by the new mutant character added to the sequel, German accented and psalm-chanting Nightcrawler (Cummings), “Why not look like everyone else?” Mystique replies “Because we shouldn’t have to.”

The film immediately holds your attention by its startling opening. The blue tattooed and devil-tailed Nightcrawler barges into the White House and can’t be stopped by the Secret Service as he teleports from different rooms until he confronts the president in his office. While Nightcrawler is leaping around strains of “Dies Irae” from Mozart’s Requiem is playing, which was a nice aesthetic touch. Nightcrawler’s purpose is not only to give the mutants a bad name but to deliver a message to the Bush-like president, warning him to accept the outcast mutants and overlook that they are different. His daring confrontational act calls for an end to such mutant prejudice and the government’s war on eliminating them. He protests in particular that their right to privacy is violated with the Mutant Registration Act. Later Nightcrawler will return to the White House in another terrorist-like raid and warn the president to do the right thing because the mutants are watching him. A voiceover that opened the film, tells how mutants evolved with a tremendous genetic leap that made them special from other members of society and how they are growing in number. There are thousands across the world (it seems like this film has cast half of them).

Some of the other main mutants who are worth noting.

Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) releases painful adamantium alloy claws from his knuckles when ready to fight, and possesses amazing healing powers. His powers were improved mechanically in experiments he doesn’t remember. The facially mutton-chopped, cigar chomping, Wolverine suffers from stress, anger, and memory loss, but is a true mutant hero ready to kill for the good of mankind. Dr. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) is telekinetic and capable of acting heroic. Storm (Halle Berry) can bring on the weather (but she can’t act). Rogue (Anna Paquin) is into sucking the life out of someone and stealing their personality. Bobby is the Iceman, turning most anything to ice. He is trying to develop a romance with Rogue, despite certain technical problems. Pyro manipulates fire if given a light, which can be hurled as a weapon. Cyclops (Marsden) wears dark glasses and his eyes can fire laser beams. He has a crush on Dr. Grey, as does Wolverine. Well, you get the point. They all have some unusual deadly super gift and most have a few psychological problems to deal with.

The wheelchair-bound Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), the world’s most powerful telepath, has opened in X1 an alternative school for these gifted youngsters in Westchester County, New York, and still runs it. He has trained the mutants to use their gifts to help mankind. His arch-enemy is that smutty Magneto (Ian McKellen), who turned against him because he wishes for his fellow mutants to gain power for themselves over the world.

The new villain introduced specially for X2, who wants to destroy the mutants, is the maniacal human General William Stryker (Brian Cox). His reason for being obsessed with such a blinding hatred is because his son Jason was a mutant in Xavier’s school and was not helped but made to turn against his parents. Because of Nightcrawler’s White House security breach, Stryker is allowed to round up the entire mutant population, good and evil. Stryker forces, the imprisoned in a plastic cell, Magneto to tell about Xavier’s school and about Cerebro. Stryker is abetted in his cause by a defector kung fu adept and adamantium clawed mutant, Yuriko/Deathstriker (Kelly Hu). Magneto’s cooperation with the government results in evil agents attacking the school and making the gifted flee for their lives, while the good professor is kidnapped.

There’s also a somewhat amusing subtext about homophobia. The mutants who “come out” run the risk of family rejection, and are subject to hate crimes. When Bobby and his fleeing classmates visit his folks in their Boston home, he finally tells them he’s a mutant and the school for the gifted isn’t a prep school. His mom asks, “Have you tried not being a mutant? His caring Mom is still unaware being a mutant (gay) isn’t a choice. The comparisons of mutants to gays is furthered when Magneto and Xavier get into a campy row over social and political issues, where mutant could easily be substituted for gay. Also, for comic relief check out how Sir Ian eyeballs the teen mutant boys.

The film left an opening for another sequel. After all, locating the Cerebro device and clearing up the rift between the straight world and the mutants is no small task. All the action outcomes seemed perfunctory, anyhow. It just seemed a chance for the mutants to show off their powers, and at times offer us a humorous pun or two. Nothing matters as much as how playful the film was, and how cool the action went down. In future installments, we will see if humans can accept these freaks of nature and if a mutant romance can become real. Hey. It’s not bad for a comic book story to reach for a more sophisticated aim, such as railing against prejudice. But there’s still only an embryo of a story emerging, as everything is on a childishly cartoonish emotional level rather than intellectually satisfying.