If Singer’s “X-Men” was the opening act of this premature superhero trilogy, then “X2” is the rising action and climax of the franchise. Taking all of the dourness and severity of the previous film and evolving itself into something more action based, “X2” is a sequel that makes up for its predecessor's shortcomings, but doesn’t exactly correct its mistakes.
Focusing on an in the moment kind of storytelling, “X2” borrows material from Mark Millar’s “Ultimate X-Men” and Chris Claremont’s “X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills” by diminishing the bad mutant versus good mutant storyline of the first film. Instead of evil mutants though, we have wicked men like William Stryker (Brian Cox), a former military black ops specialist whose personalized obsession with mutant kind has led him to a reckless endeavor involving Cerebro and Professor X (Patrick Stewart). This captivating and adrenaline injected storyline forces enemies to join together and a multitude of subplots to build upon both our characters and the world they inhabit.
While continuing the political discussion of the mutant registration act, "X2" opens with an exhilarating sequence in which the teleporting blue devil known as Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) attempts to assassinate the President (one that looks awfully like George W. Bush) in a series of scenes with the secret service blindly firing and being transferred through the White House from wall to wall and even through the ceiling. Pinning down the President, Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) almost excitedly grabs his knife, but before he can carry out his mission, he is shot. Taken out of a trance that is caused by some type of chemical agent that Stryker (Brian Cox) possesses, creating a storyline that relies upon its character subplots, more than its actual narrative.
Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is one of those subplots in which he has returned from his search for answers, but with nothing found, his path to his past continues and confronts Stryker’s (Brian Cox) mission for mutant eradication. Jackman’s performance is solid once again, but his character is still only given enough time to become noticeable. His emotions don’t sink in, but his actions do, as we finally got to see the beast unleashed, as Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) defends the kids from a military invasion by unleashing upon these swat team-like invaders. Lashing, stabbing, screaming, and puncturing a man’s foot at one point in a enthralling sequence that is absent of blood. (Confusing, I know)
He’s not the only focus though; there is also Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) whose powers have begun to perplex her and Scott Summers/Cyclops (James Marsden). Nightmares, rage, and a burning force have begun to intrude upon her life as she is not only scared but starts to become immensely powerful. (cough...Phoenix Force..cough) Professor X (Patrick Stewart) is a man struggling to find his place in this war, and if there is a solution with no casualties. Magneto (Ian McKellen) is a weakened but enraged man who finally stands with his oldest friend in the fight for mutant kind, and Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) acts as a plot device that not only furthers the narrative but extends Storm’s (Halle Berry) character as well.
Giving the weather-manipulating mutant a more prominent role, Singer and his fellow writers formulate a well-balanced ensemble with no characters standing out in front of the rest, and no characters fading into the background either. Everyone has a role to play, even the Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) whose mutant coming out of the closet scene is a well-directed and remarkably written analogy for homosexuality. Providing a representative glimpse of a boy reaching out to his parents to accepts him, despite him being apart of a group of individuals that they view as lesser or different. A familiar heft of drama carried over from “X-Men,” but one of the few weighty aspects attached to “X2.”
I love the introduction of more action and more entertainment centered moments, but in my review for “X-Men” I stated: “The direction is fantastic, and the visual imagery is tactile-like, but the characters and story are mere facades for deep emotionality that is trapped by its own ambitions.” In “X2,” Singer maintains the tactile scenery and skillful direction but has forgotten those mature ambitions almost entirely. It’s not that the first film was too dark or too heavy, it needed more action, yes, but its biggest flaw was the faulty construction of its characters and their depth. He attempted to make us feel their story without actually telling their story in its entirety; Singer decided to forget about those strong themes and focus on sensationalism instead.
Creating interlinking moments with no substance behind them, but he does build upon the characters though. Providing more time for each of them to grow and develop, which allows for their final sacrifice to feel a bit more potent than expected. It would have been more evocative if the film provided more bottom to its story though, but despite that “X2” is an enthralling tale because of the charisma that Singer interjects into the franchise.
Adding more quips, action, and character depth, Singer provides a quicker and more exhilarating pace to “X2.” The quips and characters aren’t as good as they could be, but the action is vastly improved. Allowing for this more than two-hour runtime to fly by at times, Singer’s action is helmed remarkably and stays honest to its PG-13 rating. (R would have been better) Though the visual effects and editing can become a bit overdone at times (I.e Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) battling Lady Deathstrike (Kelly Hu), “X2” improves upon the first film’s lack of action and embarks its characters on a politically allegorical journey that needs some touching up before we can dub “X2” as a great comic book movie.
Singer’s sequel is an improvement on the first, but the things he got right in “X-Men” are erased from the drawing board which becomes the greatest downfall to “X2.” Yes, the action and the characters are better, but the story’s effect is almost absent. It’s hefty topics become like the mutant Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) in which we spend the whole film searching for that emotionality, but it's teleporting abilities keep it just out of the reach of the viewer.
Singer succeeds in his continued depiction of the characters, but the short attention span he has never allows the story to slow down and give it's plot time to catch up with its characters. Staying faithful to the storytelling of comics, “X2” rapidly moves it's story and showcases the abilities of its characters, but doesn’t correctly build anything off of them. It stays tucked inside the world it's created, never prodding or poking at the walls that keep it entrapped in its own limitations. Frozen in its universe, needing the juice of the Phoenix force to enhance it's storytelling abilities.