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Those intrepid X-Men are back for more. This time they have to fight against an evil power out to destroy all the mutants on Earth while continuing their struggle to bring peace between the humans and the mutants.


In those rare incidences, a sequel can actually be better than the original. Such is the case with X2: X-Men United, where this time around the X-Men--including mind-benders Prof. Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Jean Grey (Famke Janssen); optically enhanced Scott/Cyclops (James Marsden); weather controller Storm (Halle Berry); Rogue (Anna Paquin), aptly named newcomers Bobby/Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and John/Pyro (Aaron Stanford); and, last but not least, the hunky yet steely Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman)--have their work cut out for them trying to keep the peace between the human and mutant races. After a teleporting mutant assailant known as Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) attacks the White House, relations between mutants and humans take a turn for the worse, starting an anti-mutant movement. The movement is fueled by baddie scientist William Stryker (Brian Cox), who bears a grudge against mutants, and his henchwoman Lady Deathstrike (Kelly Hu), both of whom have a mysterious connection to Wolverine's past. They seek to wipe out all the mutants on Earth by manipulating Xavier and his all-powerful machine Cerebro--a machine that can locate, and even destroy, every mutant and/or human on the planet in mere moments using mind power. Stryker is in for a fight, though. Militant mutants, the iron-clad Magneto (Ian McKellen) and morph-happy Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), join forces with the X-Men to stop this madman--but, of course, they have their own agendas. Can the X-Men repair the rift in mutant/human co-existence? Or is war imminent? Guess we'll have to wait until X3.


X2 does a nice job giving its comic book heroes and villains more of an emotional core than in the first X-Men. The relationships have deepened and are further explored, with Jackman's haunted Logan/Wolverine looking for clues to his past still a standout. Janssen, another standout, gets more to chew on as Jean, whose triangle with Logan and Scott grows more complicated and her character arc takes a surprising turn. But will somebody please write Halle Berry out of this franchise? They say her blonde wig was improved for the sequel, but it's as unbelievable as her acting. As for the kids, Paquin and Ashmore sweetly play out Rogue and Bobby's budding love story, but its Stanford's sullen John who holds the most interest, as you see his resentment toward humans growing and luring him to the dark side. In the villains' corner, Cox plays Stryker as stonily evil as he can while Romijn-Stamos seems to have a lot more fun as the ultra-cool Mystique, even getting to shed the blue paint in one scene and simply use her feminine wiles to get what she wants. Cumming, too, seems to enjoy being blue as the bible quoting, German-accented Nightcrawler, who really isn't so bad after all (and has one of the snazzier entrances in the movie). But the most compelling relationship by far has to be between Xavier and Magneto. British thesps Stewart and McKellen portray the two as the old friends they are but whose disparaging views on how mutants and humans should interact has torn them apart, giving the film some dramatic weight.


With the original X-Men, director Bryan Singer had the dubious task of introducing all of the Marvel comic book's attributes and characters in a way that would appease rabid fans and newbies, while also creating a compelling movie with a beginning, middle and end. The result was adequate but a tad muddled and cartoonish. With X2 , however, Singer is able to fine-tune those characters and delve further into the story's universal theme: ridding the world of xenophobia and creating a peaceful co-existence. The three-tiered points of view--from Magneto's defiantly anti-human stance to Stryker's anti-mutant attempts at genocide and Xavier's hopes to find a happy middle ground--parallels today's political climate and actually makes you ponder the world's affairs even while you are watching the very cool, very mutant-esque action. X2 leaves you wanting more, to find out what is going to happen next to these people. Honestly, if there is a war between mutants and humans, who do you think is going to win? If only I could use powers of telepathy…

Bottom Line

X2: X-Men United is a thoroughly exciting and intriguing sequel in the X-Men series, a pure adrenaline ride. But with a weighty--and very important--message attached, the film also makes you think.