Film reviews and more since 2009

X2: X-Men United review (2003)

Dir. Bryan Singer

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★★

X2: X-Men United plays, feels, and consistently moves with the grace and charm of a comic book, and that’s about the highest compliment one could pay to a film of the superhero genre. Riddled with sublime special effects, some characters we can further invest in, and drama and subtext that is further elaborated to provide for a viewing that requires us to keep our brains on, if you catch my drift.

The story reacquaints us to Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and his team of loyal X-Men, who fight for the idea that humans and mutants, those with extraordinary, life-altering powers, can live harmoniously together. However, there has been a great deal of anti-mutant ideology being peddled by Congress and the general public, specifically lead by Col. William Stryker (Brian Cox). Stryker pushes for a mutant genocide, believing that humans shouldn’t have to share their planet with mutants in any way.

Of course this calls for some form of combat, which is where our uncanny X-Men come in. The clawed-Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), the easily-underestimated Storm (Halle Berry), the telekinetic Dr. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), and the shy but imitable Rogue (Anna Paquin) attempt to lay to rest these ideas, and also, once again, stop Magneto (Iran McKellen) from yet another bout of attempting to have mutants control the universe

Much of X2‘s success is attributable to the talent of director Bryan Singer, who pulls most of the same punches he used to get the first film off the ground. The only difference is with X2 is that he does things a little bit bigger in size and scope, with larger action setpieces, new characters to meet, and the characters we already met being further expanded for stronger character depth.

The special effects, for me, are what stood out more in this second installment. Singer never missed a beat when it came to filming large, grandscale action in the original X-Men and never does he misstep here. Singer’s action, combined with the strong editing work of John Ottman and Elliot Graham, possesses a rare fluency to it, where action exists as something to look forward to and utilize in addition to character development, plot, and thematic resonance. Too often is it utilized and exploited in place of those things rather than working harmoniously with the additional devices – like humans and mutants should.

It also helps that the look of the film is crisp and clean thanks to cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel. Sigel captures everything Singer wants to include in X2 with a beautiful look and style, effectively mirroring the camaraderie on screen with the aesthetic, appeal, and kinetic movement of a comic book. The film doesn’t go for the similar, more blatant style of comic book mimicking as seen in Ang Lee’s Hulk, which would release theatrically about a month later than X2, which attempted to create the feel by using the picture-in-picture method. Yet, both films find ways to succeed using their own style, with Singer and Sigel’s route to a comic book providing for consistent fun and enjoyment.

On a film note, one cannot neglect the performances at hand here. Jackman, once again, works well at playing a character we find it difficult to have sympathy for at times, while at others, being effortlessly fun and likable. Paquin still nails the subtle facial and body communications of Rogue, while Berry and Janssen continue to fit well in their assigned roles. Throw in Ian McKellen for good measure and you have a complete package for X2

After watching the first two installments of the X-Men franchise, the sole word I can conjure up is “impressive.” Who would’ve thought that two films concerning mutants, bearing a heavy emphasis on special effects but not neglecting the human element of the story nor the thematic ideas of discrimination, would live up even after a decade? The fact that the first two X-Men films possess more elements than incredible, bombastic special effects ensures a longer lifespan than your average blockbuster, many of which have a hard time bringing much else besides their looks to the table.

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Alan Cumming, Brian Cox, and Bruce Davison. Directed by: Bryan Singer.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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