A review of “X2 X-Men United” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ** 1/2

Rating: PG-13 for language and violence

Run Time: 2 hours, 18 minutes

 

 

Special effects take a bow in this lively sequel that sacrifices narrative pleasure for flashy technique.

In a world where mutants are regarded with fear and suspicion, bigotry and segregation are de rigueur.  By encouraging the mutants to utilize their powers for the greater good, Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) leads the charge of the Homo Superiors with cool conviction. His elite school for gifted mutants is a welcome haven for those attempting to cope with their extraordinary potential. 

Xavier’s bitter enemy Magneto (Ian McKellen) fervently hews to the cry of mutant superiority.  Picking up where “X-Men” left off, Magneto is temporarily indisposed, housed in a contemporary plastic prison from which there is ostensibly no escape.

The political waters are muddied by malevolent military scientist General William Stryker (Brian Cox). Reeling from a very personal mutant issue, the all-too-human Stryker is determined, with the active support of the U.S. President, to wipe this exceptional breed off the face of the earth.

Joining forces to protect their individual distinction is a virtual carnival of superheroes whose tomfoolery evolves into intrepid pandemonium.  The feral, sexy Wolverine (a lupine Hugh Jackman) struggles with internal conflict, while fanning the flames of a rapacious passion for Dr. Jean Grey (a stilted and awkward Famke Janssen).  Halle Berry (as the mercurial Storm) speaks in monotone but stirs up a mean hurricane.  Metamorph Mystique (the sultrier-than-thou Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) steals the show with her uber-transposing cool, and newcomers Pyro (a fire-fixated Aaron Stanford) and Nightcrawler (the sinuously snaky Alan Cumming) flaunt their puissance with wicked glee.

The story, based on the 1963 Marvel Comics standout, subtly limps along between overwrought action sequences, but its standout moments are memorable.  Deathstriker (kick-ass babe Kelly Hu) goes mano-a-mano with the edgy Wolverine, slicing and dicing to stunning effect.  Ditto a vicious and vibrant opening sequence pitting the President and his Secret Service defense against the elusive and vaporous Nightcrawler.  Theatricality virtually oozes off the screen when Shakespearean stage veterans Stewart and McKellen command shared frames.

Unfortunately, “X2” does not stand on its own as a singular form of entertainment.  Much of the mutant back-story is left to the imagination, or to comic book aficionados and veterans of the original 2000 big-screen version (which was rife with meaningful sociological subtext).  Character allegiances are capricious in nature, establishing nothing more than narrative confusion and arbitrary motivation.  Summer’s first film offering is officially a mixed bag.