The Mutant Menagerie: X2: X-Men United

X-Men 2 movie poster

 

In ret­ro­spect, the first X-Men movie did an incred­i­ble job of man­ag­ing the intro­duc­tion of a wide array of char­ac­ters to mass audi­ences like­ly unfa­mil­iar with the decades’ worth of con­ti­nu­ity estab­lished in its com­ic book source mate­r­i­al. But the sequel X2: X-Men Unit­ed crowds the stage with too many new faces in addi­tion to the return­ing orig­i­nal cast. In short order, audi­ences not only have to rec­ol­lect the orig­i­nal char­ac­ters but also learn how Stryk­er (Bri­an Cox), Ice­man (Shawn Ash­more), Pyro (Aaron Stan­ford), and Lady Deathstryke (Kel­ly Hu) fit in to the mutant menagerie. X2 also expands the ranks of the Blue Man Mutant Group, with Night­crawler (Alan Cum­ming) join­ing Mys­tique (Rebec­ca Romi­jn-Sta­mos) in head-to-toe body paint, lat­er to be accom­pa­nied by Beast (Kelsey Gram­mar) in Brett Ratner’s ris­i­ble X-Men 3: The Last Stand.

Alan Cumming in X2: X-Men UnitedNight­crawler audi­tions for a spot in the Blue Men Mutant Group

Holo­caust sur­vivor Mag­ne­to (Ian McK­ellen) is still just as geno­ci­dal as his for­mer Nazi oppres­sors, an irony he fails to per­ceive despite it being point­ed out to him repeat­ed­ly. His aims and obses­sions make for a very good vil­lain, but also for a vir­tu­al repeat of the pre­vi­ous movie’s plot. In the orig­i­nal (read The Dork Report review), Mag­ne­to built a device to forcibly mutate homo sapi­ens into homo supe­ri­or, the aris­ing species known as “mutants” to which both The X-Men and his Broth­er­hood of Evil Mutants belong. The weapon turned out to be faulty and instead sim­ply killed every human with­in range. To a man like Mag­ne­to, said glitch was not a bug but a fea­ture. Noth­ing if not per­sis­tent, he employs basi­cal­ly the same scheme in X2. New bad­die Stryk­er has reverse-engi­neered Pro­fes­sor X’s mutant-detec­tion device Cere­bro into a weapon capa­ble of killing all mutants en masse. Mag­ne­to plots to repur­pose it to kill all humans instead.

Also recy­cled from the pre­vi­ous movie is the fact that Mag­ne­to is again not the movie’s true vil­lain, despite long hold­ing the rank of the X-Men’s offi­cial neme­sis. The real antag­o­nist last time around was intol­er­ant politi­cian Sen­a­tor Robert Kel­ly (Bruce Davi­son). Now the foe is anoth­er pow­er­less human, Colonel Stryk­er, a war­mon­ger with a pri­vate army. Like Kel­ly, he’s a fer­vent speciesist, so enflamed with pas­sion­ate hatred of mutants that he trans­forms his own mutant son Jason (Michael Reid McK­ay) into a com­po­nent in his geno­ci­dal weapon.

Hugh Jackman in X2: X-Men UnitedWolver­ine babysits The New Mutants

One notable tweak to the orig­i­nal recipe is a health­i­er dose of vio­lence and killing per­pe­trat­ed by the fan-favorite Wolver­ine (Hugh Jack­man). As a char­ac­ter, Wolver­ine is capa­ble of both berserk­er rage and human empa­thy, but his movie incar­na­tion seems to be able to turn it on and off at will. Cou­pled with a PG-13 rat­ing dic­tat­ing that his slaugh­ter remain blood­less, this negates one of the trag­ic flaws of the char­ac­ter I recall from read­ing the comics as a kid. The Wolver­ine I remem­ber con­stant­ly strug­gled to keep his ani­mal­is­tic side in check in order to live among his friends, lovers, and allies. The movie Wolver­ine is a lit­tle bit of a softy, actu­al­ly, spend­ing much of film babysit­ting mopey teen trio Ice­man, Pyro, and Rogue, the lat­ter still har­bor­ing an unre­quit­ed crush on a dude way too old, hairy, and Cana­di­an for her.

X2’s biggest prob­lem is that it has no sense of humor, allow­ing the grim­ness of the sce­nario to drain most of the fun out of the expe­ri­ence. The orig­i­nal had only a sin­gle cred­it­ed screen­writer, David Hayter, but the sequel teams him with Michael Dougher­ty and Dan Har­ris — hint­ing that the crowd­ed stage of actors was par­al­leled by a few too many cooks in the kitchen back­stage. One good scene, at least, pro­vides a reminder of what the first film got right: when the teen Ice­man reveals his super­pow­ers to his par­ents for the first time, his moth­er asks “Have you ever tried to… (awk­ward pause) not be a mutant?” It’s an excel­lent scene that uses humor to employ the sci-fi con­ceit of the mutant expe­ri­ence as a metaphor for a minority’s trou­bled com­ing of age.


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