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X2 will not disappoint anyone who enjoyed the first film, and it is also an important exception to the rule that sequels are not as good as their originals.

Bigger, Better, Stronger

Jackman returns as Wolverine
Jackman returns as Wolverine

It would be more appropriate to consider X-Men, released in 2000, as more of a prologue than just the first movie in a trilogy, considering the expansive scope of X2: X-Men United. More characters are introduced into the mix, such as the mysterious blue Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming), a Teutonic mutant who can teleport at will provided he can see where he’s going, and the razor-fingernailed Deathstrike (Kelly Hu).

Some characters introduced in the first film, such as Storm (Halle Berry) and Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), get bigger roles, while others get similar exposure, especially Wolverine (Hugh Jackman).

X2 Sides to Every Story

We return to a not-too-distant future where some individuals have experienced genetic mutation which gives them unique powers. These mutants have been outcast by regular humans, leaving some mutants to lash out at their oppressors.

X2 opens when Nightcrawler breaks into the White House on what might be an attempt on the President’s life. His moral ambiguity early in the film demonstrates the growing rift between humans and mutants, and, except for fans of the comic, we don’t know for sure what side he’s on. The telepathic Professor X (Patrick Stewart), who heads a special institution to teach young mutants to harness their powers, assigns Storm, who can manipulate weather conditions, and fellow telepath Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) to track down this elusive new mutant.

Meanwhile, Professor X and his right-hand man Cyclops (James Marsden), who can project energy blasts from his eyes through a special visor, visit their old nemesis, Magneto (Ian McKellen), to investigate the mutant attack on the White House. They discover that, in typical comic narrative fashion, there’s more going on than everyone expects.

The incident at the White House also unearths military scientist William Stryker (Brian Cox), who has his own agenda on how to deal with the growing mutant “problem.” Stryker replaces Magneto as the movie’s major antagonist, and since his son was a pupil of Professor X, he has extra incentive to handle mutants in his own way.

Stryker has an obvious agenda against the mutants, and it’s only a matter of time before conflict ensues. This conflict is what makes X2 more involving than its predecessor. Director Bryan Singer has called his film “My Empire Strikes Back,” implying that it was going to offer much more than he was able to do with the first X-Men. With a much bigger budget this time around, he delivers on his promise for more special effects and action.

Comic Book Confidential

Screenwriters Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris spin an effective yarn filled with interesting twists and turns, even if the story gets occasionally bogged down in its abundant character development.

All throughout the action is the underlying theme of being different in a world so quick to judge and persecute those who are. The X-Men were created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the 1960s to mirror the civil rights issues of the time, and it still seems relevant today. X2 shows that these mutants all have the potential for greatness or evil, just like regular humans.

The main problem for movies adapted from comics books is they often have to tinker too much with the source’s lore in the interest of getting the movie to run two hours. What makes the X-Men movies more challenging is the ensemble characters instead of a single character like Spider-Man or Batman.

Singer does not fall into this potential trap and does an amazing job of keeping the characters and story afloat, even when the story’s pace stalls later in the movie. There are some twists, as you might expect, plus the ending will leave you eagerly awaiting the next installment.

A Promising Summer

This is a movie that could be hard to follow if you did not see the first one. Nothing is explained, and there is no TV-like “previously on X-Men,” recap. Much like The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, the action picks right up where its predecessor left off, which is nice, considering how few movies actually respect audiences these days.

X2 means that the summer movie season has officially started, and if this is an indication of what to expect, then we are in for one of the most entertaining summers yet.