ComicsAlliance Reviews ‘X2: X-Men United’ (2003), Part Two
In our latest series of super-hero movie reviews, Chris Sims and Matt Wilson take on the films chosen by you, the readers: X-Men!
Chris Sims: Welcome back to our discussion of X2: X-Men United, the super-hero movie with twice as many X-es in the title than the leading brand! When we last left off, Professor X was in dire straits, Pyro had just blown up a bunch of police cars, and everyone was having a pretty rough time.
Matt Wilson: They couldn’t be more divided, Chris! How will they unite in the next hour? I’m in such suspense!Chris: I suspect that part won’t take much doing. As we kick off, Wolverine and the Junior X-Men of America board the Blackbird, wondering who the hell this blue dude with the bedazzled trench coat is. Nightcrawler introduces himself with a pretty bombastic “Kurt Wagner – but in ze Munich circus, I vas known as ze incredible Nightcrawler!” so that Wolverine can tell him to shut up. It’s a pretty funny moment, but it doesn’t quite fit in with what we’ve seen of the character so far. Also: Why is his German circus nickname in English?
Matt: I think the more amazing thing is that he’s a character who has an honest-to-goodness reason to have a crazy nickname. I think that’s why Wolverine tells him to shut up. “You have to just make up your name, man. Who do you think you are?”
Chris: As the semi-united X-Men jet off to further adventures, we cut back to Professor X, who is being psychically imprisoned by Jason Stryker, the telepathic mutant who has had his brain weaponized by his father. He’s creating an illusion of the X-Mansion to try to lure Professor X into using Stryker’s version of Cerebro, for reasons that we’ll see later.
Matt: These scenes are pretty brief, but Stewart does a nice job with the mental whiplash he’s going through. And he treats the little imaginary girl in the second dream with this perfect, teacherly manner.
Chris: Huh, you thought of the illusory version of Jason as a girl? I just thought that Jason decided that the best way to trick Professor X was by appearing as an androgynous child in a Victorian nightgown, which seems a little weird but totally works.
Matt: The hair and gown just immediately made me think it was a girl to amp up Xavier’s caretaker instincts (we’ll find out in a later movie that he’s really into helping lost little girls), but you have a point.
Chris: Either way, it’s appropriately creepy, and the different-colored eyes make for a nice visual tell – doesn’t that come up in First Class, too, when Xavier is macking on coeds?
Matt: You’ve seen it more recently than I have, so I’ll defer to you. I was thinking of the Mystique stuff from that movie.
Chris: Well, we’ve still got a month or so before we have to examine Professor X’s mutant woo-pitching abilities. For now, the Blackbird is approaching the mansion, when the Air Force gets on the radio and orders them to be escorted to a nearby base. To show they’re not messing around, they scramble two fighter jets that pull up alongside, and in one of the most hilariously improbable moments of the film, ace pilot CAPT. “RAYGUN” MACLAI – my new favorite character – points at the ground and looks really mad.
Matt: They’re like the Air Highway Patrol up there. When the Blackbird doesn’t comply, the jets back off and prepare to fire (we know all this because Storm helpfully narrates it out loud for us and the others in the plane). In retaliation, Storm creates about 45 tornadoes to throw at them. Oddly, they don’t eject immediately.
Chris: On the extremely remote chance that I ever get to write X-Men, you can best believe “Raygun” MacLai is coming back toute de suite. But yes, engaging someone who can control the weather in an aircraft is probably something they should’ve covered in flight school, under the heading of “do not ever do this.” I really like Wolverine’s complaint about how the Blackbird doesn’t have any weapons, too, because why would the X-Men ever need something beyond themselves?
Matt: The pilots finally do eject, but not before managing to fire a couple missiles at the Blackbird. Jean fends one off with her Almost-Phoenix, burny-eye powers, but the other one blows a big hole in the back of the plane, sucking out Rogue. In a baller as hell move, Nightcrawler teleports out to grab her and teleports back to the Blackbird. He’s a BAMF who BAMFS.
Chris: It really is awesome. One of the great things about the X-Men movies – when they’re good, anyway – is that they almost trick you into forgetting that these are people with crazy super-powers. Maybe it’s because there are so many options, like is Jean going to snag Rogue with her telekinesis? Is Storm going to blow her back into the plane with a gust of wind? Instead, they went with Nightcrawler and it’s a pretty awesome surprise. The same thing happens a moment later when the plane is caught and you think it has to be Jean, but it’s revealed to be Magneto, just casually hanging out in the spot where the plane was about to crash.
Chris: Like, at this point, there’s been so much that’s happened that you almost forget Magneto’s out there looking for revenge on Stryker.
Matt: I’d think most would be wondering whether Rogue’s boyfriend or her mentor would save her, but it was neither! For a guy out for vengeance who is somewhat to blame for the potential death of everyone, Magneto’s just having infinite fun here, isn’t he? He is giggling with Mystique like a high schooler.
Chris: It’s enough to make you want to forgive that it’s a total coincidence/plot-hole that Magneto’s hanging out at that spot, which is one of the few glaring flaws of the script. He has no reason whatsoever to be there.
Matt: Not a one! “So hey, here’s the plan. I’m going to break out of jail and then I’m going to stand in a field for a long time waiting for a plane to crash. It’s ironclad!”
Chris: Obviously, plane crash precognition is his secondary mutation. Either way, he and the X-Men decide to sit around a campfire telling spoooooooky stories, except that they’re actually 100% true stories about how Stryker is going to make Professor X psychically kill everyone. Also, there was a bloody hook on the door!
Matt: Also, Wolverine gets some Definitive Answers about his origin. Where Professor X refused to catapult the plot before, Magneto steps up. He tells him Stryker definitely gave him his adamantium bones. Then again, it’s not Wolverine who might know where Stryker’s base is. It’s Nightcrawler!
Chris: And even when he’s telling Wolverine about Stryker, he’s doing it in the form of sneering taunts about how dumb Wolverine is for not figuring it out himself. McKellen looks like he’s having an absolute blast playing such a jerk, and it’s so fun to watch.
Matt: He and Mystique just ruling the cool kids’ table, making fun of everyone else’s backpacks.
Chris: Magneto was also the only one who noticed that Nightcrawler was hanging out above them, including the guy with super-senses. He’s so great. Anyway, in order to figure out where the base is, Jean pulls Nighcrawler over to the campfire to go through his memories, presumably while everyone else is off making S’mores.
Chris: Quick question: The plane was on its way from Boston to Westchester, right? Is there any particular reason why they should be spending this much time in the woods?
Matt: They don’t really have anywhere else to go. Presumably, Stryker’s still occupying the school. I guess they could go to Magneto’s mountain base from the last movie, but everyone forgot about it.
Chris: I was thinking more that Jean could telepathically convince someone to give them a couple of rooms at the Motel Six or something.
Matt: Like, Doctor Who Psychic Paper up some coupons? Well, the other explanation is the Blackbird, which has Millennium Falcon stairs, won’t work for another few hours. Like the Millennium Falcon often found itself!
Chris: Oh right, I completely forgot that after being hit with a missile (or at least being damaged by one), the Blackbird just needed a couple of hours to reboot. The real tough part was finding a paperclip so that they could hit the little reset button on the back.
Matt: Jean Grey takes a break from hunting for one to have a smoldering conversation with Wolverine about whether she really wants to be with Cyclops or not.
Chris: I gotta say, neither party really comes out all that great in this exchange. Jean basically says “well yeah I was flirting with you, but c’mon it doesn’t actually mean I liked you or anything,” and then Wolverine tells her he can be “the good guy” about two seconds before cutting her off in mid-sentence with sweaty Canadian makeouts.
Matt: I believe movie Wolverine is actually Canado-Australian.
Chris: Also, keep in mind that Cyclops has been out of the movie for like 45 minutes at this point. It’s kind of the perfect representation of their love triangle in the comics.
Matt: Yeah, he got beaten up and completely forgotten for a while. And the crazy thing is that he’s treated even worse in the next movie!
Chris: There’s a lot of Heavy Emotional Conversations going down in this movie, with Nightcrawler and Mystique talking about how she shouldn’t have to change her looks, which is immediately followed by Mystique turning into Jean Grey so she can get some hirsute Canadaustralian lovin’ herself.
Matt: But before anything much can happen, Wolverine comes across the scar from where he stabbed her in the previous movie, and she point-blank tells him she’s into guys who hurt her.
Chris: And yet, the Harley Quinn fan community didn’t immediately jump on making Steampunk Mystique costumes for Comic-Con ’04. Mystique also cycles through a bunch of sexy forms before giving it one last shot by turning into Brian Cox, which, brother, if that wasn’t the jumping-off point for a thousand fanfics, I don’t know what is.
Matt: She also tries out Rogue, which continues that creepy thread from the previous movie. But that wouldn’t hold a candle to Jackman/Cox.
Chris: Hehe, “Jackman/Cox.” If only she’d tried out Alan Cumming, too. Anyway, once the plane’s fixed, they fly off to find Stryker’s HQ, and if the metaphor of Magneto and Mystique as the cool kids of Mutant High wasn’t already right on the nose, we get a scene where Ian McKellen literally makes sarcastic comments about Rogue’s hair while Mystique giggles.
Matt: He gets to do some rebel sneering, too, when Pyro says, “They tell me you’re the bad guy” and Magneto gets to reply, “Is that what they say?” It’s one step away from Razor Ramon.
Chris: This whole bit, from the callback to Magneto literally trying to murder Rogue a month ago to the “what’s your real name” conversation with Pyro, is about as perfect as super-hero movies get. It’s seriously next-level stuff. When Pyro’s talking about how he can “only” control fire, McKellen’s delivery on “you’re a god among insects” is just amazing. You can see with no question in your mind why people, especially outcasts like Mystique, would follow him.
Matt: If you guys didn’t grasp it before, we think Ian McKellen is pretty good.
Chris: And just to clarify that Stryker is a Bad Guy, our next scene involves him gleefully torturing children in the name of “science.” Subtlety is not exactly Bryan Singer’s forte.
Matt: He thinks of these children as lab rats. That is something he states.
Chris: Out loud. To another person. But on one level, you have to respect how clear they’re making Stryker’s brand of evil, as opposed to the more sympathetic Magneto. This is pretty unambiguous, even with the twinge of sympathy we felt for Stryker when we found out what drove him over the edge. And to his credit, Cox does a great job with it. Cox is really able to pull it offfffehehehehe, sorry, sorry. We should just move on.
Matt: On the Blackbird, The X2 United X-Men debate who should be the first to go into the base. Wolverine volunteers, but Magneto thinks he’s a dummy, so he sends in someone who’s been Wolverine before.
Chris: Since we’ve seen Wolverine in his costume already, it’s no surprise to us that the Business Casual Wolverine that goes into Stryker’s base is Mystique, but it’s still pretty great that Stryker is able to tell just by looking. And in another testament to the bigger budget and better effects of the second film, Mystique’s flippy capoiera moves look way better than they did last time around. Of course, that ain’t sayin’ much.
Matt: She also does a flippy-off move as she escapes that’s pretty terrific.
Chris: Singer’s true gift as a director is a well-timed middle finger.
Matt: It really is. If only Superman Returns had just had one great scene of Superman hitting Lex Luthor with a big ol’ “Read between the lines.” We’d all think of it quite differently.
Chris: While Mystique is thrashing the evil army guys and taking control of the base’s command center – there’s only one central control room, as it was designed in the ’80s to facilitate action scenes – Professor X is being led ever closer to Cerebro 2 by Creepy Li’l Mastermind.
Matt: We’ve been praising the writing in this movie quite a bit — mostly the dialogue — but holy crap, it took forever for Stryker Jr. to lead Professor X to Cerebro. The X-Men crashed a plane, repaired it and flew to a base in the time it took to go one floor!
Chris: We could chalk that up to Professor X’s psychic resistance – which according to the back of this trading card is at, like, level 9 – but you know that dude who was tasked with pushing around Jason’s wheelchair had to be bored out of his mind.
Matt: Also, time moves differently when you’re Incepting (™, Christopher Nolan). I guess I’ll accept that as the explanation.
Chris: Magneto and the rest of the X-Men show up to keep their base assault going, and while everyone else is concerned with stopping Stryker and/or saving the kids, Wolverine decides to bail out and go have his own damn movie for a while. This is the most typical Wolverine move ever put on film.
Matt: It’s already been pretty well established that Wolverine is not too interested in these kids. Which is actually pretty different from how comics-Wolvie is these days.
Chris: Maybe he just figures that the guy who caught a crashing fighter jet with one hand can handle it.
Matt: Man, you let him handle it, you will not stop hearing the snappy witticisms about how you ran off for days! That is a dangerous move! Magneto’s the one with the wicked tongue this time around!
Chris: Snide remarks are his tertiary mutation. Anyway, at this point, a full hour after we saw him last, we finally discover what happened to Cyclops: He’s been dosed up with Stryker Jr.’s brain juice and sent to kill Jean.
Matt: That comes right after Stryker finally gets Professor X going on his makeshift Cerebro in his kill-all-mutants plan. He tells a guard to kill anyone who approaches, “even if it’s me.” Interesting note: This half-built Cerebro set is actually the SAME SET as the other Cerebro. They had to trash it up to use it for these scenes.
Chris: That makes a lot of sense, since actually building two Cerebros would’ve been a pain. This is also where the gang gets truly split up: Storm and Nightcrawler are off saving the kids, Jean and Scott are duking it out in the parking garage, Magneto and Mystique are left to their own devices, Wolverine’s off stabbing things, and the kids are back on the plane.
Matt: The Jean/Scott fight is really interesting coming right after that “nice guy” discussion. Jean does not mess around dropping that nice guy off the side of a platform.
Chris: Jean don’t shiv. They really beat the hell out of each other in terms of powers, to the point where the ruckus ends up cracking the dam that the base is underneath, adding yet another element of danger to it. I really like how the movie keeps building like that; there are like five different things at stake here.
Matt: Stryker’s none too happy about the literalization of all that sexual tension happening inside his dam, he could tell you that. Wolverine hears what’s going on, but is too busy getting his Important Answers to worry about it. And there they are! X-rays! That green goop! Molten metal! It’s all there!
Chris: This scene is actually set up really well – I love how there are old claw marks gouged into the walls from Wolverine’s escape, even if it’s weird that they wouldn’t patch those up in this clearly active base. Of course, given what we know of Stryker, he definitely seems like the kind of guy who would leave it there as a tribute to his finest creation. The X-Rays are a nice touch too, since at a glance you think they’re Wolverine’s before you see that they’re actually Yuriko’s, a nice bit of immediate foreshadowing since we haven’t seen her claws yet.
Matt: There’s a flashback sequence here where Wolverine, new claws and all, is running down a corridor naked. Apparently a bunch of female crew members, including James Marsden’s mom, met Jackman at the end of that hallway, shaking dollar bills.
Chris: Jeez, even Cyclops’s mom likes Wolverine more. That dude can’t catch a break.
Matt: “You’re a good boy, honey. You raise the good boy. You flirt with the rugged Australian robot boxer.”
Chris: How great would it be if Hugh Jackman walked out of this movie as James Marsden’s new stepdad? I would watch the hell out of that E! reality show. One more thing and I’ll move on: how weird is it that Marsden picked that day to invite his mom to the set? I mean, admittedly, he’s missing from the movie for an hour so it’s not like he has a ton of options, but still.
Matt: : She’s a nutritionist, apparently. Maybe she helped with craft services on the movie! It’d be great if Jackman got in regular fights like this one with Lady Deathstrike, all crazy claws and healing factors. Like, there is seriously a Princess Bride “I’m not left-handed” moment here that Hu manages to pull off without saying anything. (Though the special effects help.)
Chris: Deathstrike popping her claws and Jackman’s quiet “holy sh**” response are pretty fantastic. It’s the perfect blend of action, comedy, and these two extremely pretty people stabbing each other.
Matt: The moment I’m thinking of is when she reveals she has a healing factor and the scratches come off her face. Nobody says anything (Hu only had one line, which she said to Janitor Mystique), but it is a nice turnaround moment in the fight.
Chris: It really is. And the way she does those quick, rapid-fire stabs to his back is just brutal. It’s a solid fight scene, especially since we saw Wolverine just destroying those military guys back in the first half to build him up as a tough customer.
Matt: One fan gripe I remember about this movie, though, is how it reduced Lady Deathstrike to basically a silent enforcer, when Yuriko and Wolverine had such a long and heavy relationship in the comics. And I guess that’s a pretty fair complaint. She’s disposed of somewhat cleverly, but with no real pathos.
Chris: It’s true, but you could say the same about Sabretooth in the first film. The movie version has none of the history – Wolverine is surprised to learn his name in X-Men 1 – and they’re really just there to give Wolverine somebody to fight. I will say, if this movie was even slightly less good than it is, Deathstrike’s adamantium tears would come off hokey as all hell.
Matt: The clank as she falls into the green pool is hilarious, though. The closed captions just say [CLANK].
Chris: And peaking of clever deaths, Magneto pulling out all of the pins in the army guys’ grenades in the next scene is f***ing awesome.
Matt: Magneto just inspired the makers of these movies to do clever things. They obviously just loved writing stuff for him to do.
Chris: Clearly! They never run out of ways to make him seem like an utter badass. While he’s strolling through the facility on the way to Fake Cerebro (Cerefaux?), he even has the foresight to put on his helmet so that he can’t be affected by it.
Matt: When he walks into the room, grins down at Stryker Jr. and taps it. This guy, man. This guy.
Chris: Opening up the doors has the side effect of shutting off Cerebro – they Stryker built his with the same safety protocols, apparently – and once he’s in, Magneto rearranges the panels to make it affect humans, rather than mutants. He’s going to go ahead and let his old friend Charles kill every single human on Earth, which is pretty extreme, even for him.
Matt: Mystique falls right in with it, too, morphing into Stryker to convince Stryker Jr. to convince Xavier to do it. This is a pretty extreme change from God Loves, Man Kills, where Magneto just gets out of there with the X-Men.
Chris: It’s really the one moment of the plot that rings false. It’s a massive change from the Magneto of the first movie, who wanted to turn the world leaders into mutants so that they’d understand him. There’s definitely a core of revenge at the heart of his character, but responding to attempted genocide with another attempted genocide is a pretty huge departure — especially since, with Mutants being a minority and all, he’s basically engineering the apocalypse. Like, this is Ra’s al-Ghul “destroying the entirety of civilization” territory.
Matt: I can see what the ideas are here — show that Magneto’s still a Bad Guy, as Pyro said, and deviate from the source material a bit to generate a surprise — but it’s an overstep.
Chris: It also resets the stakes back to what they were before, only now it’s the X-Men having to get to Professor X and shut it down rather than Magneto. I think a much better way to handle it would’ve been to have Magneto save the mutants, but then abandon the X-Men to die when they were in danger from the collapsing dam, to show that he was perfectly willing to sacrifice them just like he did with Rogue. I wonder how much of it was rooted in a desire to put “us” – the non-mutant real-world audience – in danger to make it more relatable.
Matt: Maybe. The whole mutants-in-danger thing doesn’t really take off — they’re in pain for maybe all of 30 seconds before Magneto puts an end to that. It’s like, a pseudo-climax. This is the real climax, with the bursting dam and humanity in danger. In previous viewings, don’t really remember seeing as many problems with this act as we’re finding on this watch-through. It’s almost trying to do too much.
Chris: It really is. There’s still good stuff, though – Stryker tries to escape the facility and Wolverine cold-cocks him, stabs him in the kidneys, and starts demanding answers. Understandably, Stryker tells him he’s a bad person.
Matt: Seems like a fair reaction to being stabbed. Even so, he asks Wolverine to abandon his pals and come with him to learn all the answers about his past. What do you think those two would do together if they did run off? OH NO, CHRIS, I’M CREATING JACKMAN/COX FICTION AND NOT EVEN REALIZING IT!
Chris: I’m going to need your badge, gun, and Tumblr password, Matt. You’re too much of a risk right now.
Matt: I’m a loose cannon! Sadly, Jackman and Cox don’t go on a saloon-hopping tour of the scenic Southwest, and instead, Wolverine leaves him chained up to some landing gear (kinky) and runs off to help.
Chris: It’s a pretty big change for Wolverine that marks his transition from Lone Wolf to Team Player, but to be fair, he does not actually know that he’s going back to help Cyclops.
Matt: Speaking of Cyke, he and Jean have met up with Storm, Nightcrawler and the kids. Jean sensed something wrong earlier, and now she knows what it is: Professor X is being tricking into killing dang near errbody.
Chris: Professor X starts giving migraines to billions of people at once, and you have to think that this is causing a lot of problems. Doctors, people driving around. It’s pretty rough times, but that doesn’t stop Nightcrawler from dithering over whether he can teleport past the door for a few minutes.
Matt: It’s weird the one example we see is President Average, just leaning back in his chair. I guess it’s lucky he wasn’t playing with the Nuclear Button like I would be if I was president.
Chris: And hey, you were right: Nightcrawler refers to Jason’s Creepy Kid Psychic Avatar as a little girl.
Matt: The kid is pretty androgynous, I must say. Anyway, the kid tries to fool Storm and Nightcrawler that Professor X just ain’t there, and Kurt Wagner is prone to believe it. That is, until the kid goes all Shining creepy on ‘em.
Chris: In order to battle Jason’s illusions, Storm whips up a quick blizzard, apparently completely unconcerned about Nightcrawler and Professor X also getting a rare case of indoor frostbite. Meanwhile, Jean – the extremely powerful telekinetic – desperately hopes that the guy with claws will show up and save them. What exactly does she think he’s going to do?
Matt: Claw–you know, claw it up! Claw it all up in there! Magneto escapes in the helicopter Stryker was chained to, but not before sentencing Stryker to a death a few minutes prior to all the other humans in the world dying. He and Mystique notice Pyro standing off on a ridge, and he hitches a ride with them. Really, I just think Jean is worried about Wolverine’s safety.
Chris: Eventually, Jason’s illusion cracks, Nightcrawler teleports Professor X out of Fake Cerebro and leaves Jason to die, and Wolverine shows up to lead everyone to the helicopter that’s not there anymore. His “IT WAS RIGHT HERE!” is straight up Clark Griswold in Vacation.
Matt: Also: Some of the kids are played by different actors in every movie. X-Men took a lot from the Vacation series.
Chris: Amazingly, nobody remembers that they brought a f***ing plane until Rogue brings it down, looking almost as terrified as I do when I have to fly. It’s a pretty fun scene for her, even if it’s coupled with the part where all of the X-Men apparently forgot about Rogue and Iceman and were going to leave them to die like a coffee cup on the roof of your car.
Matt: Sometimes you forget things. Your multi-million-dollar supersonic jet. The person who drove the plot of the last movie.
Chris: While everyone’s getting strapped in, Wolverine inexplicably wanders off with Artie (remember him?) in his arms to have a final confrontation with Stryker, who does a bit of speechifying at him. So, just so we’re clear on this, Wolverine takes an impressionable young mutant off to where one of the human oppressors has been stabbed and chained to a rock, and then wanders off and leaves him to die. It is not exactly the best use of a Teachable Moment.
Matt: I forgot Magneto didn’t kill Stryker, just chained him up to a wall. He really thought that all-humans-dying thing was going to work out.
Chris: Well, Stryker’s also an old dude who just got triple-stabbed in the kidneys outside in the middle of winter. It’s not like he’s going to make it out, even in Magneto’s worst-case scenario.
Matt: So now everyone is X-Men X-United 2 on the Blackbird, but a plot contrivance has wiggled its way into the engine, and it won’t take off!
Chris: Jean, who at this point has become a walking plot contrivance herself with how she’s able to telepathically find the answers to everyone’s problems, knows what she has to do: One long, tearful look at Wolverine, then it’s outside to toss the Blackbird around like a paper airplane.
Matt: Is the implication here that Rogue broke the plane?
Chris: Sort of? Because when Jean gets out side, she points at the plane and literally telekinetically flips a switch that turns everything to “ON.” You’d think they would’ve tried those first.
Matt: She also makes it so that Storm can’t lower the stairs and Nightcrawler cant teleport(?) and, understandably, both Cyclops and Wolverine just flip right out.
Chris: Marsden acts the hell out of his freakout, too, which is good because it’s the only thing he’s actually had to do in this movie.The bit where Professor X is relaying Jean’s last words and he’s trying to talk to her through him is so close to being unforgivably silly and awkward, but he and Stewart somehow manage to sell it pretty well.
Matt: The emotions are really nicely played, but the logic of this scene is cuckoo bananas. How can Jean keep Nightcrawler from teleporting? Is she shutting off the part of his brain that controls it or something? I don’t get it.
Chris: The only thing that really saves it is that they’ve been seeding the idea of Jean’s ramped-up Phoenix powers since the opening scene. It’s their answer for everything at this point. How did she know where Pyro is? Phoenix powers. How does she turn the plane on? Phoenix powers. How does she turn off Nightcrawler’s powers? Phoenix powers. But that creates a glaring hole with the fact that she didn’t do anything at all to stop either one of this movie’s dueling genocides.
Matt: Or just, you know, seal the dam back up.
Chris: There are very arbitrary, plot-based rules for what she does and doesn’t do.
Matt: But she’s gone now, as Wolverine repeats many times. Nightcrawler recites Psalm 23, and there’s a nice contemplative shot of the water as the Blackbird flies away.
Chris: Wolverine actually trying to comfort Cyclops is a really nice moment, too, especially since this is one of the moments where Jackman’s tough exterior completely breaks down. All the goofy plot stuff is really saved by the actors.
Matt: It’s sort of the running theme of these movies, “saved by the actors,” until we get to the next one, anyway. The president begins to address the nation about everybody almost dying, but before he can, the X-Men show up, Professor X pulling his people-freezing trick again, and with a big thunderstorm courtesy of Storm. It’s a very Vincent Pricey method of communication.
Chris: It is absolutely f***ing hilarious that Professor X says “don’t be alarmed” to the President after shutting off everyone’s brain, creating a thunderstorm, and then rolling up into the room with a bunch of mutants including THE GUY WHO TRIED TO STAB HIM THREE DAYS AGO. What possible reason would he have to not be alarmed?!
Matt: The president says “I don’t respond well to threats,” and Xavier’s response is, “This isn’t a threat. It’s an opportunity.” If only he’d followed that up with “…to DIE!”
Chris: Professor X hands over the files proving that the X-Men are, while terrifying, at least not the bad guys in this particular moment. Then the dude with giant knives that come out of his fist tells the President “we’ll be watching” and everyone leaves. It’s not threatening at all, no sir.
Matt: And yet, the president is somehow convinced that these people who can walk through walls and steal files have to be protected, in case someone wants to start a war. This scene really is something.
Chris: Back at the Mansion, even Wolverine starts criticizing the plot by asking “why did she leave the plane?” Good question, Logan!
Matt: Let’s discuss Wolverine’s shirt here. That is the Wolverniest article of clothing in these movies so far.
Chris: His hair is also at its most ridiculous in this scene, too.
Matt: Reportedly this scene was a re-shoot Jackman had to come back for during the filming of Van Helsing. He had to wear a wig over all that bad-movie hat-hair.
Chris: Man. Van Helsing. How the hell did Wolverine vs. Dracula go that wrong?
Matt: Maybe we’ll get to it when we run out of movies in the year 20Never.
Chris: Wolverine mans up and tells Cyclops that Jean wanted to stay with him rather than go with those sexy, sexy mutton chops, Professor X gazes longingly out the window, tells his students that everything’s gonna be okay, and starts talking about The Once and Future King, and we get a little Famke Janssen voice-over and an almost-distinguishable silhouette of a phoenix, and X2: X-Men United finally comes to a close!
Matt: Note: The voiceover is the same as Stewart’s intro from the first movie. I didn’t notice that until just now.
Matt: It’s hard to really even identify a weak link in this cast. The principal cast, anyway. They were obvious in the first one, but here, Halle Berry does really nicely (and gets better material), and the others from before don’t come back. The new guys, Brian Cox and Alan Cumming are real heavyweights and do terrific work.
Chris: So you enjoy Cox and Cumming?
Matt: We’ve been watching Cox and Cumming all day, pretty much, and I’ve really been enjoying it.
Chris: I wholeheartedly agree. If anything, I really would’ve liked to see more Cox and Cumming in this movie.
Matt: The actor who really gets to shine, if we haven’t talked about him enough, is Ian McKellen. Holy moly.
Chris: He really is phenomenal. Every single scene he’s in, he just crushes. I can’t say enough good things about his performance, from the sneering sarcasm to the way he breaks down in front of Xavier. It’s monumental.
Matt: I’d say this movie tops the previous one with its action setpieces, too. The opening sequence, the car-explosions, the plane crash. They’re all nicely pulled off and thrilling.
Chris: It certainly looks better. The increased budget shows in the special effects – Wolverine vs. Sabretooth (all thirty seconds of it) looked hokey and awkward, Wolverine vs. Lady Deathstrike is a super-fun brutal throwdown.
Matt: Even the stuff like Mystique’s transformations and the Cerebro bits look a lot less computery.
Chris: And to its credit, the movie is generally well plotted and paced. The Using-Cerebro-For-Eeeeeeevil plot is introduced nicely and, at least by the logic of the movie, makes sense. It’s still a big overblown sci-fi danger, but for the most part, it works. Plus, there’s a ton of great character interaction – Wolverine introducing himself as an art teacher is a great gag.
Matt: The dialogue is shockingly free of groaners, and has some real chuckle lines, for sure. I think it helps that this one is an adaptation of an OGN — not that I think original stories are bad, mind you — but it helped Singer and crew find a movie-credible threat that worked pretty well.
Chris: And they were able to change enough (and throw in other pieces, like Wolverine’s backstory) that it doesn’t feel like a retread. It’s that perfect balance of doing new things with the stuff you already like that a lot of comic book movies totally drop the ball on.
Chris: I know I just praised the plot a second ago, but the script goes right off the rails in the last act. Things get really muddled, plot holes start showing up with pretty alarming frequency, the stakes that it spent so much time raising are kind of swept away so that it can introduce a new problem. It’s really just the great performances from the cast that hold it together.
Matt: It’s overstuffed. The inclusion of the Magneto kill-all-humans plot doesn’t do much more than turn one Huge Problem into another, and if anything it messes up the pacing. You’ve got tension building, then stopping, then trying to build again.
Chris: And it also makes Magneto a two-time loser, undercutting his victory alongside the X-Men in stopping Striker’s plot. How much better would X-Men 3 have been if Magneto went into that from a win instead of his goofy Dr. Claw escape at the end of this one? Not that you could really make X-Men 3 worse, you understand.
Matt: Ugggggh. Next week is going to be a killer. Another thing about this movie: Even though the cast is strong, a lot of players sort of get shunted away for long stretches, not to be seen. Rogue’s gone for most of the last act. Cyclops is gone for an hour. Even Patrick Stewart, one of the cast’s heaviest hitters, is relegated to hypnotized-talk for a good long stretch.
Chris: Yes! Cyclops is just absent from the story for an hour! We complained about Storm not having much to do in the first movie, but at least she’s there. Jean’s death — such as it is — should be a big story for him, but Marsden really only gets, what, two scenes to do some real acting?
Matt: Yeah, and Stewart only gets one really good scene with McKellen. To be fair, it is a hum-dinger, though. Come to think of it, even Alan Cumming gets a pretty limited amount of screentime.
Chris: I understand wanting to showcase guys like McKellen and Jackman as your pivotal characters, but the expense to the rest of the ensemble is really noticeable in this one. It almost makes me wish they had a full season of an hour-long drama – something that would be insane for the X-Men in 2003 but actually seems kind of reasonable here in the grim darkness of 2012 – to handle this story. As strong as the character work is, there are a lot of characters that just don’t interact.
Matt: I think that shows in how we haven’t even really talked much about Jackman’s performance, even though it was just as good as last time. It’s crazy when a movie’s big fault is having too many good actors.
Chris: Also, I was really expecting to see more Uniting among the X-Men.
Matt: Even when they were United, they were Divided. X÷2.
Chris: Despite not quite sticking the landing, X2 holds up pretty well.
Matt: I can totally see why people regarded it as the best superhero movie ever at the time. The seams sort of show now, with superheroes being a full-on movie genre with a handful of releases every year. But it set a standard.
Chris: Honestly, I think it still compares favorably to what Marvel’s done with movies like Captain America, Thor and Iron Man since. Not to short-change Spider-Man and Blade, but I really don’t think we’d be seeing an Avengers franchise if this movie hadn’t been done this well.
Matt: True enough, but two weeks ago, I said I wanted to see how this compares to my memory, and honestly, it doesn’t really live up to it. It’s not bad by any stretch, but it’s also not exactly an airtight script. The same sorts of plot holes people raked TDKR over the coals for are in here, even earlier in the movie, like when Magneto’s just out in that field.
Chris: It actually held up better than I remembered. I’d forgotten a lot of the plot holes – again, that last act is so flimsy it might’ve been shot on balsa wood – but I’d forgotten a lot of the really good stuff, too. I think we can agree that it’s the performances that really save it. Bryan Singer has a real gift for casting; even Superman Returns had a pretty solid crop of actors trying to polish that piece of crap.
Matt: And this one had the benefit of giving everyone pretty good dialogue to work with, along with an overall plot that didn’t involve butt crack removal from the Statue of Liberty, so it was definitely an improvement over the last one. But you have to wonder: With mostly the same cast, how is the next movie so bad?
Chris: Hoo boy. If we were able to find this many flaws in X-Men 2, a movie that’s actually pretty good, I am absolutely dreading going back to X-Men 3: The Last Stand.
Matt: Our readers revel in that dread.
Chris: Well then, readers, join us next week, as we tackle the single most incomprehensible interpretation of the Dark Phoenix Saga ever! And if you’ve been reading comics for more than, say, five minutes, you’ll know how terrifying that is.
ComicsAlliance Reviews the X-Men Films: