If the first X-Men film was an attempt to reinvigorate the comic book movie genre then X-Men 2 was an attempt to take it too another level. Quite often sequels can fall into a number of traps. Being too similar, not expanding the universe enough, being too cautious in an attempt to not push away fans. X-Men 2 does none of these things. Everything about this film is bigger than the first, I think Wolverines claws even got longer, and it’s all the better for it. So no mystery as to what I think of the film, it’s a good’un. Hopefully though you’ll read on to read just what makes it so good.
The general criticisms I have for the first film are it’s lack of confidence and it’s rushed character development. Bryan Singer hadn’t done action before and so he was clearly a cautious director using out of date methods for shooting action sequences and seemed afraid to push them to a larger scale than he had set out. The characters, with the exception of Rogue and Wolverine were largely only fleshed out enough for you to get who they were. Luckily the film was fun to watch and had plenty of memorable moments. This sequel had a whole load more cash thrown at it and Singer clearly took on board the criticisms of the first and in my opinion he grew as a director. Everything about this film is done with more impact, both emotional and physical and with a lot more confidence. The opening sequence of the film is a bold statement pretty much saying to directors of other movies “This is what we’ve got, now show us what you can do”. The opening scene has a mind controlled Nightcrawler Bampfing into the White house and going on a telportastic ballet of arse kicking action. I remember being pretty blown away by the scene when I saw it int he cinema and watching it back, barring the slight aging of the effects, it still holds up as a great hook to drag the audience into the film.
Watch this opening scene and just marvel (no pun intended) at how well it is put together. You’re intrigued by the mystery character because he looks unique. The camera work and framing is smooth yet still intense. Every single action Nightcrawler does is something you haven’t seen done on film before, or at least at the time it was. It is honestly one of the best opening action sequences to a film ever produced. This sequence would never have been produced by the man that directed the first film. Bryan Singer studied how to be better at this sort of thing and he nailed it first time.
This isn’t an anomaly for the film either. There’s plenty more well choreographed action and memorable scenes after this. A plane chase through a tornado filled sky, a raid on the X Mansion where Wolverine is fully let rip for the first time in the series and a cool and surprisingly brutal fight between Wolverine and silent antagonist of the week Lady Deathstrike near the films conclusion area few examples. Each action scene is different from the last and each one has the right balance of tension and awesome. The tornado plane scene even makes Storm seem useful in this film. Now I don’t dislike Storm, I just dislike her in these films. She does very little and is near an ancillary character. She has a little more to do in this film than teach some kids and say bad one liners. She still isn’t core to the films story though and feels largely pointless. Even Cyclops, who probably has a total of 10 minutes screentime, still has a purpose due to the lovetriangle between him, Jean Grey and Wolverine and his presence in the finale adds an emotional tug, albeit in a slight manner, for Jean Grey’s action sequence. he really doesn’t actually do much though.
As with the first film Wolverine is the main attraction, and this time he actually earns it many times over. In the first film he’s kind of the lead but is almost along for the ride and is mostly there to help Rogue and save the day. In this film he has a roll as a fighter, as an emotional link for the audience with his fractured memories and a desire to learn just who he is and even as a near father figure for the students of Xavier’s school for gifted youngsters. His caring side comes through when needed but he makes no bones about how dangerous he can be when needed. It’s this desire to be a basically good person that keeps Wolverine interesting. He would like to have a quiet life and be left alone but the nature of his past will not allow that and it usually requires animalistic measures to be dealt with. Also Jackman makes for quite a good comic relief when needed without ever breaking the character.
Magneto doesn’t have as large a villainous role in this film as the original but his constant presence is key to tension for the X-Men themselves. He want to get even with the man that compromised him in his cell and you see him starting to build a new brother hood with his gradual recruiting of Pyro from the X-Men. The real villain of the film is William Stryker (Brian Cox being amazing as usual) who has plans to “cure” Mutant kind by wiping them off the planet. He is a genuinely insane character sharing motives with many a historical genocidal maniac. he even uses his own near lobotomised son to carry out his plan. There’s little to like about him and what makes him truly scary as a villain is that he appears to be in complete control the whole time. I do find it odd though that once again the X-Men are ganging up on some old guy. A trend that the third shares as well.
There really is little to dislike about X-Men 2. It’s a grand movie with a great sense of scale and a much more thoughtfully paced story than the first film. More time is spent evolving the characters and giving them all something worthwhile to do, even if Rogue and Iceman do largely miss out on the finale. If there’s any issue I could take it’s that there is a lot of plot threads referenced and carried over from the first film that aren’t very well explained for people who may not have seen the original. that said the important stuff such as characters and setting are explained and presented very well and there’s enough information to not get lost if you do happen to be someone who missed the first. The extra 30 minute runtime this film has over X-Men is put to good use makign sure that there is more going on with the story and characters to keep things interesting.
Overall this is how sequels should be made for this type of film. Everything is done better and it does a good job setting up a future installment. In fact I’d say you’d have to be a pretty abysmal director to even mess up a sequel to this seeing as so much potential was left at the end to work with. So many plot strands that could build a good sequel. All that would be needed is the skill to keep the characters interesting, develop them well and make sure that what is produced isn’t one of the dumbest pieces of crap ever committed to film. So, tomorrow night, X-Men 3: The Last Stand.