aka X2 : USA 2003 : Bryan SINGER : 135 mins
As megabudget movie franchises go, X-Men is more satisfying than most: spectacular in its effects and action sequences, nimbly juggling serious and comic elements, carefully distinguishing between its many characters – most of whom, as genetic mutants, have ‘cool’ supernatural abilities – and paying plenty of attention to the smaller details. It’s typical of director Singer’s approach that, despite virtually wall-to-wall pyrotechnics and eye-popping battles, perhaps the most memorable single image is a throwaway little bit in which a household cat frantically licks a small, revolving block of round ice that was, seconds before, a steaming cup of coffee.
This nifty instant transformation is effected by Bobby Drake, AKA Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), one of a handful of new characters drafted in alongside the returning stars of the first X-Men picture, including the series’ main anti-hero: the snarling, bad-tempered but fundamentally decent Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). Whereas last time the battle was between good and bad mutants – respectively led by Prof Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) – here the two sides unite to foil the genocidal plans of military scientist General Stryker (Brian Cox), who sees all mutants as an unacceptable threat to ‘normal’ humanity.
This isn’t a terrible set-up by any means, but since this 135-minute sequel has in theory a much bigger canvas to work on than the first movie’s relatively lean 104 minutes, it’s disappointing that the film’s writers (story by David Hayter, script by Michael Dougherty & Daniel Harris) couldn’t come up with something rather more epic to fill the extended running time. X-Men 2 never drags, exactly – the large number of characters means there’s invariably somebody in peril and others running to their aid – but, as with the first movie, there’s the sense that the film-makers are spending too much time setting up future instalments and not quite concentrating on the job in hand.
The result is a perfectly watchable, often exciting superhero action picture – but only a small handful of scenes (such as Magneto’s ingenious escape from his plastic prison) break through to the next level and show what the whole might have been. Luckily for Singer and company, the ending – in which a major character (apparently) sacrifices his/her life for the rest of the team – is one of the better sequences, though it might have worked slightly better if we were clearer as to the nature and extent of this particular character’s powers.
There are other minor niggles which suggest slightly panicky script rewrites, such as the under-powered romantic stuff between Iceman and Rogue (Anna Paquin), and between Wolverine and Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) – token entanglements whose main function is to frustrate audiences impatient for the next action set-piece. Likewise, we get rather too much of the amnesiac Wolverine flashing back to the painful surgical procedure that made him the way he is – a subplot that doesn’t really lead anywhere surprising or worthwhile. And it’s just lazy scriptwriting to have Prof Xavier yet again spend most of the film held prisoner and/or incapacitated.
Then again, X-Men is a tricky comic-book to adapt, having already piled up decades of convoluted plots involving many more characters than the core ‘crew’ seen so far in the movies. Singer and his scriptwriters must forge a new mythology from these tales that manages to please both fanatical comic-book devotees and worldwide mainstream audiences who can’t tell their Colossus from their Apocalypse and couldn’t care less about the fact. So far, so good – but right now audiences would be forgiven for feeling that like that cat licking the frozen cup of coffee: satisfied with the tingly sensations of the surface, but gradually growing impatient for a change to something slightly more nourishing.
23rd April, 2003
(seen same day: Warner Village, Clifton Moor, York)
by Neil Young