X2: X-Men United (2003): ***½
Directed by Bryan Singer
Every single review I read of this film--even the positive ones--was wrong. Most described it as a series of action scenes and set-pieces with a plot that only served to string the action together. I'm really not sure what movie everybody else saw, but that's not the film that I saw at all. I saw a freakin' incredible film.
For an "action flick" this film has a surprisingly large amount of slow, thoughtful, emotional downtime. In fact there were actually very few action scenes, and what ones there were didn't really last very long (generally). Thankfully, Singer seems to have found much of his action direction chops this time, and they're much better than the first film's action scenes (particularly the military invasion sequence is very well directed).
The strength of this film is in its depth of character, especially (just like the first one) Wolverine. He's still very much the outsider of these X-Men. He keeps getting thrown into uncomfortable situations that he doesn't know really how to handle, but you can see his eyes working, trying to figure out what the hell he's supposed to do. Early in the film the X-Men leave him alone at the mansion in charge of a bunch of kids, and you can see how little he's looking forward to that. But when the shit hits the fan you can see just how desperate he is not to let these kids down.
Iceman moves to the forefront in this film as a major character, and there's a wonderful sequence where after Wolverine flees with a handful of the kids from the mansion, Iceman suggests they go to his house to regroup and change and whatnot because his parents shouldn't be home. So while Icy and Rogue are changing and whatnot, Wolverine wanders around uncomfortably. He opens the fridge and takes out a beer when suddenly the parents walk in. You can see Wolverine freeze as his face takes on a "Holy shit, how do I explain this?" expression that had me laughing out loud.
Shortly thereafter Iceman has an hilarious and also very moving scene where he "comes out" to his parents about being a mutant. You could substitute the word "mutant" for the word "gay" in this scene and put it in an Oscar winning drama. It's surprisingly effective.
Ian McKellan is back as Magneto, who has seemingly relaxed some from his last outing. He cheerfully joins forces with the X-Men while at the same time trying to divide them. He seems to be having a jolly good time throughout the last half of the film. You even begin to get some sympathy for him until in the end he performs an act that is wholly unforgivable and unbelievably evil in nature. But the way he does it is almost with an attitude of, "I know this'll never work, but it seems like a lark, so what the hell." Magneto and Mystique form such an effective pair here that it made me scratch my head as to why they even bothered including Sabretooth and Toad in the last film; this film proves they were completely unnecessary.
It's indicative of the strength of this film that the very final time the good guy (Wolverine) and the villain (Stryker) see each other it's not during a fight.
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