Marvel Movie Madness! Part 11: X2: X-Men United

The series hits its most entertaining heights.

by | June 1, 2011 | Comments

Enter Marvel Movie Madness, wherein Rotten Tomatoes watches all of the significant Marvel movies ever made. Full Marvel Movie Madness list here. Tune in! We give you our thoughts, and you give us yours.

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Part 11: X2: X-Men United (2003, 88% @ 222 reviews)

Directed by Bryan Singer, starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen

Alex: X2 comes out and makes $30 million more opening weekend than X-Men’s. Suddenly, everybody realizes the box office potential of the superhero. X2’s story picks up directly after the original: Wolverine returns to the mutant campus after a fruitless Weapon X origin search, just as Magneto gets involved with a plan to neutralize all non-mutants on Earth.

A government raid on Xavier’s school puts the children in danger but the movie is never cheap or exploitative about it. X2 takes the time to show daily school life and scenes of Wolverine getting to know the kids at school feels authentic. Wolverine’s resulting savage defense of the children becomes much more thrilling. Wolverine kills humans, Magneto fatally pulls iron out of a guard, and Pyro rains destruction on the police at an idyllic suburban home. The first movie was about living in fear and oppression, this one is about lashing out when the blood boils over.

After the raid on Xavier’s school, Singer juggles three separate stories (Jean, Wolverine, and Professor X), sending them towards a snowy showdown in Canada. I like how Singer uses no more establishing shots after this point as to keep the proceedings chaotic and tightly wound. The last 50 minutes of this movie is like a single breathless action scene.

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Luke: X2 is every bit of a satisfying piece with the first film. It’s weighty without being ponderous, philosophical but full of great action sequences (Wolverine vs. Deathstrike, for one), moves at an engaging clip like a chase movie and boasts the same brand of humour among the characters, which works here organically because we already know and love them. Much more than its predecessor, the real villain here isn’t so much Magneto as it is intolerance and government interference, and the film builds sympathy for Erik (one of the few things I think the third movie carried through on) by having him team up with the X-Men to foil Stryker (the always excellent, and here deceptively menacing, Brian Cox.) Some things feel more like seeds planted for the future — the teenage mutants don’t have enough to do in the film’s second half — and new characters — teleporter Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming, amusing) seems to exist as a plot device to bust Xavier out in the climax — are there more or less to expand the universe in the films. But the core bunch are as good as always, with the Jean-Scott-Wolverine love triangle heightened nicely and Magneto and Xavier’s battle for the sympathies of humanity extended to strong effect (I still wanted Storm to do a little more again, but at least she gets to pilot that fantastic jet.)

What’s interesting revisiting X2 is how the emotional impact develops from Stryker’s manipulation of Wolverine’s memories: ironically, the brief flashbacks to Logan’s creation hit harder than anything in X-Men Origins: Wolverine did in its limp entirety. Watching it again I also found Jean’s sacrifice to be pretty moving, which makes me curious to revisit The Last Stand to see if her resurrection as Phoenix capitalizes on any of that feeling (from memory they kind of fudged it). Again, Singer composes this one handsomely (and has his own bit of fun with Iceman’s “coming out”), John Ottman’s score has an even richer classical thump to it, and the thing builds to a pretty deftly cross-cut finale that balances spectacle with character. Visually, the X-Jet’s pursuit through the twister clouds was a highlight; comedically, I loved the moment when Wolverine viciously extends his claws… only to have a house cat tenderly lap at them.

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Tim: You guys pretty much said everything I was thinking about this one. X2 is an outstanding sequel, deepening the world established in the first film while adding some interesting wrinkles. The uneasy alliance between the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Mutants makes for a very tense second half, with allegiances shifting seemingly from moment to moment. I also loved Nightcrawler — playing the haunted, lonely mutant, Alan Cumming’s performance is terrific, and the character is interesting enough to warrant his own movie, so it’s a shame he wasn’t back in The Last Stand. It’s too bad Lady Deathstrike got killed off — I’d love to see her and Wolverine battle it out some more, since they seem evenly matched (and seem to relish their one fight together). Still, the climactic escape is thrilling and moving, and offers further proof that this is a franchise that knows what it’s doing.


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