X2
review by Gregory Avery, 9 May 2003

Sometime during the course of the hectic, striving-to-be-good picture X2, the thought crossed my mind that talented directors such as Sam Raimi and Bryan Singer have spent (or are going to have spent) years toiling away on bringing comic books to the screen. While there's nothing wrong with making movies from comic books, it does not leave a whole lot of time for directors like Singer to bring us films like The Usual Suspects. (Or Apt Pupil, a good-try which nonetheless has some haunting moments in it.) Raimi, who has always managed to find some way to put something noteworthy into each of his films, did one of his best-ever pictures, A Simple Plan, before becoming yoked to doing two Spider-Man films in a row, possibly because the producers were scared of something happening such as when Joel Schumacher took over from Tim Burton on the Batman pictures. Flattering that they consider Raimi to be a competent director with a vision, but, still, the nature of films such as Spider-Man and X-Men are such that they subsume all of a filmmaker's time and energy for years at a time, apiece.

X2 is fortunate in having a great array of considerable talent essaying the roles and a director who knows how to handle them and show them to their best advantage. On the other hand, this is a franchise which, in the end, roils onward, ever onward. After some opening slight-of-hand business set in the Oval Office, the movie proceeds to toss plots and subplots into the air, and it always seems to be trying to show us several things happening in several different places at the same time, and you often feel like you're barely keeping up with it all. (What kind of extra-normal power did Anna Paquin's character have, again, for instance?) Here, the usual hero-nemesis dichotomy between the characters played by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen is thrown a-kilter by the introduction of an even worse enemy -- a U.S. government emissary played by Brian Cox who, it turns out, was responsible for giving Hugh Jackman's character, Logan, a.k.a. Wolverine, the ginsu blades which come out of his hands and thus mark him as a pariah in normal society. McKellen's character -- once again aided by Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, with that beautiful blue full-body makeup that makes her look like an Impressionist canvas come to life -- must ally with the good mutants -- Jackman, Halle Berry, James Marsden, Famke Janssen, et al. -- to stop Cox's character from carrying through with a plan that will snuff them all.

The action and the plot twists-and-turns hurtle forward in a manner which, for the most part, suggests that the movie's trying to get a lot of stuff in while keeping the running time down to such a length that will allow for the maximum number of showings per day at your neighborhood theater. There is little room for anything more than rudimentary shading or development in either the characters (there are about thirteen principle roles -- Bruce Davison, reprising his part from the first film, does a walkthrough!) or the story, although the filmmakers try. Alan Cumming brings affecting melancholy and dimension to a new character, Nightcrawler, who can transport himself from place to place with a puff of powder and smoke, and has Queequeg-like skin decorations across his (blue-skinned) body; Famke Janssen achieves an admirable sense of nobility during the concluding scenes; and there's some not-bad staging in the final scene between Jackman and Cox's characters. Still, you can't get away from the fact that you're watching a great many people spending a good deal of time and effort on a story where people and places are named Magneto and Cerebro.

I don't think Marvel ever intended X-Men to be anything more than diversionary, if not disposable, entertainment. How seriously are we supposed to take the movie? Not very, I think. But, twenty-five years later, what one remembers most about the 1978 Superman is not the story (which was more of a mess than the one, here, could ever be) but the wonderful and graceful chemistry that was allowed to develop between Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeve on the screen. Something like that is what's missing, and missed, in X-2, because there simply isn't enough time or room for it, and I hope that the filmmakers don't think that we haven't stopped caring for things like that.

Directed by:
Bryan Singer

Written by:
Patrick Stewart
Hugh Jackman
Ian McKellen
Halle Berry
Famke Janssen
James Marsden
Rebecca Romijn-Stamos
Anna Paquin
Alan Cumming
Brian Cox

Written by:
Michael Dougherty
Dan Harris
David Hayter
Zak Penn
Bryan Singer

Rated:
PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautioned.
Some material may
be inappropriate for
children under 13.

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