X2 directed by Bryan Singer, written by Michael Dougherty, Daniel P. Harris and Singer from a story by Zak Penn based on characters created by Stan Lee, produced by Lauren Shuler Donner and Ralph Winter, with Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry and Famke Janssen. 123 minutes. A 20th Century Fox film. Opens Friday (May 2). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 74. Rating: NNN
As a non-devotee of comic books in general, I'd rank X2 - that's the onscreen title, and I'm sticking with it - slightly higher than X-Men. It doesn't need to spend a lot of time introducing characters (the only really new figure is Alan Cumming's Nightcrawler), but does have a chance to fill in back story while providing more grandly scaled action sequences.As the story begins, a mutant attempts to assassinate the American president, who then turns loose General William Stryker (Brian Cox) to clean up the "mutant training center" run by Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) in upstate New York.
Then there's a whole bunch of plot about the potential onset of a human-mutant war and some big action sequences in which Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) kills lots of people. It's worth noting that this film has a lot more dead bodies than X-Men. Eventually, Wolverine discovers some dark secrets about his past, secrets he's apparently the last person in the film to know about.
Then there are more chases and big effects sequences, and then more fights, at which point we get the set-up for X3.
X2 is mosty entertaining, and though it's a half-hour longer than the original, it moves at a considerable clip. Effects-wise, I didn't care for the digital planes, which lacked weight, or the watery finale, which was less convincing than the rippling scales during Mystique's transformations; otherwise they're good.
Speaking as someone with no emotional investment in the characters, I'd say the X-Men films are an odd combination of high-toned acting - featuring the duelling Brit accents of Stewart and Ian McKellen snarling polysyllabically at each other - and fetishistic babefest. In this picture Famke Janssen is the plain one (how often can you say that?), since she's up against Halle Berry's Storm and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos's shape-shifting Mystique.
On a historical note, Romijn-Stamos appears in X2 morphed into herself, that is, without the blue paint and with a lot more clothes.
The thing about these films is that they're generally so well-constructed in terms of character that you wish Bryan Singer, director of The Usual Suspects, were doing more adult material. He knows how to make better movies than this.