X2: X-Men United, still directed by the same professional asshole, is an example of a sequel that surpasses the original. I’ve always complained about the X-Men movies being low-key Wolverine films, and while that still somewhat applies to this movie, I forgot how much more of an ensemble this movie is. Characters like Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming), Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Storm (Halle Berry), and Magneto (Ian McKellen) get plenty of screen time and character development that adds to the team element that I feel these movies should have more of. Some of the characters get sidelined, looking at Cyclops here who gets the Hawkeye treatment of being brainwashed by the villain early on and then doing absolutely nothing, but all in all this movie does an excellent job of building up the fact that this is a team, not a solo effort. Hell, we even have Magneto acknowledging the Wolverine-centric previous movie by saying, “You still think this is all about you,” this is probably paraphrasing, but it stands to show that this movie is attempting to be more about the team than just one character.
The plot of this movie follows the themes that the previous movie established, dealing with people’s intolerance of mutants and the lengths they will go to eliminate that threat. Following a threat on the President’s life by a brainwashed Nightcrawler–an excellent scene that remains one of my favorite comic book movie moments–people begin fearing mutants even more which makes the President contact a man named William Stryker. William Stryker, played wonderfully by Brian Cox, is an excellent antagonist. He not only serves as a threat to mutant-kind but is also a shadowy figure from Wolverine’s past that adds a layer of mystery to the action elements of the story. While Stryker’s nefarious goal seems generic, eliminate all mutants, the villain is given a clear motive and we see what dangerous lengths prejudice can lead to.
One of my favorite aspects of this movie has always been the team up the X-Men have with Magneto and Mystique, the only remaining members of Magneto’s Brotherhood–they get a new addition at the end with Pyro joining the team. This team-up shows that while the X-Men and Magneto have differing goals and methods, their viewpoints are not that different and they are fighting similar fights. We see that Magneto is less of a pure villain and more of a misguided man that has been corrupted by the darkness he has witnessed over his lifetime. We even see Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) getting some deeper character development with limited screen time. We know that she is someone that has been judged by her appearance, and based on her brief conversation with Nightcrawler we gain some sympathy for her even though she has been apart of some atrocious acts. This movie gives mutants a common enemy in William Stryker allowing for the filmmakers to develop the world.
X2 is an improvement on a movie that was already good. The characters are given more screen time and the filmmakers build out the world by giving the mutants a common enemy in William Stryker. The movie ends with a set-up for a sequel, and I can already tell you that payoff is not worth it–that review will be coming soon.