3 out of 5
Directed by: Bryan Singer
X2 is, right off the bat, more confident than the first X-Men flick, and it gives the film an automatic appeal, a rush that’s earned from its balletic opening Nightcrawler action sequence and its kick into its title sequence, with a booming, thrilling score from John Ottman, besting Michael Kamen’s more understated X-Men score.
Director Bryan Singer had earned this confidence: the preceding flick was likely the dawn of mainstream comic movies, legitimizing the format and keying on the juggle between fandom and general audience acceptance; X2 doesn’t have to waste its time with explanations or hand-holding, and can instead be more colorful, and less reliant on lamp-shadey one-liners. Nightcrawler is a mutant and can flit to and fro; Professor Xavier is out in public running a school for “gifted” children and Jean Grey and Cyclops can tour museums with their mutant students; it’s all out in the open, and X2 is even assured enough that you don’t need to be expositorily told that Mystique is masquerading as the senator, or that Magneto is still in jail.
However, where X-Men sort of misplaced its plot emphasis when trying (and generally succeeding) to ground its characters, X2 has sort of the flip-flop problem of trying to go forward on story in too many directions; there’s a point where the movie’s bravado-fueled head of steam hits a hard stop and the various threads its been working on – Jean Grey’s troublesome power spikes; breaking Magneto out of jail; Wolverine’s mysterious past; this kill-all-mutants Stryker fellow – are all stewed together and spat back out.
This mish-mash is evident even from that first great scene: Singer’s camera bounces around the Oval Office perfectly, capturing the chaos, and then we go in to slo-mo for a glory shot, a victory lap. It’s undeniably cool, but it’s also kind of unnecessary. This is the same mentality that encourages the go-ahead on the too-many story beats, when focusing on one would’ve probably been better. By the time we get to a mutant who’s been recruited to manipulate other mutants – another mish-mash, this time of various comic book characters in to one, which massively puzzled me as a kid – none of it really feels like it matters. But there’s that confidence again – our director knows the moves now, and keeps things rather snappily moving along for two hours, peaking in some amazing fight scenes and a better balancing of mutants than before (though Cyclops gets completely sidelined…).
X2 is a better movie than X-Men pretty much solely because of this burly, assured style. It has better plot ideas than the first flick as well, but none of them gain much traction, distracting us with fancy filmic footwork instead. I’m entertained the entire way through, which is mostly its goal – achieved while looking good and sounding good – I just wish the last half of the movie was as memorable as those first few minutes.