Tuesday, May 13, 2014

X-Men Retrospective: X2 - X-Men United (2003)

X2: X-Men United
Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Brian Cox, Ian McKellan, Patrick Stewart, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, Rebecca Romijn, James Marsden, Halle Berry, Alan Cumming, Shawn Ashmore, Kelly Hu
Rated: PG-13

You know all those dangerous mutants you hear about in the news?  I'm the worst one.

The comic superhero films were starting to expand and it was indeed time for the X-Men to return.  2003 also saw live actions versions of the Hulk and Daredevil step into the light.  The first X-Men did leave on sort of a cliffhanger, but not such a big one that if the movie failed people would be extremely pissed that another one wasn't on the horizon.  It was a pretty self contained story that ended on the hopeful notion that more stories would be told.
When X2 kicked off summer 2003, I was a broke ass college kid.  I wanted to see it really bad, but financially it wasn't going to be in the cards that weekend.  Alas, my boss at Circuit City really wanted to go and had nobody to see it with (why is it so socially unacceptable to go see a movie in the theater by yourself, but if you rent or buy one and watch it at home that's ok?), so he offered to buy me a ticket if I'd go with him.  I'd also have to be hush hush about it because you know retail...can't have employees and managers fraternizing.  Apparently its bad business.  So, I not only got to see it, but got to see the first showing of the day that friday.  When we left the movie, I got to witness my manager get pissed at the car parked next to him for parking to close and opened his door and slammed it many times against it to...I dunno...teach it a lesson?
Anywho, Bryan Singer crafted one of the hands down, inarguable, sequels that topped the original.  Gone is having to tell origins, and he made a film that focused on a smaller more personal story in the X-Men universe.  He wasn't afraid to sideline a few characters and split others up in favor of expanding upon others and creating a balance so as to not overcrowd the story at hand.  While this is primarily Wolverine's story, it never truly feels it.  Everybody feels like they contribute and that they count here.  
X2 introduces Nightcrawler to the fold.  He's an iconic X-Man, but I was never really too big on the character and his power.  UNTIL THIS MOVIE!  Holy crap that opening number is terrific.  And it makes his mutant power incredibly, INCREDIBLY badass.  Also, Lady Deathstrike is brought and she is incredible cool.  Her and Wolverine have possibly the best 1 on 1 mutant vs mutant fight of the entire series.  There is also natural character growth and development with Iceman, Rogue and Pyro too.  Singer really seemed to know what worked with this universe and relished in it.The one thing I think we need to give him credit for in his first two movies, is his sense of restraint and not going buckwild with mutants and their powers.  He treats the characters very much as action heroes first and they just happen to have mutant powers.  The powers are used when necessary and when needed.  His approach to the characters is very much respectful to the teachings of Charles Xavier, which is really cool.
I've always thought of X2 as The Wrath Of Khan of comic superhero movies.  And I really feel that was the template for Bryan Singer on this movie (Singer is a Trekkie).  They may have said they envisioned The Empire Strikes Back with this film, but the only similarity in the template I see is the group splitting up. I can't deny I see Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan even more.  Beat by beat and plot points all resemble the Star Trek sequel to me.  And if Jean Grey's sacrifice at the end of the film to save the ship doesn't confirm "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few" I don't know what to tell ya.  And damn, if that isn't a heartbreaking scene.  It's all there, and its a fantastic and fitting tribute to one of the greatest science fiction movies of all time from one of the greatest comic superhero movies of all time.
What's great about this movie is that its a focused story that sits on its own.  There are no bigger repercussions, its not here for the sole purpose of leading to something else.  Yes, the Dark Phoenix stuff is planted here in this movie and teased at the end, but it not the sole purpose of the movie, just a part of that character's journey and possible future.  This film is entirely self contained.  What's left at the end with Jean Grey and Pyro is just character movement and a bit of set up.  When I left X2, I got this great feeling that "Wow, they are going to make like 10 of these movies!" which was awesome.  I liked the idea of just keeping it going.  Too many movie franchises at the time (and still today, to some degree) were hung up on trilogies.  Like, the perfect number is 3 and then you cap off and you're done.  And some stories do work that way.  But most comic superhero stories don't function like that.  Singer got that X-Men wasn't that simple, that there's no "perfect ending" in sight.  X2 felt like the 2nd year of a long life as opposed to the middle chapter of a 3 part story.  The possibilities were endless.  And it looked like the Phoenix saga was possibly going to be approached with the next entry!  So much excitement lied ahead for this franchise!

Next Time:  Oh, so this is a trilogy?

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