A blog dedicated to the discussion of films and pop culture.
Wednesday, 21 May 2014
Series Retrospective on the X-Men Film Franchise: X2: X-Men United (2003)
X-Men United (henceforth known as X2)
was the first major superhero sequel of the last decade, coming out one year
before Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. Similar to Spider-Man 2,
the best elements of its predecessor and refines them, crafting something more
complex and polished cinematically. In my retrospective on 2000’s X-Men I said that film felt like
director Bryan Singer figuring out a style and tone for the series. With
X2 Singer, now with a bigger budget, balanced huge set pieces with intelligent
social commentary and human drama, crafting a complex and entertaining
blockbuster for the thinking movie goer. X2 ranks, along with Spider-Man
the best superhero sequels- and is a very fine film in general.
picks up not too long after the events of X-Men. Logan/Wolverine (Hugh
Jackman) is searching for clues to his past. We discover, as the film moves
along, that Logan’s search for answers will tie in to the larger plot of the
film. The United States President is almost assassinated by a mutant named Kurt
Wagner, also known as Nightcrawler. He’s a teleporter who’s been brainwashed by
Colonel William Stryker (Brian Cox). Stryker uses the assassination attempt to
convince the President to allow him to invade Professor Charles Xavier’s
(Patrick Stewart) mansion. Stryker kidnaps Xavier and Cyclops/Scott Summers
(James Marsden) when Xavier comes to visit Magneto (Ian McKellen) in prison. Earlier
Stryker had interrogated Magneto to gain information on Cerebro, the machine
which Xavier uses to find other mutants. Stryker has built another Cerebro and
plans to use Xavier to kill all mutants. Stryker blames Xavier for not “curing”
his son Jason of his mutant abilities. After returning from Xavier's school Jason projected images in to Stryker
and his wife’s mind, resulting in Stryker’s wife committing suicide. Stryker lobotomized
Jason and will use Jason’s abilities to manipulate Xavier in to using Cerebro.
one of the most underrated villains in a superhero film. Even if we don’t like
him, his motivations are clear and despite his cruelty we can understand and
partly sympathize with his hatred for mutants. Casting Cox was a wise decision
on Singer’s part. Cox brings texture and nuances to the character, making Stryker
a commanding and menacing presence in the film.
I wish Xavier
had more to do in the film than just be kidnapped. However, I love that via
Stryker the film emphasizes that despite the admiration Xavier has gained
throughout the years he’s had horrible failures in his past. For all the
mutants he’s set down the right path, there are those like Jason and Magneto
who went down a darker path.
is one of the best examples of having two villains in a superhero film and
making it work. A big reason why it works is that Stryker and Magneto represent
what each hates the most and what they see as the worst of each other’s kind.
They both have understandable and sympathetic reasons for the way they are and
both are unshakable in their views. Magneto has to team up with the X-Men to
stop Stryker’s plan- but then uses Xavier and Cerebro to eliminate humans. The trade
off from Stryker being the enemy to Magneto turning Stryker's plan against him is organic to
the narrative of the film and doesn’t feel contrived.
Singer does a
fabulous job of balancing the film’s multiple plot lines. He brings these
threads all together organically as the film progresses and climaxes them at Alkali
Lake, where we see Logan at the beginning of the film. It’s a clever bit of
screenwriting to have the film begin where it eventually concludes. Logan doesn’t
realize what he was searching for was underneath him right from the start. It
can be a little contrived to have the hero and villain’s back stories linked
together but X2 is able to make the connection between Logan and Stryker work. Logan’s
character arc through the first film was about him becoming part of something
bigger than himself and growing to care about others. But at the end of the
film he was still haunted by his past. This film concludes Logan’s arc from the
first film by having him turn his back on the past, accepting the present and finally
taking a firm place amongst the X-Men.
action was fine in X-Men, Singer takes it up several levels for X2. From the beginning of
the film, with Nightcrawler teleporting around the white house and taking down
secret service, we can tell that the action in this film is going to be much
more spectacular than in the previous film. I love the Logan/Lady Deathstrike
(Kelly Hu) fight as well and the mansion invasion captures the fear and
confusion when a place of safety is violated.
It does feel
like the filmmakers didn’t know what to do with Cyclops other than have him
brainwashed and appear at the climax of the film as a threat. This plot line
doesn’t really go anywhere and ultimately robs Cyclops of a larger role in the story. And I don’t
think these films ever made sense of why Logan was so infatuated with Jean Grey
(Famke Janssen). I do like the subplot regarding John/Pyro (Aaron Stanford),
one of Xavier’s students who can manipulate fire and eventually joins with Magneto.
The scenes between Rogue (Anna Paquin) and Bobby/Iceman (Shawn Ashmore)- with
the two attempting to have a physical relationship despite Rogue's inability
to touch anyone without taking their powers and nearly killing them- are also
feels more like an art film compared to X2 but X2 never betrays the more
character driven and socially conscious aims of the first film. Rather, it
keeps itself rooted in a real world aesthetic while feeling more properly scaled
for an X-Men film. It allows itself to be entertaining while still attempting
to explore themes of genocide, the demons of the past, the acceptance of the
present- and also, choice. Jean makes a drastic choice at the end of the film,
one that’s heroic and tragic. The third film in the franchise would not fulfill
the promise of this film but on its own terms X2 is still a high point of
the superhero film boom that help defined a decade.