X2: X-Men United (2003) (PG-13)

It's impossible to escape superhero movies...they're everywhere. It's the onslaught of mindless entertainment that never ceases to thrill audiences; but we all know that they're slipping into something far more detestable. Perhaps "The Avengers" is to blame, after all it proved that devoted fans will see a film time and time again, making it one of the most profitable movies ever made. It has nice action, fun times; but is in no way a masterpiece. Nolan spoils us all.
Yet we wouldn't have the barrage of films from this sub-genre (slowly turning into its own genre) if it weren't for movies like Bryan Singer's "X-Men" and "X2: X-Men United". With these films, he ushered in the renaissance of superhero films...making them darker, more action-packed, and filled with thrills. After "X-Men"'s release in 2000 would come "Spider-Man" and later Nolan's "Batman Begins" and finally the visual beating we have been getting in the past two years...but it really all began with Bryan Singer and some sharp knives.
With "X-Men", Singer introduced the characters; but with "X2" he expounds on them. There is no need for evolution or background, we have everything we need to start. The characters are all fully-realized and ready for action.
"X2", after a short prologue from Professor X (Patrick Stewart), drops us in on one of the greatest action sequences in superhero movies...a magnificent assault on the White House. While no one is killed, it's clear that mutants can sometimes be a danger to humans. It's hypothesized (and easily seen) that "X-Men" was all about gay rights; but instead of movies like "District 9" and "Elysium" which sometimes got lost in their allegories, the "X-Men" movies never preach too much...I'm very thankful for that. They are action movies made to entertain audiences and, should any one want, bring forth more than their face value under analysis.
Magneto (Ian McKellen) has been locked up and is sulking under the tyrannical thumb of William Stryker (Brian Cox), an Army scientist whose speciality is dealing with mutants. Magneto is experiencing first-hand some of the cruel and unethical devices that Stryker uses on mutants to make them talk.
Professor X is having problems of his own, his school is becoming a source of attention for those who don't approve of mutants; and a general sense of foreboding has overcome all the students and pupils alike.
It soon becomes clear that a war will have to be waged, one involving girls who walk through walls, men with knives in their hands, women who can control the weather, and people who can transport in space.
There are not too many new characters from "X-Men" to "X2", it builds on the foundation already laid quite nicely. This is one movie where the sequel is much better than the original. "X-Men" was enjoyable in its own way but "X2" blows it out of the water in every scene. This isn't to say that the sequel is faultless, far from it, there is some very stilted dialogue (mostly given to  Famke Janssen's Jean Grey and James Marsden's Cyclops); but it pales in comparison with the action sequences. The fight scenes are riveting and not in need on tons of CGI and dumb explosion (Zack Snyder, please take note). Martial arts meets slick characters and the battle of the voices continues. Seriously, can you three men with better voices than Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, and Brian Cox? We are just one Michael Gambon and one Christopher Lee away from being in a great place...my thought is that all those actors would create an alternate universe where there people can say words like "bumble" all day long and be happy—sounds pretty good to me.
The effects may look a little jaded now, but I'll take them over the barrage of images and incredibly shaky camera work that infects our action movies now...I mean, even "Pacific Rim" couldn't let us stand back far enough to actually see how big its monsters were.
Instead, Singer uses a sleek looking way of shooting. We can amazing pans, great angles, and no shaky cams...thank you, Mr. Singer. Perhaps the credit should go to Singer's cinematographer Newton Thomas Siegel who also did "The Usual Suspects" and "Drive"—the man knows how to make a movie look great.
Suddenly, it all makes sense, why Siegel an Singer let us watch the feet and legs of figures descending poorly lit staircase—they are recapturing the beautiful "noir" (for lack of a better word) of "The Usual Suspects" and wrapping it up in an amazing adventure film.
There is no particular attribute of the film that sticks out more than the rest, but every aspect of the film is rock solid...making "X2" a superhero movie that lives up to its material—it is super.
Considering the superhero movies released just this year: "Man of Steel", "Iron Man 3", "Thor: The Dark World", and the plans for the superhero films to come like the new Captain American film (one, for the record, I am dreading), the new Avengers movie, and "Superman vs. Batman" which has whipped up its own cloud of controversy (Ben Affleck? Superman vs. Batman? Is Zack Snyder out of his mind? When is it going to stop?), it's too easy for me to wish for the years prior when a superhero movie came out only every so often and was actually worth something. "X2: X-Men United" remains one of the best superhero movies ever made and perfectly entertaining on all counts.

Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

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