Monday, May 12, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—X2: X-Men United (2003) ***½

PG-13, 133 min.
Director: Bryan Singer
Writers: Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris, David Hayter, Zak Penn, Bryan Singer
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Halle Barry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Bryan Cox, Rebecca Romijn, Anna Paquin, Alan Cumming, Aaron Stanford, Shawn Ashmore, Kelly Hu, Michael Reid McKay

If anything, “X2” stands up after eleven years very well. Other than the hairdressers still forcing Hugh Jackman to try and replicated Wolverine’s hairdo—or rather “hair don’t,” if you know what I mean—from the comic books this could be the latest X-Men movie in terms of keeping pace with the other movies of the cinematic comic book craze it helped to develop. The action is solid. The effects are great, and the story outdoes the original “X-Men” by a longshot. It builds mythology. It delves secrets. It raises more questions than it answers, leaving the need for more movies. But, that doesn’t stop it from answering some key questions as well. It’s exciting and it has something to say.

So far, “X2” has been the best X-Men movie produced. It’s interesting to speculate. Since “X-Men: First Class” harkened back to the opening scene of “X-Men”, will “X-Men: Days of Future Past” key into certain points of “X2”. It is director/co-writer Bryan Singer’s first time back with the franchise since this one. I wonder.

What I don’t wonder about is whether Bryan Singer is a good fit for the X-Men series. The director of three of them now, including this, the best; I have no doubt that if he hadn’t left to do the least appreciated Superman movie, he wouldn’t have produced the least appreciated X-Men movie in “X-Men: The Last Stand”, but more on that when I review it.

Singer has a good grasp on what the X-Men are about, and even more importantly, what their fans want out of them. First and foremost it is an ensemble that incorporates a great number of characters and abilities. Singer has an innate ability to juggle a great number of characters and storylines that supersede anyone else’s who has tackled the mutants. Brett Ratner’s “Last Stand” drowned in its cast. Gavin Hood’s “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” was too wrapped up in its action. Even Matthew Vaughn’s wonderful “X-Men: First Class” did not excel at this attribute of the X-Men universe. It was talkier and less action oriented than Singer’s X-Men movies, and why do fans want to see all these characters if not to see them in action. Only James Mangold was smart enough not to try and match Singer’s formula and trimmed down his cast size for “The Wolverine”.

Still we get Wolverine at the center of things and the burning question of why would this seemingly brute hero would be at the center of everything, at least on the surface. Wolverine has seemed to be the favorite X-Men since the early 80s, but the core of it all is the prejudice analogy, and that’s where the events of “X2” are really focused. Wolverine, like his persona, is only a fringe element of Stryker’s plot to do away with all mutants, except as slaves, of course. This stuff is rich. It really is.

Anyway… So now I’ve watched the best X-Men movie, hopefully the excitement it has produced will propel me through the least appreciated and the worst, so that I can once again enjoy the most recent two and have my mind blown by Singer’s return.

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