Directed by: Bryan Singer
Written by:Daniel P. Harris
Starring: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellan, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Brian Cox, Alan Cumming, Anna Paquin, Aaron Stanford, Kelly Hu, Bruce Davison, Shawn Ashmore
Released: April 30, 2003
Grade: A-

My major criticism of the first X-Men film was the focus on character introductions rather than plot development.  Now that we’re fully aware of these mutants, we can concentrate on their plight for equality and in this regard, X2 is right on the mark.

Original director Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects) has returned to the series he is using to define his career.  The very opening scene is an action packed visual feast as new mutant Nightcrawler (Cumming) makes an attack on the President at the White House.  At their secret school, mutant leader Professor Charles Xavier (Stewart) is immediately investigating the incident to uncover who is behind it and who would be willing to jeopardise human-mutant relations.  Using both the power of his mind and “cerebra” machine, he tracks the Nightcrawler to Boston and sends Jean (Janssen) and Storm (Berry) to capture him.

They will soon learn that scientist William Stryker (Cox) is out to destroy the world’s mutant population and it was his special drug that enabled him to dictate the actions of Nightcrawler.  To uncover the location of the school and the secrets behind the cerebra machine, he’s using the same controlling techniques on the imprisoned Magneto (McKellan).  Learning the only way to destroy mutants will be to control the mind of Xavier, Stryker uses his military influence to attack the school and kidnap him.

However, due to public demand following the success of X-Men, Wolverine (Jackman) is the central character here.  Following an unsuccessful quest to discover his past, he had only just returned to the school before Stryker’s attack.  He helps fellow mutants Rogue (Paquin), Iceman (Ashmore) and Pyro (Stanford) escape and they begin the quest to find Xavier and restore order to the world of mutants.

At over two hours, X2 is an unrelenting treat for filmgoers.  There are traits of a crappy American summer blockbuster (look to some of the dialogue for examples) but the many unique characters and well-developed plot more than compensate.  Younger cast members are given expanded roles (a deliberate studio intention I’m sure) with Shawn Ashmore as Ice Man, Anna Paquin as Rogue and Aaron Stanford as Pyro leading the charge.  On sheer acting ability though, I cannot go past the amazing Ian McKellan as Magneto – every moment on screen was a treasure.

I believe there are two features of the X-Men that separate them from other superheros, making the series ideal for a screen adaptation.  Firstly, there isn’t a single hero.  Director Bryan Singer understands there are many characters who all have an important part in this story.  With editor John Ottman and cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel they use the action scenes to give everyone a chance to fully display their wide array of mutant talents.  Secondly, while there is both hero and villain, there is also that which lies in between.  Magneto and Mystique are the characters I specifically refer to and their intriguing unpredictability is a valuable asset.

In Australia, the film has been released one day earlier than the traditional Thursday to help ease the expected weekend cinema congestion.  Before trekking off to see it, I’d advise rewatching the original film as no time is wasted here explaining the past.  X2 deserves to be a success and a combination of marketing and word-of-mouth will ensure it will be.  In one of those rare moments I find myself already anticipating, which much eagerness, the next instalment.