X Marks the Spot a Second Time

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The ‘X-Men’ comic books and cartoon series have attracted a fierce loyalty from fans since its genesis in the 60s. The first X-Men was fervently anticipated by fans, anxious to see how Usual Suspects Director Bryan Singer would adapt their beloved story to screen. Singer did a sterling job, directing a dark, millennial tale that faithfully captured the civil rights sympathies that inspired the original comic series. In the recent DVD, Singer described the first movie as merely a trailer for X2
Beginning with an assassination attempt on the US President by a mutant, X2 has both factions of mutants, those led by Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellan), joining forces to defend themselves against the hostile human government. The vanguard of this campaign is led by a maniacal apotheosis of the military-industrial complex, Stryker (the superb Brian Cox), a figure from Wolverine’s mysterious past who is hell-bent on wiping out what he sees as the mutant threat. Stryker kidnaps Professor X and attempts mutant genocide by abusing X’s telekinetic powers.
X-Men’s strength and versatility lies in its limitless number of characters and issues, which has enabled the stories to evolve over the decades and through different mediums. The problem that Singer faces in translating X-Men to screen is juggling the number of X-Men and the rest of the mutants, and the audience’s ability to keep track of what’s going on. Both are compromised. There is still no Gambit or Beast; two of the best X-Men; and towards the end of the film the strands of the film tangle. Despite so many characters clamouring for attention, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine stands out, stealing scenes with the raw energy of a young Clint Eastwood. The kids are very good, with Anna Paquin returning as Rogue and Aaron Stanford playing an intense, rebellious Pyro to whom Magneto counsels, “You are a god among insects. Never let anyone tell you any different.”
X2 taps into American fears about terrorist attacks, and the strike on Professor X’s school is particularly well-staged. Singer notes well the various analogies between mutation and more prosaic political and cultural concerns. When Iceman ‘comes out’ as a mutant to his parents, his mother asks him, “have you ever tried not being a mutant?” There’s much made of military experimentation and Wolverine’s history, of the really sinister interface between mutants and human technology.
People who haven’t read the comics or watched the cartoons will be nonplussed by X2, but fans should enjoy it. Expect lots more.
ARCHIVE: 2nd Week TT 2003

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