X-Men 2: X-Men United (2003)

Rating: ***
Release Date: 5/2/03
Director: Bryan Singer
Screenplay: David Hayter
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Alan Cumming, Kelly Hu

An enjoyable, but disappointing victim of sequelitis. A military scientist and avid mutant hater named William Stryker launches a full scale assault on mutantkind, which involves kidnapping Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and exploiting his talents with Cerebro. While Cyclops (James Marsden) and Xavier tangle with Stryker, Storm (a much improved Halle Berry) and Jean Grey (delicious Famke Janssen) are tracking down Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming), Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) helps Magneto (Ian McKellen) break out of prison, and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is babysitting the kids at the mansion. Eventually, all of these separate threads come together, resulting in an all out attack on Stryker's secret base.

The film has a lot of good things going for it, most notably the dramatically improved performance by Halle Berry (as well as a much better wig), who drops the faux accent from the last film and focuses more on the strength and intensity of her character. Famke Janssen, James Marsden, and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos also show improvement and growth with their performances and fit comfortably into their roles. And as you would expect, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen give excellent and rock-steady performances. Unfortunately, the two most impressive players from the first film, Hugh Jackman and Anna Paquin, are a bit of a letdown. While still able to channel some impressive rage, Wolverine is more clean cut, rational, and mature in this film, as opposed to the rugged loose cannon loner that he was in the original. And at the same time, he's also much more violent and less emotionally vulnerable. All in all, Wolverine just comes off as a flat and uninteresting killing machine this time around. And Rogue (Paquin) spends the whole movie just being a teenage girl in love, so she has very little to do. The impossibly pretty and woefully underutilized Kelly Hu is also a huge disappointment.

As is often the case with sequels of successful films, this one feels like too many people were involved, resulting in a dumbed down script and a mind-numbing barrage of visual effects that attempt to distract the viewer from the formulaic and rather uninteresting story. While the effects are impressive, they serve more as eye candy than as elements to support the plot and characters. Sadly, the biggest disappointment is found in the action sequences, and Corey Yuen's expertise is sorely missed this time around. The cuts are fast and the choreography is uninteresting, so most of the time you can't tell what's going on and at the same time you don't really care. The fight between Wolverine and Lady Deathstrike could have been (and perhaps should have been) the highlight of the film if it had been crafted more skillfully. The story also lacks grace and subtlety, and the Kafka-esque presentation of societal rejection is about as subtle as being slapped in the face with a fish. Like many sequels, this one is bigger, louder, and in your face, all at the expense of a compelling story and emotional depth. Still, for all of its minor flaws, "X-Men 2" is a fun and exciting diversion.

Most memorable quote: "Never trust a pretty girl. Especially one who's interested in you."