© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.

      When the first X-MEN movie was released, I caught some flak for
calling it the year's guilty pleasure. Sure, there were some problems with
the movie, but overall, it captured the spirit of the comic books and it
featured some strong performances, including those of Hugh Jackman and
Anna Paquin. So it wasn't a stretch to say that I was looking forward to the
second installment, hoping for a richer, deeper entry into the franchise.
While most of the original talent signed up for the sequel (including director
Bryan Singer), the cast had undergone a bit of a sea change. Jackman had
become a bona fide movie star, Ian McKellen anchored
films, and Halle Berry had won an Academy Award.

      The pressure was on Singer and company to top the first film, and in
some ways, they have, but at a price. Although there were reports of
numerous writers on the first installment, only Michael Hayter received on
screen credit. With the second part, Hayter is one of three credited
screenwriters (with Michael Doughtery & Dan Harris) and three story writers
(with Singer and Zak Penn). That's a lot of writers and unfortunately the
results are up there on the big screen. While there is a consistent tone
X2: X-MEN UNITED tries too hard to pack in a great deal of story. While you
watch it unfold, you get caught up in the many facets of the tale, but once
out of the theater, you realize that much of the film is imminently   

      There are just too many figures vying for screen time. Whereas in the
first film, the stories dovetailed nicely, in the second, they don't completely
come together. Once again, though, Jackman's Wolverine dominates. There's
no doubt that this Australian actor has charisma and star quality (he
managed to display these characteristics in lesser romantic fare like
KATE & LEOPOLD and SOMEONE LIKE YOU.) I missed the interplay with
Anna Paquin's Rogue (which was at the heart of the first film), and the
attempt to create some tension with the romantic rivalry between
Wolverine and Cyclops (James Marsden) over Jean Grey (Famke Janssen)
is dissipated with the disappearance of Cyclops for much of the film.

      It doesn't help that the role of Storm has been built up as befitting an
Oscar-winning actress, but I've never been much impressed with Ms. Berry's
thespian abilities and here she barely registers. Even such powerhouses as
Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen are given little to do. Veterans Rebecca
Romijn-Stamos, as the shape-shifting Mystique, and Famke Janssen as
the telepathic Jean Grey do yeoman work.

      Of the new additions to the cast, Brian Cox offers yet another in his
gallery of villains, playing right-wing military officer William Stryker who is
out to destroy the mutants. Alan Cumming is amusing as the German-
accented Nightcrawler, whose allegiance is questionable. Kelly Hu looks
terrific but has little to do as Deathstryke, a sort of distaff version of
Wolverine. Shawn Ashmore (as Iceman) has nice chemistry with Anna
Paquin. Aaron Sandford (the lead in
TADPOLE) makes the most of his role
as Pyro.

      Singer stages some terrific set pieces (as he did in the original),
including a raid of the X-Men school by Stryker's militia and a final
showdown in an arctic environment. Much has also been made of the scene
where Ashmore confesses his secret to his parents (likened by many to
the "coming out" scene in so many gay-themed projects). As previously
stated, though, there are just too many characters on the crowded canvas,
so there's barely time for the audience to do anything more than allow
themselves to be swept up in the storytelling.
X2 is the equivalent of a
theme park ride; it's great fun while you're on the ride, but afterwards,
you might only have fleeting memories.

Rating:                  B-
MPAA Rating:         PG-13 for sci-fi action/violence, some
                                              sexuality and brief language
Running time:         133 minutes

                    Viewed at the Loews 34th Street Cinema