X2: X-Men United
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Brain Cox, Alan Cumming, Bruce Davison, Shawn Ashmore, Aaron Stanford & Anna Paquin
Director: Bryan Singer
New York University '00
"I don't think you're dumb... I just think at times you're under-exposed to information." -Murphy Brown
X2: X-Men United
Review By: Dan Deevy
X – Men 2: X -Men United
Not being a hard core fan of the original comic book series, I know that my opinions of this movie are going to be different from those of you who can recount exactly what happened in issue number 167! But for all of you out there who don't know everything there is to know about the comic, I think you'd agree with me that this was an amazing movie!
Bryan Singer has again done an excellent job of telling the story of these mutants, these outcasts from society, in a way that makes them accessible to any minority group in the world. Anyone who has ever felt different or set apart for any reason, will see themselves in these characters. And as you watch, you not only see yourself in these characters but through their brave actions, their determination to be accepted for exactly who and what they are, you actually being to feel proud about the things that make you different.
One of the best lines in the entire movie is uttered by the blue-clad Rebecca Romijn-Stamos as the shape shifting Mystique. Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming), asks Mystique if you can make yourself look like everyone else, then why don't you? "Because we shouldn't have to,"Â she responds. And in that response, encapsulates the entire meaning of the film.
Now, of course this is a comic book action movie and it does stand on it's own in that arena with some amazing action sequences, hand to hand battle scenes and special effects that will blow your mind! But in my opinion, what makes this movie great is the fact that it has all this excitement with a real message and real heart behind it.
The reunited cast once again delivers some great performances. The most notable new additions to the cast include two hot young actors who will no doubt be showing up all over the place very shortly after this film; Shawn Ashmore who plays Rogue's love interest the Icey-Hot Bobby Drake, a.k.a. Ice-man and Aaron Stanford as the fire wielding Pyro. Both of whom more than maintain their ground when acting opposite seasoned veteran actors like Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen.
One of the obvious difficulties in making these movies is adding new cast members to the all ready top heavy cast of 8 returning characters. Singer does a much better job of balancing screen time in this film than in the first. This film does justice to just about every character with the exception of Cyclops.
Cyclops, who if I understand it right is supposed to be the leader of the X-Men when Professor X isn't around. Yet somehow he always seems to be left out. James Marsden, who plays Cyclops, gives his best but just isn't on screen enough for his presence to really be felt throughout the
All-in-all though the movie flows very well and doesn't seem to be favoring one or two characters over the others as was the case in the first movie with Wolverine and Rogue. The smaller cameo appearances of future X-Men like Colossus, Siryn and Kitty Pride were great and added that extra special touch that fans will really enjoy.
Looking to the future one can see that just as the first movie laid the ground work for this film, it seems clear that X2 has set the stage for the inevitable third film!
Movie Grade: A-
Original Press Notes
They are the next link in the evolutionary chain. Each was born with a unique genetic mutation, which manifested itself in extraordinary powers. In a world increasingly filled with hatred and prejudice, they are outcasts who are feared and loathed by those who cannot accept their differences. Yet despite society's pervasive ignorance, the X-Men and thousands of mutants across the globe survive.
Under the tutelage of Professor Charles Xavier, the world's most powerful telepath, these "gifted"Â students have learned to control and direct their respective powers for the greater good of mankind. They fight to protect a world that fears them.
In X2, the next adventure in the X-Men saga, the X-Men face their most dangerous mission ever, and must stand united with their enemies to combat a menace that threatens mankind "” and mutantkind.
AN "EVOLUTIONARY"Â LEAP
"X-Men"Â director Bryan Singer was determined to make X2 much more than a traditional sequel. Singer's ambitions for the new film came as no surprise to the studio or to the film's producers; his respect for the comics characters "” the seriousness and weight, as well as enormous fun, with which he approached "X-Men"Â "” had earned the respect of the multitudes of loyal comics fans and millions of moviegoers new to the X-Men universe.
Singer played the genre for real, giving "X-Men"Â a three-dimensional tone and style that served as a template for and inspired the reemergence of films based on comics properties. "Bryan grew to really love the X-Men characters and their universe, so there was no question about him directing X2,"Â says producer Lauren Shuler Donner, who began developing the first "X-Men"Â film nearly a decade ago. Echoes producer Ralph Winter: "Bryan has great insight into what makes the series such a popular piece of pop culture. And his ability to make these characters real "” like they live next door "” even though they possess incredible and sometimes dangerous powers, is pretty extraordinary."Â
For X2, Singer would be painting on the huge canvas of big studio, event moviemaking, enjoying a larger budget and longer shooting schedule than was available for the first film. X2 also would ramp up the action, effects, locations and stunts that had captivated the comics enthusiasts and new fans.
"Like any good comic book, the X-Men universe is designed to expand,"Â Singer continues. "These stories can go on forever. This continuation of the saga has provided me with an opportunity to expand the storylines and the characters "” and to have a lot more fun. X2 is edgier, darker, funnier and more romantic than its predecessor."Â
X2 continues to deal with the themes of tolerance and fear of the unknown, which have been part of the X-Men universe since Stan Lee created the comics 40 years ago. "It's still about misfits, prejudice, about being an outsider and not being understood,"Â notes Lauren Shuler Donner. Adds Bryan Singer, "The 'X-Men' films pose the questions that we all have: Am I alone in the world? Why am I so different, and how am I going to fit in? These questions are universal and timeless, particularly among adolescents. We've all felt at times like mutants."Â
A new theme in X2 is "unity,"Â as the X-Men join forces with a most unlikely ally to combat a new and very human menace. As the story opens, mutants are continuing their struggle with a society that fears and distrusts them. Their cause becomes even more desperate following a shocking attack by an unknown assailant possessing extraordinary abilities. All signs point to the work of a mutant.
The assault renews the political and public outcry for a Mutant Registration Act. Leading the anti-mutant movement now is William Stryker, a wealthy former Army commander and scientist who is rumored to have experimented on mutants.
Stryker's mutant "work"Â is somehow tied to Wolverine's mysterious and forgotten past. As Wolverine searches for clues to his origin, Stryker puts into motion his anti-mutant program beginning with a full-scale military offensive on Xavier's mansion and School for the Gifted. Magneto, newly escaped from the plastic prison he was incarcerated in at the end of "X-Men,"Â proposes a partnership with the X-Men to combat their common and formidable enemy, Stryker.
Re-"uniting"Â from "X-Men"Â are Patrick Stewart (Professor Xavier, the world's most powerful telepath), Hugh Jackman (Wolverine, a solitary fighting machine who possesses amazing healing powers, retractable adamantium claws and an animal-like fury), Ian McKellen (Magneto, a powerful mutant who can control and manipulate metal), Halle Berry (Storm, who can manipulate weather), Famke Janssen
Actor Shawn Ashmore, who was introduced in the first film as Bobby Drake, aka Iceman, a classmate of Rogue's who can lower his body temperature and radiate intense cold, returns in an expanded role as one of the junior X-Men.
In addition to its returning cast, X2 features favorite characters from the vast
X-Men comics universe who are new to the film franchise. Alan Cumming ("The Anniversary Party"Â) joins the cast as Nightcrawler, a mutant who can teleport himself from one place to another; Brian Cox ("The Bourne Identity"Â) plays the villainous Stryker, a former Army commander who holds the key to Wolverine’s past and the future of the X-Men; and Kelly Hu ("The Scorpion King"Â) is Stryker’s assistant, who has her own surprises in store for the heroic team as Deathstrike. Aaron Stanford ("Tadpole) also joins the cast as John Allerdyce, aka Pyro, a promising new student at Professor Xavier’s School for the Gifted, with the formidable ability to manipulate fire.
X2 reunites Bryan Singer with many of the creative production team from the first film. Returning with the acclaimed filmmaker are producers Lauren Shuler Donner and Ralph Winter; plus executive producers Avi Arad, Stan Lee and Tom DeSanto.
A NEW THREAT
X2 takes the central conflict in "X-Men,"Â Xavier's belief in the possibility of peaceful co-existence between humans and mutants, versus Magneto's doctrine of mutant supremacy, to the next level. In the new film, the threat comes not from a powerful mutant, but from a human. "One of the things I wanted to introduce into the story was a human element as the villain,"Â Singer explains. "That menace is a danger to all mutants and, subsequently, to mankind. The conflict is a bold reminder of the prevailing themes in the comic book lore; in this movie, one man's fear of the unknown could lead to a level of intolerance of catastrophic proportions."Â
The one man posing such a formidable threat to the X-Men is William Stryker, a character that ups the ante and makes the stakes higher than they ever were in the original "X-Men."Â
Stryker's insidious plans are revealed when his forces attack Xavier's School for Gifted Children, also know as the "X-Mansion."Â That scene develops from the end of "X-Men,"Â where Xavier and Magneto are seen facing off over a game of chess, in the plastic prison designed to serve as Magneto's final home. Magneto poses a disturbing question, "What will happen if they pass
"Well,"Â says Lauren Shuler Donner, "Stryker and his soldiers are definitely at the mansion and there is definitely going to be some trouble. But that's only the tip of the iceberg for what he ultimately plans for the X-Men."Â
"What I love about Stryker,"Â says Bryan Singer, "is that he is a perfect example of a villain who is not involved in violence or terrorism because of the need for expansionism, or religion or even greed. His hate and bias are based on a deeply personal loss of some aspect of his family. Somewhere in the past some damage was done"Â¦some hit was taken"Â¦and now his desperation makes it easy for him to engage in war against those he thinks are responsible for the destruction of his family."Â
"Stryker is the juiciest of roles,"Â says actor Brian Cox, whose performances in "Manhunter"Â (as the screen's first Hannibal Lector) and in the independent film "L.I.E."Â caught Singer's attention. "He is a man with a secret who behaves in a not particularly pleasant way. He's part scientist, part soldier and quite wealthy to boot, so the role has lots of opportunities to play on all sorts of levels, and that is very appealing to any actor.
"Stryker represents the oppressive, racist and intolerant kind of person that mutants fear most,"Â Cox adds. "He doesn't want to take over the world. He just wants to rid the world of those he feels are responsible for the damage to his family and the downfall of society: mutants. First he wants to control them, then he wants to destroy them."Â
Ironically, Stryker's aide, Yuriko Oyama, aka Deathstrike, is not 100 percent homo sapien. Like another famous mutant, Wolverine, she possesses adamantium claws and amazing healing powers. "Deathstrike and Wolverine are cut from the same cloth,"Â says Singer. "She, too, has had her body and mind experimented on and is a formidable opponent to Wolverine, physically and ideologically."Â
" Deathstrike is an advanced, slicker version of Wolverine,"Â concurs actress Kelly Hu, who dons the mutant's claws (which, unlike Wolverine's, emanate from the character's fingers). "Plus, she's incredibly fast and preternaturally gifted at the martial arts."Â Hu's own black-belt-level martial skills were put to the test during a climactic showdown between the two characters, which took days to choreograph and execute.
A new character with a far gentler nature is Nightcrawler. Raised in a traveling circus, German-born Kurt Wagner looks like a blue-skinned demon, with pointy ears, yellow eyes, hooves and a prehensile tail. Yet he is deeply religious, and has a kind, gentle nature.
Singer considered several other figures from the vast X-Men comics universe, before deciding on Nightcrawler. "I chose Nightcrawler to be in X2 because of the character's fascinating dichotomies,"Â Singer explains. "Both his demon-like looks and religious beliefs are grounds for major ostracizing and prejudice. Who can't relate to that? Plus, he has one of the coolest powers and sound effects."Â
Alan Cumming, who underwent hours of special makeup effects each day to become Nightcrawler, appreciated that the character has more than a few surprises in store for audiences. "Well, when we first meet Nightcrawler he's just not himself,"Â says Cumming, smiling, and alluding to an early plot point. "I quite like playing the parts that appear as bad guys but then it is realized that they are, in fact, good guys who have probably been exploited in some fashion. Nightcrawler is definitely that kind of character.
"I also loved his physicality, because I am a very physical type of actor. I had the great fortune to have a circus trainer work with me on perfecting the acrobatic movements of Nightcrawler. It was quite difficult to find the perfect physicality for the character but also was great fun to have help in creating such extreme movements for a role."Â
THE NEXT GENERATION
A new generation of "Junior X-Men"Â joins the X-Men in the stand against the enormous threat posed by Stryker and Deathstrike. "We have three generations in this film,"Â notes Singer, "and all are prepared to fight in this 'evolution revolution' in order to survive. It's great that we get to pick up where we left off with the older X-Men, like Wolverine, Cyclops and Storm, but it was a lot of fun to introduce the next generation. There is a whole school full of gifted students with extraordinary abilities. The chance to explore some of these younger characters was a great opportunity to enrich the story and, perhaps, the next part of the saga."Â
In a nod to the comics' legions of fans, the filmmakers, including screenwriters Dan Harris & Michael Dougherty, created special cameo appearances for some favorite young X-Men from the comics. Making special appearances are Colossus (who can change his flesh into organic steel), Siryn (who can unleash eardrum-piercing sonic forces through her scream), Kitty Pryde (who can pass through ceilings and walls "” and who was glimpsed briefly in "X-Men"Â), Jubilee (who can control fireworks), and the fork-tongued Artie.
Three of the Junior X-Men become integral members of the team. Rogue, again played by Academy AwardÂ® winner Anna Paquin, is the heart and soul of the new generation.
In fact, Bobby's flirtations with Rogue, as depicted briefly in "X-Men,"Â portend the blossoming of this relationship in X2. According to Shawn Ashmore, who reprises his "X-Men"Â role, Bobby's feelings for Rogue and his experiences as mutant are part of the character's own "evolution."Â
"Bobby's become more comfortable with himself,"Â Ashmore notes, "and there's definitely more of a feeling of being part of the X-Men team. And, he's solidifying his relationship with Rogue. She's become kind of his anchor at school "” and their feelings for one another begin to solidify."Â
While teen romance is rarely easily negotiated, the Rogue/Bobby dynamic presented unique challenges. "Rogue has this 'issue',"Â says Anna Paquin, "that if she touches you, she draws away your energy and can really harm you. So how does she express herself romantically? I really enjoyed exploring that question."Â
While Iceman and Rogue are very much team players, a newcomer to the X-Men, Pyro, projects a more troubled, disaffected, even defiant attitude. Pyro's abilities to manipulate fire are expanding so quickly, they threaten to overwhelm his judgment and belief in the X-Men philosophy.
"I think Pyro is a lot like Wolverine,"Â says Aaron Stanford, whose work in the independent film "Tadpole"Â drew notice and praise from audiences, critics and the X2 filmmakers. "They're both essentially rebels who are not very interested in assimilating within society, whether that society is inside Xavier's school or outside in the real world. I think Pyro has a lot of animosity towards the rest of humanity, and he is struggling with a potentially dangerous inner conflict."Â
Bryan Singer, producers Lauren Shuler Donner and Ralph Winter, and the studio were thrilled that all of the principal actors from "X-Men"Â returned for X2. Hugh Jackman, who rocketed to superstardom after nabbing, at the eleventh hour, the role of Wolverine in "X-Men,"Â continues to make his role a driving force in the X-Men mythology, as the character investigates his mysterious past and dangerous inner conflict. For Jackman, taking on Wolverine was even more fun the second time around.
"Oh, man I had a blast,"Â says the actor. "Wolverine is getting closer and closer to finding out about his past"Â¦the clues are starting to come together"Â¦more and more information is coming his way. He's having more nightmares and more flashbacks so the mental torment is getting stronger, too. Then, out come the emotions
"By the end of the movie, he's got a pretty darn good idea about what his past is all about. Retribution may very well be in store for those responsible."Â
Wolverine also finds things heating up with Jean Grey, as the connection they made in the first film is further explored in X2. "They're connected beyond simple attraction,"Â notes Famke Janssen, returning as the beautiful telepath. "Their relationship is beginning to mature beyond the sexual tension hinted at in 'X-Men.'"Â At the same time, Jean is having some "issues"Â with her powers. "Her experiences at Liberty Island in the first film have changed her, and we explore that in X2,"Â Janssen says.
Jean is caught between Wolverine and her longtime fiancé Scott Summers, aka Cyclops, in a love triangle that gains momentum in X2. "The sparks that have been flying for a long time have turned into a fire in this movie,"Â says James Marsden, who again portrays the visor-clad hero. "But whatever's happening between Jean and Wolverine, you get the impression that she and Scott would do anything for one another "” that their bond is inseparable."Â
Indeed, the latest X-Men movie adventure considerably ups the romantic stakes. "X2 definitely is a much more romantic movie than its predecessor,"Â says Bryan Singer. "In 'X-Men' it was like the characters were exchanging phone numbers; now they're going on dates,"Â he adds, laughing.
Even the blue-skinned metamorph Mystique, again played by Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, shows her seductive side. "She's much more sexual in this film, says Romijn-Stamos. "And she tries to use her ability to transform into others to take care of her sensual needs.
"At the same time, Mystique gets to display a little more humor "” and some outrage,"Â adds Romijn-Stamos. "When Mystique is asked why she chooses to keep her freakish look, when she could take the appearance of anyone she wants, she tellingly replies: 'Because I shouldn't have to.'"Â In addition, the actress appreciated the advances in makeup effects that cut down her time in the makeup chair from eight hours to a still grueling five, as well as the opportunity to appear more or less as herself "” sans blue skin "” in one key scene.
Halle Berry's character, Storm, also undergoes some evolutionary changes (and, like Famke Janssen's Jean Grey, a new hairstyle). According to the OscarÂ®-winning actress, who made time in her X2 shooting schedule to accept the coveted statuette for her work in "Monster's Ball,"Â Storm has more to do in the new film. "Audiences will get to learn a little more about Storm; she's more aggressive and gets to present a more personal point of view this time out."Â
Like Berry, Patrick Stewart, returning as Professor Charles Xavier, was pleased with X2's larger scale and new opportunities, and he is confident X2 will resonate with audiences even more deeply than the first.
"When you take material that already exists and is so loved,"Â says Stewart, "there is an absolute seriousness about retaining the quality of the original material. In writing a screenplay about the X-Men lore, you can't approach it ironically or tongue-in-cheek or with the intention of making fun of it. The core"Â¦the heart"Â¦of the original comic books must remain the central focus and Bryan, the writers and the studio have been very faithful to those origins."Â
"The imaginative enhancement and expansion of this second film is absolutely thrilling,"Â adds Stewart. "The degree to which they have added new dimensions and new perspectives has raised the bar, and the audience will be clamoring for more."Â
Like "Star Trek"Â veteran Stewart, Ian McKellen is no stranger to reprising characters in a successful film franchise.
"There was a huge confidence following the success of the first film,"Â says McKellen, "because it was a little like a family coming back together again in front of and behind the camera. We all recognized that this film had more of everything "Â¦more characters, more action, a more engaging plot."Â
McKellen says the quality of the script and the detailing of characters is of utmost importance in film franchises. "Characters like Magneto and ["The Lord of the Rings'"Â] Gandalf do have special powers that are required by the plot. However, for an actor, those abilities are not usually the most interesting aspects of the character. It's the character's inner life, inner strengths and the complications of their relationships with other people that add to the flash and the bravado of the moving pictures.
"I believe in Magneto,"Â says McKellen. "I believe he is a man with a real past, a real dilemma and a real purpose for being alive. That's why I like him so much."Â