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IN SHORT: Two SNIKTs for every BAMF! A perfect "X". [Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action/violence, some sexuality and brief language. 135 minutes]
While X2 is based upon Marvel Comics' X-Men characters created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby; Len Wein, Chris Claremont & Dave Cockrum and a story by Barry Windsor-Smith, we can make a very simple, straightforward comparison to sum up the monumental achievement of Bryan Singer's (click for StarTalk) second romp as the x-boss: Think T2 vs. The Terminator. Singer's gone on record that he wanted X2 to be his equivalent of The Empire Strikes Back. He's achieved that, hands down.
For fanboys, despite the nauseating comic book adaptation released last month, at least one pivotal story has been hidden from y'all to set up something that we hope will be in X3. You'll sense it in the dialog. You'll see it in some hidden in plain sight visual effects. You'll be sitting in the proverbial metaphorical puddle as the inevitable plays out on the big screen. And we're not about to tell you what it is. It is foreshadowed in the dialog and executes brilliantly on screen.
Yeah, we've been reading the X-Men comic, month in and out, for about thirty of the forty years it's been published. When an adaptation can jump off from famous stories to use as the basis for a big screen story, in this case Claremont's God Loves, Man Kills graphic novel, and not bore us silly (because we've read 'em all before), well, that says a lot. When it makes us want to bribe the screening room projectionist to stick around an extra two hours to show it again, well, you figure it out. Most important, you needn't have read any of the comics to "get" any of the background. If you're one of the few who hasn't seen the first film, you might rent X-Men to get the background as X2 blasts full throttle out of the starting gate. What's even more thrilling is that every piece of the main team gets a piece of the acting (or special effects) pie for a minute of screen time or to dance through the greatly improved visual effects -- an extra $30 millions in the budget surely helps! As the boss at our local comic book store put it, this film is the best executed adaptation of a comic book ever made.
If you listen closely you'll discover that this installment is set several years after X-Men. Now it is human civilization's attack upon the growing mutant population at the center of the story, led by Presidential Advisor Col. William Stryker (Brian Cox). Stryker doesn't have much executive convincing to do when a teleporting, blue skinned teleporting mutant with a tail tries to kill President McKenna (Cotter Smith). This new mutant is German-born Kurt Wagner (Alan Cumming click for StarTalk), known to fans of the circus he used to tour with as "the Incredible Nightcrawler." A devout Catholic, Wagner does not understand why he would try to kill the president. All questions will be answered by the time the film is done.
That includes most of the answer to the big question left hanging at the end of X-Men. Logan (Hugh Jackman), the biological construct called Wolverine, searches out his origins at a place called Alkali Lake, in a desolate area of Canada. He finds nothing but ruins. Upon his return to the mansion that is home to Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart click for StarTalk) and his X-Men -- Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Scott Summers/Cyclops (James Marsden), Ororo Munroe/Storm (Halle Berry) and Rogue (Anna Paquin) -- Logan runs into a whole new crop of mutant students, including Jubilation Lee (Kea Wong), Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), Kitty Pryde (Katie Stuart) and Siryn (Shauna Kain). With no time allowed for proper introductions, Logan is left to babysit as the senior X-Men head off to other assignments. Within moments, Stryker's forces attack the school. All the fanboys who wanted to see a berserk Wolverine are granted their wish as he, almost single handedly protects the students.
The Professor and team leader Cyclops, though, are not on site at the time. They are in prison, visiting Xavier's old friend Magneto (Ian McKellen). Stryker knows who they are and where they are, thanks to years spent torturing Magneto. That leaves only a small band to fight the good fight: Logan, Rogue and her new boyfriend Bobby Drake aka Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and new mutant John Allerdyce aka Pyro (Aaron Stanford) hook up with Storm and Jean Grey to save the day. Not without a price, which includes the need to team with an escaped Magneto and his right arm, Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos click for StarTalk) For those who came in late, Mystique is a shape-changer who assumed the identity of Senator Robert Kelly (Bruce Davison) in the first film.
Stryker's plan is not to take down the X-Men. It is to take down every mutant on the planet. With his own mutant son Jason (Michael Reid MacKay) at his command and his own personal mutant assistant Yuriko Oyama (Kelly Hu), at his side to handle Wolverine, Stryker thinks he has the world on a string. At minimum, he's got an involvement in the "mutant problem" that has, at least in this universe, gone back many years and invisibly touched many of the characters in the story. At maximum, he's not above disregarding the president's instructions not to kill anyone. heh heh heh.
X2's special effects are seamlessly integrated into the regular shots. The story has no obvious continuity holes or flaws and, unless you want to gripe about all the background material being in the first flick. X2, like The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (and the forthcoming The Matrix Reloaded) is a whopper of a continuation of film one and a terrific prelude to film three. Our audience burst into applause twice during X2, and again as the closing credits rolled. And they did it both times we saw it.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to X-Men United, he would have paid . . .
This year's summer season of whoppers starts here.
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