X² X-Men United (2003)
Ebert: Rolling Stone: TV Guide:1/2
Warning, minor plot points revealed!
X² X-Men United is the best movie of the summer so far. It is possible (as well as probable) that this will only be the case for 11 more days until Matrix Reloaded hits the theatres but until then, I proclaim X-Men 2 to be the greatest film of the year Bub!
Almost all of the reviews that I've read for the film have offered high praise for this sequel. Some even compare it to The Empire Strikes Back which as you know is considered to be the greatest sequel of all time! However some, specifically my ever annoying and stupid nemesis Roger Ebert, says X² X-Men United "...lacks a beginning, a middle and an end..." Even though he gave the film 3 stars his arrogant, condescending and ignorant review does nothing but deride the film.
Although I imagine Ebert as a fat and unpopular nerd when he was a child, I am forced to assume that unlike most geeks, he did not live vicariously through comic books. He apparently has nothing but disdain for the entire genre. Here's a few more quotes from his personal attack on the film:
"X2: X-Men United" is the kind of movie you enjoy for its moments, even though they never add up."
"Made for (and possibly by) those with short attention spans, it lives in the present, providing one amazing spectacle after another, and not even trying to develop a story arc."
"...it is faithful to comic books themselves, which month after month and year after year seem frozen in the same fictional universe."
And finally; "Perhaps in the next generation a mutant will appear named Scribbler, who can write a better screenplay for them." I say perhaps it's time for the last generation of movie critics to stop scribbling their stupid, uninformed, stuck in the 20th Century opinions and let the next generation of movie critics provide a more contemporary and valid opinion. The quotes above are only a small sample of the idiocy that peppers Ebert's review for this film. For the full text click here.
Now that I got that bit of unpleasantness out of the way, lets talk about the first of the best films of 2003 - X² X-Men United! With the exception of Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom and a few horror films, I am a huge fan of sequels. I know that most purists argue that the original film is always the best but I would have to disagree. Unless the film completely tells it's story (ie. Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Titanic, etc.) and leaves no reason for a sequel, the second film of the series is almost always superior. (See: The Empire Strikes Back, Attack of the Clones, Rocky II, Hellraiser 2, Mission Impossible 2, The Godfather 2, Terminator 2, Evil Dead 2, The Road Warrior, Aliens, Blade 2, etc.)
The first film of a series is typically hindered by the necessity to provide time consuming yet important background story details and characterization. This is unnecessary in a sequel and the film can start it's story immediately. In that respect the first X-Men movie should really just be considered a primer for the first real X-Men movie - X² X-Men United.
This movie is perfect in every way possible, The action is relentless and there is a huge cast of characters including many that were absent from the first film (hopefully we'll get Gambit in the flesh by X3.) As mentioned in previous reviews, I love superhero movies so it should come as no surprise that this film has immediately jumped onto my all-time favorites list. It's stylish and super-cool. And although I could have watched it for a straight 24 hours, it has a decent length for a full blown super-hero spectacle at 124 minutes. I would have preferred the Lord of the Rings type duration of 3 hours plus but at least it's 20 minutes longer than the original.
The film begins with a devastating attack on the President of the United States in the Oval Office by the teleporting mutant (and former star acrobat and aerial artist of the small Bavarian Der Jarhkmarkt Circus) known as Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming). News of the assault immediately renews interest in the Mutant Registration Act proposed by Senator Kelly (Bruce Davison) in the last film. This time William Stryker (Brian Cox), a covert black-ops military leader, is leading the call for registration of (and ultimately genocide for) the mutant community. He proposes and is granted approval to execute an attack on Xavier's School for the Gifted where he believes he can find answers as well as put an end to the the mutant problem once and for all. With Magneto locked in his plastic prison, the X-Men must find out who is behind the attack on the President and what is the ultimate goal of their new enemy.
The special effects in this movie are awesome! Especially the teleporting effect of Nightcrawler! There's hardly a scene in the film without some sort of incredible fight, or display of superpowers. I will probably have to watch this film at least 10 times before I can truly say that I've seen the whole movie. There is so much going on and so much to look at that our puny human brains cannot even begin to process the enormity of it all.
All of the actors bring a new energy to their roles that they were only beginning to develop in the first film. Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) display some new and incredibly powerful telepathic and telekinetic abilities including the ability to apparently stop time itself. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) has a new foe in Yuriko Oyama (Kelly Hu) who is his Adamantium equal in every way and has a definite advantage in the super-sexy department. Magneto (Ian McKellen) is able to escape from his cell in a fabulously gory way with the help of his shape-shifting partner Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos.) Storm (Halle Berry) is able to unleash the elemental powers of nature in much bigger and more devastating ways. Cyclops (James Marsden) gets in a few good optic blasts but is largely absent from this installment.
As for the second string X-Men junior kids, Rogue (Anna Paquin) finally gets to kiss someone without killing them as her new romance with Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) heats... I mean freezes up. As for heat, the hot tempered Pyro (Aaron Stanford) takes his flaming powers to new heights of destruction and sets himself on a new course. During the assault on the school we see brief glimpses of Shadowcat (Katie Stuart) as she moves through solid objects in an attempt to escape Stryker's soldiers. A piercing shriek from Siryn (Shauna Kain) briefly disables everyone in the school. Colossus (Daniel Cudmore) deflects a barrage of bullets with his metallic exoskeleton and leads some of the children to safety during the attack.
Also appearing on a T.V. screen for an interview in the background of one scene is Dr. Henry 'Hank' McCoy aka. Beast (Steve Bacic) and as a file name in Stryker's computer we see that Remy LeBeau aka. Gambit is also an unofficially registered mutant.
X² X-Men United is a wonderful start to what could become a never-ending franchise of awesome X-Men films. Unfortunately, with so many of the leads played by top list stars it is unlikely that many will stick around for future installments. (I've already heard rumors that Oscar winner Halle Berry will probably not reprise her role in the future.) Additionally Bryan Singer, the director, is able to make excellent films outside of the genre (ie. The Usual Suspects, Apt Pupil) and may wish to add more diversity to his resume'.
X² X-Men United is most definitely the first best movie of the year so far. Hurry up and see it sometime this week if you can! Although it will probably stay in theatres for the next couple months, I fear that once the Matrix has us, it will be difficult to watch or even think about anything else.