"Mr. Laurio, never trust a beautiful woman, especially one who's interested in you."
Believe it or not, I've been doing a top ten list of the best movies I saw each year since 1995. In 2003, I split my number one between the gut-wrenching documentary Capturing the Friedmans and this silly comic book movie right here. For years I have told people that it was the best comic book movie ever made, and part of me never wanted to revisit the film, especially during this sonic comic book movie boom we're currently in the middle of. Nevertheless, watching it yesterday evening, I was reminded of why I loved the film so much in the first place. X2: X-Men United is not a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, but it did something that few other sequels—let alone comic book sequels—had done up until that point: It served as a logical extension of the previous film.
Everything about this film, from the characters to the overall worldview, grows and expands without ever feeling ungainly. Admittedly, they rush a few things, but I also accept that this is a two hour film and there's only so much setup and payoff they can deliver in one installment. It's also a perfect sequel because it keeps you engaged by the characters and story, outdoing the original in nearly every way, and also making you excited about the future of the franchise. In retrospect, there wasn't much cause for excitement as Brett Ratner would step in three years later and burn the whole franchise to the ground, but the promise of the Dark Phoenix saga was enough to get geeks jacked throughout the summer of 2003.
X2 ups the stakes big time, with mutants under assault from Gen. William Stryker (Brian Cox), a madman bent on using Cerebro to wipe out all mutants. This forces the good guys to team up with Magneto (Ian McKellen)—breaking Magneto out of prison is like a rite of passage in these X-movies—to stop Stryker from his using his own mutant son Jason (Michael Reid MacKay) to manipulate Professor X (Patrick Stewart) into using Cerebro to kill all mutants. The film has subplots like the day is long, but none of them feel out of place. Everything from Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) being manipulated into attempting to kill the president in a crackerjack opening sequence to Bobby Drake "coming out" as a mutant to his parents, to the aforementioned prison escape of Magneto is awesome and makes the film feel complete and lived in.
Once again, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) does most of the heavy story lifting while also allowing him a chance to berserker out a bit. Admit it, hearing him say, "You picked the wrong house, bub" to that dude before jacking him was fucking awesome. In fact, so much of what works about X2 is that it nails those small moments. A personal favorite of mine remains the scene where the guards protecting Cerebro find their grenades start rattling, with the pins being let loose on them all, and Magneto silently strolling down the hallway having wiped them all out. It's badass as hell, and helps to make this such a wholly satisfying film.
In fact, Ian McKellen's Magneto is the star of the show in this film. He had clearly hit his stride with The Lord of the Rings, and was really relishing any chance he got to play a dude who just loves being evil. It's one of the things that makes me love his performance as Magneto just slightly more than Michael Fassbender's take on the character. His epic "I don't give a fuck, I just want to kill people" attitude is what makes him so amazing as both a villain and an actor. Even his pointed "Is that what they say?" retort to Pyro's stupid question about him being a bad guy nicely atones for the clunkiness of its setup. This is the Magneto we've always wanted to see on screen, and McKellen hits it out of the park. Alongside Brian Cox, the two make up probably the best one-two villain punch in comic book movie history.
The rest of the cast is serviceable as usual, with Halle Berry ditching that shit accent from the first film and getting more shit to do in this film. As I mentioned before, Jean Grey's Phoenix arc is a tad rushed, but Famke Janssen sells it so well, especially in her final scene. The entire third act of this film is pretty damn close to flawless, and if you were left cold by Star Trek: Into Darkness' attempt to ape the ending of Wrath of Khan, you'll find the attempt here much more faithful and impactful. While I would no longer call it the single best comic book movie ever made, I think it's certainly Marvel's best sequel, and likely gives The Dark Knight a run for its money as the best overall comic book sequel. It's truly everything you loved about the first movie, just smarter and more. It's a winning formula that more Marvel films would do well to copy.
—Once again, Logan is off to find himself, yet still finds time to do his hair every morning
—They actually answered my Wolverine dog tags question from the first film... Well done!
—I forgot that they took Scott out of action so quickly in this film. No wonder Cyclops fans hate these movies so much. Dude dies like two minutes into the next one.
—So, is no one concerned by Senator Kelly's disappearance from Congress considering Mystique stops impersonating him about twenty minutes into this movie?
—Did Wolverine really just use one of his claws to start Cyclops' car? You guys know that's like, impossible, right?
—Also, did Magneto and Mystique just hang out in the woods until the X-Jet got close enough for him to manipulate? They gonna roast some weenies over that fire later?
—So, Nightcrawler infiltrating the Oval Office caused about two dozen guards to come out and defend the President, but the entire X-Men crew can just show up for a "how do you do" with no problem?
—I'll admit I had to really try to find fault with this film. It's got some dumb stuff, but overall, it's the best X-movie by a mile.