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X2: X-Men United

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Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4

In his article in the April 23rd Village Voice about genetically enhanced beings, Erik Baard illustrates the relevance of "X2" current experimentation in biology. "The day is approaching when wealthy parents can pay to have markers tweaked or added to bolster qualities like intelligence and athleticism. But the rights of such progeny are being curtailed before the people even exist." Who'd have thought that these enhanced beings would cause trouble? Simple. Baard asks "How would you feel about your first child when the second one comes bundled with upgrades? Could the younger sibling ever enjoy a sense of real achievement, or would the kid forever wonder if that three-minute mile had been written in before birth?"

There's the analogy. In "X2," the enhanced human beings have already been created. Ordinary human beings are threatened by these people, called mutants, who have special gifts. The ordinary fear their powers, powers which came to the mutants not by evolution but by a sudden leap not unlike the leap that current experimentation in genetic modification might in the near future afford. In "X2," the President of the United States is ready for war against the mutants and uses hi-tech systems to locate them on Earth, handing the command over to General Williams Stryker (Brian Cox), who this time around sports a pair of rectangular spectacles and goatee, taking away the actor's usual resemblance to Marlon Brando. In addition the president is pushing The Anti-Mutant Registration Act by which children can be taken from their homes, thus affording yet another connection to present-day U.S. in which Attorney-General Ashcroft proposes a cornucopia of new laws that could allow unrestricted wire taps and the holding of people deemed enemy agents without charges and without legal counsel.

The general's plan calls for attacking the School for Gifted Children which is under the direction of Prof. Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and what's more, Stryker has no ambition for territory or fame: he simply hates. He has a personal vendetta against Prof. Xavier and is determined to rid the entire world of mutants forever. As a result, the X-men must team up with some former adversaries the enemy of my enemy is my friend principally with the evil Magneto (Ian McKellen) and rely on Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, who bears a lupine hair style throughout) to counteract the violent plans of the enemy.

"X2" can be appreciated as a unit in itself even by those who never experienced the 1999 version. Bryan Singer's earlier take is a Marvel Comics-inspired saga about the linking up of misfits who find a safe haven with Professor X, thereby becoming the X-Men. A principal conflict in 1999 was between Magneto, who believes human beings are the enemy to be conquered, and the professor, who believes that mutants can be assimilated into human society. Still, the more youthful in the moviegoing public who are acquainted with the X-Men comic books have a solid background and can best enjoy the film as did those in the audience I sat with who laughed frequently at lines that resonated from the comic.

Singer, whose resume includes thought-provokers like "Apt Pupil" and "The Usual Suspects," brings back a good deal of the cast in the lead roles. Aside from Jackman, Stewart and McKellen we're reintroduced to Rebecca Romijn-Stamos as Mistique, whose ability to instantly change shape would mystify the best of plastic surgeons; and Anna Paquin as Rogue, who moves from her former infatuation with Wolverine to someone her own age. More interesting than any of these principals are folks like Yuriko Oyama, known as Deathstrike (Kelly Hu) and especially Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming), who gives new meaning to dressing with tails and who, early on, attacks the President of the U.S. in a fight scene which may have been topped by more elaborate special effects later on but whose choreographed invasion of the White House bouncing off walls, disappearing, foiling a team of secret service and military personnel guarding the chief executive is the most vibrant struggle in the film. Concept- wise, Nightcrawler's devilish looks and religious beliefs mark him as a misfit to the greater human society, leading the latter to have little to do with him, while others, like Stryker, mark him for death.

While the story itself has too many characters to be credible, focused and thematically centered, "X2" is the film to see for special effects rarely equaled. The fight to the death between Stryker's special aide Yuriko Oyama and Wolverine is a stunner, particularly since Wolverine's retractable claws are only half the size of his opponent's, giving the female of the contest the upper hand (so to speak) almost throughout. Glass is made to be broken in "X2," the most dramatic scene involving Magneto's break from Stryker's glass prison.

Other characters are in supporting roles, carrying little dialogue that could be considered witty. Halle Berry's looking fine with her large blond wig as Storm, and like Dr. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) is able to do wonder with her eyes. Ultimately we see Patrick Stewart's character as the kind of person that one of the elect should be. In the final scene his Professor Xavier sits calmly in his chair addressing a small class of gifted students, kids whose love for their teacher is almost visceral. Call me a misfit but this final scene appealed to me more than any other given my background as a high-school teacher who always dreamed of an ideal class of youngsters just like Xavier's young people who'd come to school excited about each day's discussion and already filled by their parents' example with the kind of humanism so lacking in the diverse and colorful assortment of Bryan Singer's villains.

Copyright 2003 Harvey Karten

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