If you saw the first movie and liked it, you’re going to see this (or already have) no matter what I say. That’s the thing about franchise movies: they have a built-in audience. If you didn’t like the first movie, or even if you didn’t see it, you will still probably like part 2.
That isn’t to say there aren’t problems. There are, and one of them is the script. My friend Ajax was mad that so much of the comic book story-arc was jettisoned, fast-forwarding the rich history of the X-Men (over 40 years old now) up to the late ‘70s. I don’t really have a problem with that. There is no way, in my mind, to be faithful to over 400 comic book stories, that happened over time to characters that never really age. All you can ask is that they get the characters right, which they do, but more on that later.
That being said, you need to have some idea for a story, whether you cull from the comic book archives or make something up. And that’s my real gripe with X2, pretty much the same with X1. Not a helluva lot seems to happen. Several times it seems like the plot is there to set up the special effects or the action sequences, or to introduce future characters and sequel threads. I understand that X-Men is a hugely complicated world, and it’s tough to naturally introduce everyone in a manner that isn’t contrived, but still; even for comic book movies, the plot feels very slaphazardly thrown together.
Luckily, the characters redeem that shortcoming. I’ve read hundreds of X-Men comics, and I think they get the spirit of the characters pretty damn well. Yes, there are some changes, but overall they nailed it, especially Wolverine. I’ve heard complaint that he’s the main focus, but to me this is smart. Wolverine was always the most popular and charismatic of the X-Men, and his suspicions and anti-hero bent make him a brooding star. Wolverine carries the show even more in this one than the first, and that’s fine with me. The other characters aren’t ignored, except Cyclops, but no one is really all that interested in him anyway, so who cares?
Another thing the movie gets very right is the tone of alienation, carried over from the first movie. The mutants in the X-Men universe were always a symbol of those who felt ostracized in society, whether by race, religion, or just moody teenagers. There is a real sense of that here, and a delicious irony in the fact that so many humans fear and would imprison or destroy the mutants who are trying to help them.
At least, some of them are. Several of the bad mutants from the first film are missing here, but that just means we get more time with the compelling Magneto and the bodacious Mystique, and their burgeoning love story, which is almost sweet. These two for a time even become good guys. True, they are good guys who might try to kill every man, woman, and child at a moment’s notice, but that doesn’t make them any less fun.
One other note: unusual for sequels, this movie is not dependent on the first film, so if you haven’t seen it, don’t let that stop you from jumping in now.
All in all, I was whelmed by this movie. I wasn’t disappointed and I’m not trashing it, but I wasn’t blown away like I was hoping.
The Skepticism Scale would rate a 7 here. Yoko Ono excluded, mutants don’t exist, and no matter how much rationalization or symbolic metaphor you use, what they are showing is make-believe. In other words, enjoy it and try not to take it too seriously when Moses shows up (you’ll see what I mean).
I’m putting X2 in the Super-Powers Action genre, along with the Batmen, Supermen, and Spider-Men of the world. My Genre Grade for X2 is a B.
Giving this movie a Pantheon Percentile is harder, because you’re trying to judge how this movie will stack up in history. Special Effects obviously don’t count; since like your home computer they’ll be obsolete by the time you read this. I thought the plot was a bit thin, but the characterization was quite good, and years from now I think I might enjoy watching a half hour of this on TBS on a Saturday afternoon. (You KNOW what I’m talking about, you people who’ve seen parts of Back to the Future and Shawshank Redemption 7000 times) I’d give X2: X-Men United a rating of 68, which means it’s better than 68% of the movies ever made.