In the pantheon of superhero comics that have come to the silver screen, X-Men 2 does better than average, but fanatics who flocked to the Marvel Comic title's initial foray into film might be disappointed with this second installment: a decent sequel, but not an equal.
Those who didn't see the first will certainly want to brush up on their modern day mythology. X2 starts where the original left off. A rising tide of prejudice is brewing in the world against a race of mutants; individuals whose genetic irregularities alienate them from society and, as is the case with the X-Men, give them unique powers to levitate objects, create storm patterns or shoot bolts of fire from their eyes. When one of these mutants slips through White House security and bounces off the walls in pursuit of the president, the green light is given for a military invasion of a school for mutants in upstate New York, the covert headquarters for the X-Men and their mind-reading leader, Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart).
The operation is led by General William Stryker (Brian Cox), a military scientist bent on eliminating every mutant on earth. His plan is nearing fruition after having enslaved the minds of several mutants, including Magneto (Ian McKellen), the magnetic field-forming villain who is likewise bent on eliminating every human on earth.
Holding on to their belief in the benevolence of mankind, Xavier and his X-Men track down the would-be assassin, while Magneto escapes the plastic prison built for him at the end of the first installment and sets off to finish what he started in that movie.
Confused? You will be if you step into X-Men 2 with no knowledge of the first. That's because the story is told using dozens of different characters, some introduced in this sequel and others carried over from the previous. The only ones who are familiar with all these characters and their relationships to one another are readers of the comic books.
Directed by: Brian Singer
Starring: Patrick Stewart (Professor Charles Xavier), Hugh Jackman (Logan/Wolverine), Ian McKellen (Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto), Halle Berry (Ororo Munroe/Storm), Famke Janssen (Dr. Jean Grey), James Marsden (Scott Summers/Cyclops), Rebecca Romijn-Stamos (Mystique/Raven Darkholme), Brian Cox (General William Stryker), Alan Cumming (Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler), Anna Paquin (Marie D'Ancanto/Rogue).
Running time: 133 minutes
Taiwan Release: Currently screening
But that doesn't mean there isn't plenty of action to keep the rest of us entertained.
In addition to Stewart and McKellen, the film stars Famke Janssen and Hugh Jackman's torso. Best actress, Oscar-winner Halle Berry also appears throughout, but her most interesting contribution is the platinum-blonde wig.
As Wolverine, Jackman is the film's most human character, despite the foot-long metal blades that protrude from his knuckles when he gets agitated. He's a loner whose memory of life before he became Wolverine has been stripped away. This bit of exposition starts in the first installment with flashbacks to a torrid Frankensteinian operation. These flashbacks are more pronounced in X2 and we learn that they have something to do with General Stryker.
But Wolverine's lost past is perhaps not as important to him as his mostly unrequited love for Dr. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), the stunning telekinetic physician that nursed him back to health in the original. Her infatuation with Wolverine is kept in check by her relationship with Cyclops (James Marsden), who shoots those previously mentioned bolts of fire from his eyes. The subsequent verbal sparring between Cyclops and Wolverine that provided much of the comic relief in the first installment somehow isn't funny in X2, which is probably for the best since Cyclops suddenly disappears from the story and isn't seen again until the end.