X2: X-Men United

Directed By: Bryan Singer

Starring: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Brian Cox, Alan Cumming, Bruce Davison, and Anna Paquin

"Mutants.  Since the discovery of their existence they have been regarded with fear, suspicion, often hatred.  Across the planet, debate rages.  Are mutants the next link in the evolutionary chain or simply a new species of humanity fighting for their share of the world?  Either way it is a historical fact: Sharing the world has never been humanity's defining attribute."
-Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart)

In my humble opinion, 2003 was the year of the blockbuster movie.  With two Matrix films, the end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the birth of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and countless other quality big budget films, it's pointless to argue otherwise.  Like many summer movie seasons, the 2003 season was ushered in by a Marvel Comics film.  In this case, it was Bryan Singer's X2: X-Men United, his follow-up to his 2000 original X-Men.  All I can really say about X2 is that this is what a great blockbuster looks like ladies and gentlemen.

At the White House, a teleporting mutant named Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) lays siege upon the Oval Office and nearly assassinates the President of the United States (Cotter Smith).  After the attack, the government is once again up in arms to solve the “mutant problem”.  In the midst of all the chaos, Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) hasn't forgotten about his old friend Magneto (Ian McKellen) and thinks that he could have orchestrated this entire attack from his plastic prison.  He's going to take Cyclops (James Marsden) along with him to pay his longtime friend a visit.  Meanwhile, he's sending Jean (Famke Janssen) and Storm (Halle Berry) to find the mutant who attacked the President.  Luckily, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) has just returned from a trip to Alkali Lake and can stay at the mansion to babysit the kiddies.

While Professor X deploys his precious X-Men to deal with the whirlwind of a situation at hand, another storm is brewing.  Military scientist William Stryker (Brian Cox) has been studying the professor and his so-called boarding school, including his machine Cerebro. He’s learned that the professor is connected to every living being on the planet when he uses this machine.  If he concentrates on a particular group like mutants hard enough, he could kill them all.  Now knowing this, Stryker is ready to rid the world of mutants.  He launches an assault on the mansion.  Though he runs into the rare animal Wolverine whom he knew a long time ago, he manages to steal enough of Cerebro to build his own machine.  Stryker captures many of the mutants at the mansion along the way.  Wolverine, Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), Rogue (Anna Paquin), and Pyro (Aaron Stanford) escape and set out to figure out what is really going on.  Little do they know that Stryker has captured Professor X to operate a replica of Cerebro and that the very fate of mutantkind lies in their hands.

I can't tell you how much I love X2.  The opening scene at the White House alone is one of the most electrifying starts to a blockbuster of all time.  Director Bryan Singer crafts an explosive follow-up to X-Men that incorporates some more intriguing elements of the comic book mythology, especially Wolverine's background and the Phoenix storyline.  The cast is absolutely firing on all cylinders with new additions carving out their place in the franchise and old ones once again rising to the occasion.  All in all, X2 is one for the record books.

X2 packs a punch from the start.  Bryan Singer puts together one thrilling comic book flick with plenty of gripping action sequences, the most impressive of which may just be the opening sequence at the White House with Nightcrawler.  This pulse-pounding, immensely creative scene will keep you at the edge of your seat.  Beyond this, we get Wolverine rising to the bloody occasion during the assault on the mansion, Storm giving us a dance with tornadoes in an awesome midair confrontation, and Mystique just kicking asses left and right.  Altogether, Singer crafts some truly innovative action sequences.  It just doesn't get any better than this!

Singer really taps into the X-Men comic book mythology, and it's abundantly clear throughout the movie.  With William Stryker as the film's central villain, there's a large focus on Wolverine and his pathological desire to figure out who he is.  Singer explores how this rare animal got his claws.  He also explores the backstory of Professor X and Magneto and their work building Cerebro, a crucial component of Stryker's diabolical schemes.  Most importantly, Singer delves into the Phoenix storyline.  Though she struggles with her powers throughout the movie, Jean Grey comes front and center in X2 thanks to Singer.

There are some great new additions to the cast in X2.  First and foremost, Brian Cox is pitch perfect as William Stryker.  He conveys such a cold and calculating menace as this embittered widower.  He's a one-man show that's able to trade barbs with everyone else on this star-studded cast.  That's no small feat.  As Nightcrawler, Alan Cumming makes his mark as well.  Beyond delivering one of the greatest opening action sequences for a blockbuster of all time, Cumming gives the film a bit of a moral compass.  Most of the time, he's either rescuing children or saying “The Lord's Prayer” to repent for his past transgressions.

Amongst the returning cast members, everyone gets to shine once again.  Exploring Wolverine's backstory and how he's become what he is today, Hugh Jackman gives a wild animalistic performance fueled by a desire to just know more.  On top of this, he delivers some of the best action sequences in the mansion.  Beyond Jackman, Ian McKellen once again steals the show as Magneto.  He's both menacing and witty as he does everything in his power to advance the mutant cause as he sees it.  As Storm, Halle Berry is just a pure badass.  She brings the tornadoes.  Enough said.  Finally, we have Famke Janssen's Jean Grey.  Her struggle with her powers and the raging beast within makes for one enjoyable performance.  Janssen is at her absolute best at the film's climax.

X2 is by far the best installment in the entire X-Men franchise and belongs in the pantheon of comic book movies.  I've got nothing but love for this movie.  Everything comes together just right for this one.  It's the blueprint for team superhero movies.  X2: X-Men United gets a sober rating.