Bryan Singer, man known for The Usual Suspects, was handed the reigns of one of Marvel’s biggest potential film franchises, the X-Men, in 2000. His first film was populated with an all-star cast of young up-and-comers and British thespians. Fans of the original comic book series were split in Singer’s portrayal of their favourite characters, but the film proved to be a solid return on investment, taking $157m, which necessitated a sequel released in 2003. Reuniting all previous cast members including Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry and Hugh Jackman, the film took a huge, $407m at the box office.
Set after the events of the original, X-Men 2 (also known as X2 and X2: X-Men United) focuses the main story on Wolverine (Jackman) and his investigation into his past and the origins of his indestructible adamantium skeleton and his relationship with US military General Stryker (Brian Cox). While trying to discover the truth, Wolverine and his fellow X-Men also have to deal with growing tensions between mutants and people after Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) attempts to assassinate the President of the United States.
Brimming with confidence after the success of the original X-Men film, Singer obviously felt more comfortable playing with the characters back-stories in X-Men 2. With no need to introduce the mainstays, he could concentrate on the handful of new characters like Nightcrawler and Stryker, who are handled with masterful skill by Cummings and Cox respectively. Both men, approach what could’ve been a hammy role with class and sophistication giving both of these pivotal characters gravitas and depth. Jackman, whose role increased after his popularity in the original, takes on the fan-favourite Wolverine with all the growling and cigar-smoking he can get his hands on. His scenes as he discovers the truth of his past are totally convincing and well-played.
That’s not to say that the film is all character development, (although it’s nice that there is actually some in here), the action scenes are a joy to behold, with no expense spared to make them as thrilling as possible. Note the whooping and cheering after Nightcrawler’s early entrance into the White House as a sign for the coming excitement. Plus there’s the exceptional assault on the X-Mansion with Jackman using his ‘rage’ in true comic book fashion. What X-Men lacked in the action department, X-Men 2 really excels in and highlights just how talented Singer, as a director, has become.
Boasting improvements in every department from the somewhat disappointing original, X-Men 2 is one of the most exciting, daring and enjoyable comic book films out there. It will disappoint some fans of the comics, and especially those of the 1990s cartoon with it’s continued lack of characters like Gambit, but at least there’s nods to other famous mutants, including Collossus and his armoured skin and in Jackman, Cumming and Cox, the film has a central trio full of pathos, character and empathy. It’s just a shame that all the hard work was ruined in X-Men: Last Stand, but for fans of the comics, X-Men 2 was the pinnacle of the original trilogy of X-Men films on the big screen.