After 1998’s Blade was a small success, 2000’s X-Men proved there was a market for comic book movies. So X-Men 2, or X2 as it was also called, was released three years later. Together with Blade 2 and Spider-man 2, X2 cemented the trope that the second movie in a superhero franchise is often better than the original. With all the characters introduced and all the set-up out of the way writers can really let the characters shine instead of being bogged down by the origin story.
X2 starts off with a jaw dropping opening scene. Another trope that would be copied by other comic book movies like The Dark Knight. A mutant attacks the president of the United States in his oval office, This scene is absolutely amazing and introduces one of many new characters: Nightcrawler.
But X2 quickly circles back to the core cast from the previous movie: The X-men. Wolverine has been on a failed quest to uncover his own past, while all of the other mutants have been living their peaceful daily lives at Professor Xavier’s school for gifted youngsters. But that is about to change as anti-mutant Colonel William Stryker kidnaps Professor X and attacks his school leaving the rest of the mutants to team up with their arch-nemesis Magneto.
X-Men has always been about social commentary. Singer took cues from Nazi-Germany, the civil rights movement and his own homosexuality to make a movie about prejudice and bigotry wrapped in a superhero blockbuster. In my opinion it worked, but some critics found the cold open set in Auschwitz in the first movie to be in bad taste. I disagree.
X2 is certainly less controversial, but still touches upon the same themes. There is a scene in which teenager Bobby/Iceman comes out to his parents about him being a mutant. His mother even asks if he has tried to not be a mutant. His brother hates him for being a mutant and calls the cops on him. This is a scene that will probably hit home to gay people who come from narrow minded families.
But these themes are subservient to the main action packed story. Juggling a large cast, the main characters split into several groups early on. This creates a nice rhythm in which director Bryan Singer balances the scales of action and character development perfectly. There is never a dull moment in X2 and the movie is certainly a notch above it predecessor.
The most interesting aspect is the forced alliance between Magneto and Mystique and the other X-Men. It wasn’t that long ago they were basically sacrificing Rogue in an attempt to kill high level politicians. Now Magneto and Rogue are sitting together on a jet creating an awkward and tense atmosphere.
The always reliable Brian Cox delivers a striking performance as Stryker, leaving more of an impression than Danny Huston will do in X-Men Origins: Wolverine a couple years later.
Most of the special effects hold up well, but after almost 20 years it should come as no surprise some of the scenes have some unconvincing CGI. Especially metal seems to be thing as both Wolverine’s claws as well as the metal discs used in Magneto’s escape from his prison have that too polished early 2000s look.
I also want to mention the opening credits which feature the camera movie from seems to some sort of nervous system. These kind of scenes where really the trend back then as the original X-Men had similar opening credits as did the Sam Raimi Spider-man movies. It’s funny how you notice these trends after they had their momentum and everybody moved on.
But with a whole slew of X-men movie having been released since then, 2003’s X-men 2 is still one of the best movies in this series.