X-Men 2 (2003) starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Anna Paquin, Rebecca Romijn, Brian Cox, Alan Cumming, Aaron Stanford, Shawn Ashmore directed by Bryan Singer Movie Review

X-Men 2 (2003)   4/54/54/54/54/5

Ian McKellen as Magneto in X-Men 2

X-Men to the power of 2

Following the crowd pleasing success of "X-Men" it's no surprise that "X-Men 2" or "X2" as it's also known was produced, especially as the original whilst a good movie felt like a precursor to a sequel with its emphasis on building the characters. Thankfully all those characters and actors return in this second outing, especially Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, who is again the attention of much of the movies focus. More importantly as a sequel it doesn't suck like so many do, in fact in many ways it is better, with a stronger storyline as well as even more impressive special effects to make it a thoroughly entertaining, action packed 133 minutes of movie magic.

After returning from a trip to the North where he found nothing to fill in the gaps in his past, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman - Swordfish) is left to baby sit the students as Charles (Patrick Stewart - Conspiracy Theory) and Cyclops (James Marsden) head off to visit Magneto (Ian McKellen) in his special prison and Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and Storm (Halle Berry) go in search of a mutant known as Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) who is in hiding after trying to assassinate the President. But things become deadly, when government scientist William Stryker (Brian Cox - The Bourne Identity) leads an attack on the school for mutants capturing many in the process. With the school no longer safe, the X-Men are forced to collaborate with Magneto, who has escaped his cell, to try and stop Stryker from destroying the entire Mutant population.

Shawn Ashmore and Anna Paquin in X-Men 2

As with the first movie "X-Men 2" grabs you right from the opening scenes, with a visually impressive action sequence featuring Nightcrawler's attempt to assassinate the President in his own office. It is a great way to start the movie and with a wow factor that not only signals what to expect from the rest of the movie when it comes to the action and visuals but also to the fact that there will be a more important storyline this time round. It is the fact that director Bryan Singer knows what he is doing having helmed the first movie that all the impressive action scenes are not thrown in just for the sake of impact but merge into the developing storyline making it a pacey movie full of excitement.

Although the action scenes are prominent throughout "X-Men 2" and you are rarely a few scenes away from the next visual thrill, the storyline is much more interesting this time round building on those questions posed in the first movie about prejudice and inequality. It is by no means a complex storyline but one which is strong enough to feel more than just a vehicle for the action, but at the same time never feeling like it's tying to lecture us on the subtle moral issues of the movie. What is particularly good is that if you want just an action movie then "X-Men 2" works on just that level, but if you want more, a movie with just a little substance as well then it also delivers.

Being a sequel "X-Men 2" is in a select group of movies which doesn't feel like a separate movie, it's more like a continuation of what happened in the first movie, picking up on a few threads and expanding on them, such as Wolverine's mysterious past. But then it is also a sequel which you can watch and understand without necessarily having watched the first movie. Although for those who do end up watching this without seeing "X-Men" I would strongly recommend it.

As with the first movie, much of "X-Men 2" focuses on Hugh Jackman as the impressive Wolverine. It is by no means a bad thing, with so many super hero mutants on display it could easily have turned into an unfocussed farce with out a strong lead character. As for the performance well just like Jackman's muscles it is solidly strong, delivering power when it comes to action yet more subtle drama as he tries to discover his past with the perfect touch of wit to make a well rounded and likeable character.

Like with Jackman, Ian McKellen puts in another great performance as the evil Magneto, allowing us not to so much sympathise with him but at least understand a little more about why he acts in such a contemptuous manner towards humans. Plus of course Patrick Stewart returns delivering more of his fine tuned thespian skills to the character of Charles Xandier making him far more interesting than in the first movie. But out shining both Stewart and McKellan is the impressive Brian Cox as the government scientist intent on destroying the mutants, but more importantly providing a link to Wolverine's own past. In a role which could have become a pantomime villain, Cox delivers a real sense of menace about his character in that he is intent solely on the mutants demise.

But whilst I praise the writers for the way they have made Wolverine the central focus of the movie it does cause issues, that being that the rest of the mutants such as Rogue, Cyclops, Storm and even the newly introduced Nightcrawler become more of a supporting cast. Although each mutant has there moment, delivering the goods brilliantly when given the chance, they are underused cropping up pretty much only when their special mutant powers are called for. That is part of the trouble with the main "X-Men" movies, they have a lot of important characters and using them fully in each movie would cause it to become either over long or under developed in it's attempts to appease everyone. At least with the plans to develop a series of movies focussing on each of the main mutants this will go someway to developing them in a way the main movies can't.

As already mentioned "X-Men 2" is seriously visually impressive with the special effects even bigger and better than in the original. With the aid of impressive CGI the close ups look more convincing as do the big explosions. But then there are also the non CGI effects such as the staggering make up on the likes of Nighcrawler and Mystique which make the movie so visually stunning.

What this all boils down to is that "X-Men 2" is a great sequel that continues on the good work done in the first "X-Men" movie. This time around there is a stronger plot which merges wonderfully with all the ambitious, big budget action sequences to make a movie that can be enjoyed purely for the thrill of the action or for the more interesting look into the X-Universe. It's not perfect and due to the nature of the X-Universe with so many mutants it is forced to focus mainly on Wolverine causing the rest of them to become little more than a supporting cast, but in doing so stops the movie from becoming an over populated mess.