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Mutants rule: Thrilling 'X2' is another superhero Marvel

Friday, May 02, 2003

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

The first "X-Men" movie used its mutant superheroes not only as surrogates for the chronic alienation of teenagers but also as part of a metaphor about intolerance, particularly toward gay people. A U.S. senator demagogues the issue, wanting to lock up the mutants in a way that echoed calls in the 1980s for the segregation of AIDS patients.

Deathstrike (Kelly Hu) reveals her mutant powers in X2. (Kerry Hayes, SMPSP)

Senator Kelly (Bruce Davison) ended up learning how the other half lives, and he makes little more than a token appearance in this year's eagerly awaited sequel, "X2." But we remain witnesses for the persecution, which becomes even more insidiously twisted.

This is a world in which the enemy of your enemy becomes your friend, where blood is thinner than the watery chill of fearing the unknown, where zealots manufacture their own pretexts to start a war against another segment of humankind.

In other words, "X2" takes itself every bit as seriously as its cinematic forebear -- and, for that matter, the Marvel Comics characters on which both films are based. And, like the first movie, it wraps everything up in spectacular action scenes powered by special effects that are all the more impressive because director Bryan Singer does not let them overwhelm the other elements of the movie.


RATING: PG-13 for sci-fi action/violence, some sexuality and brief language.

STARRING: Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin.

DIRECTOR: Bryan Singer.

WEB SITE: www.x-men-the-movie.com


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"X2" has the advantage over its predecessor of not having to reintroduce the characters. On the other hand, like some recent sequels, if you're not familiar with the concept, you may find the movie hard to get your hands on -- much like Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming), the blue-faced transporter whose attack on a public official at the film's outset leads to government sanction of the war on mutants.

The villain, Gen. William Stryker (Brian Cox), hates mutants for reasons that will become evident as the movie proceeds. He stages a raid upon Xavier's School for Gifted Children, headquarters for the X-Men and their wheelchair-bound leader, Prof. Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart).

Ah, but how did he know about the school's secret identity? Stryker has ways of making mutants talk, even those as powerful as Magneto (Ian McKellen), who was Xavier's friend but has been twisted by his hatred for non-mutant humans, whom he tried to destroy in the first film.

Now, the worm has turned. Stryker wants to eliminate all mutants and forces Magneto, imprisoned in a plastic cell impervious to his powers over metal, into telling him Xavier's secrets -- which include the means of locating mutants throughout the world and the power to kill them.

The plot culminates in a battle against time set in an underground facility. Impressively staged, the sequence runs about 10 minutes too long, featuring perhaps one reversal too many as it stutter-steps to the inevitable conclusion (albeit not without a few surprises even for "X-Men" devotees).

For all the derring-do, the movie keeps its focus on the human element. Stryker has a very personal reason for his hatred, but you never overlook his megalomania. That splendid British actor Brian Cox, who has been everywhere lately (the father of the main characters in "The Rookie" and "25th Hour," the writing coach in "Adaptation") can cut another notch on his belt.

Cyclops (James Marsden) releases an energy beam against a deadly foe in X2. (Kerry Hayes, SMPSP)

But most of all, "X2" is the story of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), that troubled soul who finally finds out how he acquired a metallic skeleton and 9-inch steel claws.

Also returning from the first movie are Halle Berry as Storm (befitting the Oscar she won between films, she gets more to do here), Famke Janssen as Jean Grey, Anna Paquin as Rogue, James Marsden as Cyclops (it's a virtual cameo) and, of course, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos as the shape-shifting Mystique -- not that there's anything wrong with her original shape, even in blue skin.

New to the mix are Cumming's Nightcrawler; Aaron Stanford as Pyro, a rather impatient young mutant just itching to fire up his blazing talent; Kelly Hu as Deathstrike, who is Stryker's mutant henchwoman.

The most poignant moment in the film involves Bobby "Iceman" Drake (Shawn Ashmore), who "outs" himself to his family when he takes refuge at their house with Wolverine, Rogue and Pyro after the attack at Xavier's. The parents don't know what to say. "Have you tried ... not being a mutant?" is the best they can do. Bobby's brother, on the other hand, has a different reaction.

These are the scenes that make "X2" every bit as good as its predecessor, second only to "Spider-Man" in the comic-book movie pantheon.

Ron Weiskind can be reached at rweiskind@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.

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