X2: X-Men United
movie review by Mike Baron

X2 is a bodacious cornucopia of a movie, brimming with sharply drawn characters and innovative action twists. Non-comic fans have complained about the enormous cast, but X2 is more intelligible than The Usual Suspects. This time, it's all the mutants, including Magneto, against the McCarthy-like spook Stryker, who seeks to use Professor Xavier's mental powers to kill every mutant on earth. Brian Cox is unrecognizable and wonderfully hissable as Stryker. (Brian Cox is also brilliant as Hannibal Lecter in Manhunter, the first version of Red Dragon.)

Director Bryan Singer marshals his big cast like a good vaudeville director, one act after another. The first dazzling act is Nightcrawler's attempted assassination of the President. Allen Cumming's Nightcrawler has a Kraut accent and beguiling innocence. His make-up is flawless. How do they do that? Likewise the dazzling Mystique never has a feather out of place. It's ironic that Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, a beautiful woman, is so buried under body kohl and feathers she scarcely seems human. The scene where she morphs into Jean Grey and unsuccessfully tries to seduce Wolverine had every man in the audience screaming, "What is WRONG with you?"

Everybody has their moments (including the annoying Anna Paquin as Rogue,) but Wolverine has the most. A sub-plot involves Wolverine's origin, a story that has been told so many times from so many points of view it has little dramatic value any more. The movie flashbacks have a ho-hum quality. Been there, done that. We don't CARE how Wolverine got those crazy claws, we just want to see him use them to slice through metal and whack the tops off beer bottles. Hugh Jackman is a great Wolverine. Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart treat their mutant masterminds with understated dignity. Magneto's escape from his all-plastic prison is brilliant. On the other hand, the scene where Storm and Jean Grey confront the evil mutant quadriplegic who's controlling Xavier's brain is stupid. Storm does a great deal of huffing and puffing to bring down the temperature. All they had to do was wheel that sucker over the edge of the ramp, a la Mason Verger in Hannibal. Halle Berry gets lots of close-ups, and if she thinks she's slumming, it doesn't show.

The huge box office indicates the movie's appeal far beyond hard-core comic fans. But how much of this is the public prepared to lap up? It's comic book subjects from here until the end of summer, with Matrix, Hulk, and Hellboy in the pipeline. X2 has set a high bar.

(Atlanta Cutlery is now offering forged, lightweight aluminum wolverine claws that fit in the grip of your hand and extend between the fingers, along with Wolverine-like gauntlets. Although practically useless, they could inflict real mayhem at a convention.)

Mike Baron is the creator of the award winning comic book Nexus and during his career has written an enormous variety of comics from The Flash to The Punisher. His first novel, Witchblade Demons has just been published and he is currently writing the Kiss comic for Dark Horse Comics.

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