Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Film Appreciation - Mutant Freedom Now

Cody Hamman geeks out over X2 (2003) for Film Appreciation.

The success of Bryan Singer's 2000 cinematic adaptation of the X-Men comic books opened the floodgates for a new era of big budget, high profile superhero movies. The 2002 sequel to 1998's Blade got a Super Bowl spot and ended up giving director Guillermo del Toro's career a healthy iinternational boost. A couple months later, Sam Raimi's Spider-Man became the first movie to ever pass $100 million in its opening weekend. 2003 started off with Daredevil, Ang Lee's Hulk was set for that June, and sandwiched between those two, in early May of 2003, came Singer's eagerly anticipated X sequel.

Things kick off in spectacular fashion with an attack on the White House, ending in the near assassination of the President, carried out by the mutant Nightcrawler, who takes down several guards and Secret Service agents by teleporting all around rooms, taking form just long enough to kick an ass before moving on to the next guy. I had read comics with Nightcrawler in them before, but never fully appreciated the character until I saw how he was presented in this film. His powers are awesome onscreen and Alan Cumming delivers an endearing performance in the role.

Professor Charles Xavier and his X-Men are implicated in the attack by Colonel William Stryker (played by cinema's original Hannibal Lecter, Brian Cox), who provides satellite imagery of the jet stored in the base below Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters as proof that the group is a terroristic threat. Approval is given for Stryker to lead a military assault on the school with helicopters full of soldiers. One of the last lines in X1 was Xavier saying, "I feel a great swell of pity for the poor fool who comes to that school looking for trouble." And here it happens.

When Stryker and his men arrive at the school, Wolverine has been left behind to watch over the place while the rest of the X-Men are out handling other business. The heavily armed intruders busting into the place, firing tranquilizer darts into the children, and trying to kill him drives Wolverine into a berserker rage. He rushes through the halls, roaring in anger, using his claws to stab and slash every opponent he encounters. I was so thrilled by this sequence upon my first viewing of it that I experienced a full-on geekout, my heart pounding as I stared up at the screen, awed by the sight of one of my favorite comic book characters being brought to life to tear people up.

First-time film actor Daniel Cudmore also gets to perform some nice heroics during the raid as the imposing metal-skinned mutant Colossus.

Of course, the X-Men had nothing to do with the attack on the White House, and Nightcrawler wasn't even in his right mind when he did it. Stryker himself was behind the attack, he's manipulating situations and characters to carry out his own secret agenda, his ultimate goal being to use Xavier's powers and the mutant-finding machine Cerebro to kill every mutant on the planet. Stryker is such a threat that the X-Men have to form a tenuous alliance with the villainous Magneto and Mystique to try to stop him.

Along the way, the characters deal with several personal side stories - the events of the first film are causing Jean Grey to lose control of her powers, Rogue and Iceman try to work their relationship around the fact that prolonged contact with the power-absorbing Rogue could kill her boyfriend, loose cannon teen Pyro gradually turns to the dark side, the amnesiac Wolverine continues searching for answers about his past... and finds some.

As it turns out, Stryker is the man who encased Wolverine's skeleton in the metal adamantium and wiped out his memory several years before as part of the Weapon X program. Nowadays, Stryker has a Wolverine-esque mutant, Lady Deathstrike, as his right hand woman, setting up another cool Wolverine fight sequence. Both adamantium-clawed, both with fast regenerative healing factors, the two take each other on in a slashy, bloody battle that features one of my favorite camera moves in a superhero movie. Lady Deathstrike runs toward Wolverine, the camera swooping in on their collision, Wolverine meets her with a clawed punch to the gut and the camera swings back in reaction to the impact, then swings back down as Wolvie pushes Deathstrike away.

Lady Deathstrike is played by Kelly Hu, best known to me as the ill-fated Eva in 1989's Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. Also featured in X2, during the White House sequence, is Ken Kirzinger, a stuntman who worked on Jason Takes Manhattan. He stood in for Kane Hodder as Jason Voorhees in a couple moments and plays a diner cook who Jason tosses across a room. This same year, Kirzinger was the main Jason performer in Freddy vs. Jason, which was filmed in Vancouver at the same time as X2, so Bryan Singer visited the set of that movie during some downtime.

X2 (questionably subtitled X-Men United on marketing materials) is a terrific example of a sequel, one of the rares ones that's often considered even better than the first, an assessment that I would agree with. It builds on ideas established in the first, while being bigger and better in every aspect.

There's more action, with bigger setpieces and more polished effects. The story, basically an adaptation of the 1982 graphic novel X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills, is quite good, well written by Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris from a story by David Hayter, Bryan Singer, and Zak Penn.

The plight of the mutants is again tied in to the sorts of oppression, discrimination, and civil rights issues we deal with in the real world, and this time mutant abilities are most obviously an allegory for homosexuality, plainly evident in the scene where Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) comes out as a mutant to his family and his mother responds, "Have you tried not being a mutant?"

The returning actors do fine work in their roles, certainly the perfectly cast Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman do not disappoint the second time around. I could understand if Cyclops fans were a bit letdown, as James Marsden did kind of get the shaft in this one - he isn't given much to do, his character taken out of the equation for a large portion of the film. Of the newcomers, in addition to those mentioned, Aaron Stanford does some great work in the role of Pyro.

Even the hair and wigs on Jean and Storm were improved for this movie.

As I left an opening day screening of X2 back in 2003, I was a very satisfied Marvel comics fan, and I still hold the film in high esteem to this day. In my opinion, X-Men and X2 are up there with Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, and a few of the Avengers flicks as some of the best comic book movies ever made.

No comments:

Post a Comment