X2: X-Men United (2003) Review

Rating: 3 Stars

The following review contains spoilers.

Overview:

Colonel William Stryker, a “military scientist”, has come up with a plan to solve the so-called mutant problem. It’s simple, all he has to do is create a serum out of his mutant son’s brainwashing powers, use the serum to interrogate an imprisoned Magneto to find out the location of Professor X’s Mutant School (where Stryker also sent his son at some point in the past), create a duplicate Cerebro at the same secret military base where Wolverine was created, capture and brainwash a mutant teleporter named Nightcrawler and force him to attack the President, get the President’s authorization to take over the Mutant School, capture Professor X with sleeping gas when the Professor is visiting Magneto, and then brainwash the Professor into using the second Cerebro (not the original one at the Mutant School he spent half the movie capturing, because shut up) to concentrate really hard and kill all mutants simultaneously.

Best Parts:

Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart continue to elevate what they’re given.

Magneto pulling excess iron out of a guy’s body and breaking out of prison is pretty messed up.

The big special effects scenes and fight scenes all work well:

The Nightcrawler teleporting attack on the White House looks great and illustrates his powers very effectively.

The assault on the school has a good mix of big action and neat little moments, with my particular favorite being Kitty Pryde (or her non-union equivalent?) phasing through the walls.

The showdown between Wolverine and Lady Deathstrike is probably the best action scene in the movie. I liked the quick little stabs she delivers to him throughout the fight.

Worst Parts:

If the X-Men have a mission statement it’s both to A) protect mutants in trouble and B) improve human-mutant relations, often by saving humans from disasters and “evil mutants”. Boy, what a job they do in this movie.

A) It’s very clear from the text of the movie that the mutants who work for Stryker are victims, not villains. And yet the ones who are coded as “good guys” from the comics (Nightcrawler, Cyclops) are saved by X-Men and the ones coded as “villains” (Deathstrike, Mastermind) are murdered by the X-Men or left to die. How am I supposed to feel triumphant for Wolverine’s victory over Deathstrike (in a gruesome way: filling her body with liquid metal until it bursts from her eyes) when not only is she very definitely not the professional criminal from the comics but someone who was kidnapped, brainwashed, experimented on, tortured, and held in a state of perpetual mind-control for who knows how long. They even make a point of showing us earlier in the movie that the mind-control wears off on its own if Stryker doesn’t keep applying the serum. All they had to do was wait! And then later Nightcrawler, who we’re told again and again is devoutly religious, very specifically chooses to save Xavier and leave Jason Stryker, a wheelchair-bound torture victim, to die.

B) The X-Men break into the Oval Office in an overwhelming show of numbers and power to intimidate the President into doing what they say. “This is not a threat”, the Professor assures him. Yeah, and you brought the same scary blue dude who tried to stab the President with you because it’s totally not a threat. Hey, here’s a folder of unknown provenance that says Stryker is evil and we’re totally blameless. So are we good? And then Xavier says, “We’ll be watching”, which is something very non-threatening for an army of super-powered people to say to you after they’ve broken into your office and effortlessly incapacitated the whole Secret Service. Human-mutant relations are going real, real well, thanks for asking.

Wolverine also leaves Stryker chained up to die, which I guess is in character, but did he have to be carrying a small child when he did it? Seems a little traumatizing. But I guess no more traumatizing then all the children immediately returning to the same school they were just kidnapped from. Good odds that Professor X tweaked their minds a bit.

How does Magneto moving some metal panels around change Cerebro from “kill all mutants” mode to “kill all humans” mode? They’re not even connected to anything, they’re just panels.

Why isn’t there one compelling character arc? It feels like the big character moment of this movie centers around Storm and Nightcrawler having a 10-second conversation about anger and faith in the first half and then Storm saying “You have to have faith!” to convince him to teleport her blind into Cerebro at the end. That is not a character arc. And why wouldn’t he take Jean instead? You know the other psychic? That makes a lot more sense as a plan than Storm’s “I bet it’s hard to mind-control someone if it’s very cold!” plan.

Would it be too much of a bummer to show the thousands of people that must have died when Professor X psychically attacked all of humanity? How many people were going 70 on a highway? Or performing a delicate surgery? Or giving their 2-year-old a piggyback ride?

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