X2 was the best Marvel sequel made at the time and it still holds up as one of the best in the X-franchise. X-Men proved modern superhero movies could be successful and other Marvel adaptations proved they were here to stay. So 20th Century Fox greenlit X2 immediately. Rather than go with a mostly original story, X2 incorporates two separate X-Men storylines into its plot. Return to Weapon X is a storyline dealing with the shadowy organization that made Wolverine. God Loves, Man Kills is a storyline that features human villain William Stryker and his war on Mutants. Both storylines perfectly blend together to make a sequel that’s bigger, deeper, and more action packed than its predecessor.
By 2003, I was a huge fan of Marvel superheroes. My knowledge of the X-Men grew after playing a video game and seeing them in a comic. I still wasn’t an expert, but I recognized characters a bit more. So I was just as excited to see X2 in theaters. There was definitely more superhero action to enjoy, but more suggestive scenes were uncomfortable to watch with my parents. Bryan Singer made the wise choice to fully develop established characters rather than overcrowd X2 with too many new Mutants. Giving Nightcrawler and Lady Deathstrike more opportunity to stand out…
X2 has one of the best openings in any superhero movie. As Nightcrawler attacks the White House to the tune of Mozart’s Requiem. It’s a high energy introduction that makes perfect use of his teleportation. The bigger budget finally made it possible to use Nightcrawler, but Beast and the Danger Room were still too expensive. Angel, Gambit, and the Sentinels were left out for similar reasons. Although a human Dr. Hank McCoy can still be seen doing an interview on TV. The Danger Room set was built, but nothing was filmed on it. Alan Cumming was always the best choice to play Nightcrawler. He may not be wearing his signature red costume, but every other complex piece of his character is utilized. Just like the comics, Nightcrawler is a blue demonic looking German Mutant former member of the circus with a strong Catholic faith. His faith centers the movie, but it does limit his bamfing mostly to rescue. While his jokester personality is only hinted at. As is the possibility of him being Mystique’s son. Similar to Mystique, Cumming’s blue makeup was more extensive with the addition of angelic symbols.
X2 picks up right where X-Men left off. Logan is off searching for answers about his past at Alkali Lake. Since Hugh Jackman became a breakout star, he’s given a lot more opportunity to fully explore Wolverine. After winning an Oscar for Best Actress, Halle Berry was similarly given more screen time as Storm. Thankfully she drops her terrible attempt at an African accent. Storm’s weather controlling power has also gotten a lot better. Famke Janssen shows off more sides of Jean Grey. You can tell something went wrong after the Statue of Liberty. Leaving her unable to fully control her telekinesis. A field trip to a Museum gives Professor X an opportunity to show off his impressive ability to mentally freeze people around him. Patrick Stewart’s role is his biggest so far, as Charles Xavier is placed more in the action. Sadly James Marsden ends up being short changed. Cyclops gets a few good blasts in, but he’s left out of almost everything.
Leaving more room for the teenage X-Men. Anna Paquin better rounds out Rogue with a more confident comic accurate appearance and greater difficulty dealing with her powers. After his small cameo in X-Men, Shawn Ashmore proves to be a cool choice for Iceman. He’s originally a founding member in the comics, but here he’s younger and dating Rogue. His ice powers translate well to the screen even if he doesn’t become ice or use an ice bridge. Pyro on the other hand, is completely different than the comics. A recast Aaron Stanford plays a young student Pyro who uses a lighter to manipulate fire. Of course he does become more villainous over the course of the movie. The attack on the White House leads to the X-Men being split up. Storm & Jean are sent to find Nightcrawler in Boston, Wolverine watches the kids in the X-Mansion, and Xavier & Cyclops question Magneto in prison. Ian McKellen is now able to develop the many sides of Magneto.
Since Magneto’s still in a specially designed plastic prison, William Stryker is really the main villain. A Mutant hating military scientist that only Brian Cox could play. Although this Stryker has many differences from the comics. Instead of being a religious extremist, Stryker seeks to both control and exterminate Mutants using military means. Another change was making Stryker the one who gave Wolverine his Adamantium. Kelly Hu is his deadly mostly silent brainwashed right hand woman Lady Deathstrike. Who’s vastly simplified compared to the comics. Stryker’s plan consists of gaining information from Magneto about Cerebro, kidnapping Mutants at Xavier’s School, and using his illusion creating Mutant son to manipulate Professor X into mentally destroying all the Mutants.
Meanwhile, Mystique still disguised as Senator Kelly, plans to break Magneto out of prison. Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is even deadlier and more seductive this time. She briefly appears without makeup, disguising herself as a sexy bar girl. In one of the more uncomfortable scenes, Mystique seduces a guard and injects him with metal. Leading to an exceptional display of Magneto’s power during a prison escape. Wolverine is similarly given a badass display of his berserker rage when he claws his way through Stryker’s soldiers. We also see plenty of cameos from other Mutants. Kitty Pryde escapes by walking through walls, Siryn alerts her fellow students, and Colossus fights off some soldiers. He’s not Russian, but Daniel Cudmore has the perfect build for Colossus even in a brief appearance. Before he has time to find answers, Wolverine leaves with Rogue, Iceman, and Pyro to regroup with Storm & Jean in Boston. They go to Bobby’s house where he “comes out” to his parents about being a Mutant. Unfortunately, his jerk brother calls the cops and Pyro makes things worse by unleashing his power.
The X-Jet arrives and it leads to an intense confrontation with the airforce where Storm creates multiple tornados, Nightcrawler catches Rogue, and Jean fails to stop a missile. Luckily Magneto is there to catch them. Like the comics, Magneto forms a temporary alliance with the X-Men. While at the same time recruiting Pyro and having his own agenda that results in humans being targeted in Cerebro. After Mystique gracefully fights off Stryker’s soldiers, she manages to get the X-Men into the underground compound. Storm encourages Nightcrawler to save the children (one of them being Jubilee) and the Professor. Jean is forced to fight a manipulated Cyclops with disastrous results. But the best fight by far is between Wolverine and Lady Deathstrike. After discovering his entire bloody origin, the claws come out. It’s an awesome, positively savage fight between clawed Mutants with increased healing factors. Deathstrike clearly has the upper hand and is only defeated when injected with Adamantium.
In the end, Stryker is chained up to the flooding compound and Wolverine turns his back on him. When the X-Jet won’t start up in time, Jean sacrifices herself to save everyone. Something that shocked me as a kid, before I learned more about the Dark Phoenix Saga. Finally, the X-Men make their position clear to the President by assuring him Mutants aren’t the enemy. X2 has a vast improvement of CGI, action, and drama. The black leather suits stay the same despite other Marvel movies showing it was possible to be comic book accurate. I can still accept it since it was difficult enough pulling off each character.
More character development also meant more romance. Rogue and Iceman represent the difficulty of being a power draining Mutant with raging hormones. He’s no Gambit, but their relationship feels right for the movie. Cyclops cares very deeply for Jean and so does Logan. Since Cyclops is mostly absent, Logan and Jean share more romantic moments. Even Mystique randomly wants to get with Wolverine. Although her shapeshifting scene in the tent was mostly a studio request. Every Mutant is given their own individual time to shine. Each of them perfectly displaying their distinct superpower. The only thing that’s missing is a Stan Lee cameo. X2: X-Men United goes to show what Marvel’s Mutants could be capable of.