Wolverine, who are you?

X2: X-Men United

“I avenge the death of my father, Edward Scissorhands!”

“I avenge the death of my father, Edward Scissorhands!”

Rated 4.0

When the original X-Men was released in 2000, I heralded it as one of the better comic book films ever made. The sequel, X2: X-Men United, is an equally good venture, despite a stupid name. Director Bryan Singer and the cast find all sorts of ways to have fun with the wild scenarios provided by the beloved Marvel Comics series.

Most comic book superheroes and super-villains are results of mutations. X-Men and X2 exploit that concept and expand upon it, creating a world where super-powered mutants have been ostracized by society. In both films, Singer uses this angle to make veiled statements about human ignorance and intolerance, giving the movies strong moral cores to build upon.

While the first film qualified as an excellent set-up for a sturdy franchise, the sequel goes balls-out in its attempts to dazzle, and it mostly succeeds. Singer has reassembled a first-rate cast, including Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman and the incredible Ian McKellen. Their excellent portrayals of comic book figures combine with solid visuals and structured action sequences to make for a movie that feels not only complete, but also blessedly overfilled.

While the original film focused on McKellen’s super nasty Magneto and his intention to turn the entire human race into mutants, the latest chapter focuses on mutant elimination. A sinister military man (Brian Cox), forever embittered after an accident involving his mutant son, sets out to annihilate the world’s mutant population. This sets the stage for unlikely scenarios and surprising team-ups, including the usual group of good guys (Jackman’s Wolverine, Stewart’s Charles Xavier, Halle Berry’s Storm, Famke Janssen’s Dr. Jean Grey) and the baddies (McKellen’s Magneto, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos’ Mystique).

Alan Cumming plays newcomer Nightcrawler, a mutant with teleportation powers and sympathetic squirminess. Stained blue—not unlike shape-shifting Mystique—sporting pointy teeth and a thick German accent, Cumming gives the film tame comic relief and unexpected sweetness.

There are plenty of praiseworthy performances in this film, but my vote for best goes to McKellen, who is the sort of dignified super-villain not seen since Gene Hackman in Superman. He’s an actor who can send chills up the spine with every line. Jackman gets the chance to go ballistic this time out as Wolverine, putting his Adamantium (an unbreakable metal) claws to surprisingly violent use against invading commandos.

Fans of the X-Men comics are aware of the eventual fate of Jean Grey’s character, and there’s no point in spoiling it for the unknowing, although it’ll make the next X-Men installment that much more exciting to see. Janssen gets the chance to do much more in this sequel, and the film’s ending will generate more than a few comparisons to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That film’s finale has been stolen multiple times (including last year’s lousy Star Trek: Nemesis), and X2 does a decent job of playing out a similar final scenario with originality.

The film is a blast, but it does have one confusing part. An explanation for the origin of Jackman’s Wolverine is offered, suggesting his powers are the result of manmade tinkering. But when a massive, telepathic, mutant-detecting device called Cerebro is used to target mutants with the intent to destroy them all, Wolverine is momentarily affected. And when the machine later targets humans, Wolverine is OK. Isn’t Wolverine just a human with manmade weapons? Perhaps there’s a comic book maven out there who can explain this to me.

Logic questions aside, this film is a blast and a strong start to the summer movie season. It should please the more diehard fans, along with the newly initiated.

Geeky editor’s note: The only thing manmade about Wolverine is the Adamantium. He was already a mutant possessing amazing healing powers and refined animal senses before being exploited by scientists who fused the indestructible metal substance to his bones. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t make this clear.