As we all undoubtedly know, X-Men: Apocalypse comes out on May 27th, which is just four short weeks away. In the time leading up to this premier, I will be re-watching and writing about each X-Men movie made so far. On today’s agenda, X2: X-Men United.
If X-Men was the superhero movie that brought the genre back into the public graces after Joel Schumacher singlehandedly drove an adamantium blade through its skull, then X2: X-Men United is the superhero movie that showed audiences just how good these movies could be by broader film standards. X2 isn’t just a great superhero movie. It’s a great movie. It paved the way for the likes of The Dark Knight, Spiderman 2 and The Avengers. It primed people to take the quality of these movies seriously.
X2 is loosely based on the 1982 Claremont graphic novel God Loves Man Kills, in which Magneto and the X-Men unite against William Stryker, who tries to use Cerebro and Xavier to wipe out mutantkind entirely. Comics Stryker is a bit of a different character, but he is just as bone-chilling and just as dangerous here. He is believable as a big enough threat to bring the X-Men to work with and trust Magneto.
Stryker has been keeping a staff of mind-controlled mutants to do his bidding, the first of which we see is Kurt Wagner aka Nightcrawler, who makes a dramatic and (intentionally) failed attempt on the life of the US president. Oh, Kurt, how I miss you every day. How I long to see you again in Apocalypse on May 27th. Nightcrawler is a real fan favorite, as he deserves to be. He is the most pure-hearted and yet still interesting and compelling character I can think of. Which makes Stryker’s control of him hurt even worse.
As Storm and Jean Grey track down Kurt to see what information they can gain from him, Xavier and Scott Summers pay Magneto a visit with the same goal in mind. Leaving the children at Xavier’s mansion unsupervised. Unless you count an exhausted Wolverine just returned from a journey to Alkali Lake as sufficient supervision. Which you really shouldn’t. Xavier finds Magneto weak, exhausted and beat up. Even though Magneto is “the bad guy”, it really is uncomfortable to see him without his quiet dignity. You pity him. And then you feel even more uncomfortable for pitying him because you know it would make him uncomfortable. Anyway, Stryker seizes this opportunity to capture Xavier and Scott and lock them away in the Alkali Lake bunker.
Obviously, Stryker and his men go after the kids at the school since all their most powerful protectors decided to go off on tangential journeys at the same time. Honestly, who let this happen? Who did this? This is beyond shameful. You run a school, man. You had one job. Keep the kids safe. Damn, I’m heated. Rogue, Bobby Drake aka Iceman (? I don’t know if he ever actually refers to himself as that during the movie), Pyro and Logan escape to safety, but the other kids are not so lucky.
When the runaway squad crashes at Bobby Drake’s parents’ house, the metaphor of mutants for real-life ostracized groups comes back into play. Bobby’s mother asks him if he’s ever tried not being a mutant. His little brother, consumed with fear and disgust, calls the police. It’s heart-wrenching to see Bobby look back at his family, watching him together with fear and distance in their eyes as he is forced to run away with his new family. It’s something so many of us experience or fear that we will. Finally being honest with our loved ones, and alienating them forever in the process. Ugh. My heart hurts.
Back in Stryker’s corner, we get a better look at one of my favorite comic villains of all time, Yuriko Oyama aka Lady Deathstrike. Lady Deathstrike is a product of the same adamantium bone-bonding process as Logan only her claws come out of her fingertips like long, badass murdernails. Deathstrike is so fucking scary and effective and amazing. She’s Wolverine but a hot Japanese lady and also a cyborg. How is Logan more popular than her? How does this happen? She is sadly under mind-control the entire time we see her in this movie. Maybe someday she’ll re-enter the film franchise with an actual personality. She and Wolverine fight toward the end of the movie and it’s vicious. Hard to watch, even. It ends with one of the most horrifying movie deaths I’ve ever seen. My poor Lady Deathstrike gets pumped full of molten adamantium. It makes me shiver just remembering.
Rapid fire notes on other characters, go! Halle Berry does a much better job now that she is taking Storm seriously and not trying that awful accent. Every film in this series has one character that I just cannot fathom why they were included. In this one, Pyro was dead weight, and they could have cut him entirely. Mystique is still consistent as fuck. She really is the one character whose arc really tracks wherever you find her in the timeline. I know the movie wants to make it clear what a big deal teaming up with Magneto is by highlighting his villainy even as the X-Men are working with him, but Magneto is his best when he is more ambiguous. They could have toned it down a few notches. He didn’t have to try to kill all humans for us to remember where he stands.
Logan and Jean have literally a maximum of five minutes of screen time together in both this and the last X-Men movie combined. I am not exaggerating. They barely even speak to each other. And I’m pretty positive in film canon, Jean and Scott are married. So when Logan keeps hitting on Jean, going so far as to forcefully kiss her, it does nothing but enrage me. And I don’t even care about Jean and Scott’s relationship. Logan’s disrespect is appalling, and the movie’s disrespect by daring to portray Logan’s heartbreak over Jean’s sacrifice as anywhere near on par to her husband’s really steams my bean, let me tell you. This love triangle is such trash and there is no reason for it to exist. None.
Yes, in the end, Jean pulls the most classic Classic Hero Move in the book and sacrifices her life to save her loved ones while still remaining incredibly dull the entire time. There are glimmers of the Phoenix Force in her in this movie, setting up for the series’ take on the iconic Dark Phoenix Saga in the third movie. We’ll get into that next time, but god why did the comics best storyline have to become the film franchise’s worst movie?
Nit-picking aside, this movie is expertly paced. I love the natural-feeling exposition and slow reveals. The tension is so effective, the stakes are so high and the emotions are insane. Every character is dealing with some heavy shit, and it’s easy to step into their shoes. It’s well-acted and well-shot. Like I said, it’s a great film, by any standards.
Join me next time as we dissect the Phoenix-possessed garbage heap that is X-Men: The Last Stand.