5/31/08

R067 X2: X-Men United

(2003, Action-Superheroes, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett

I’ve always suspected the Devil was German.

Rating: ***1/2

In a nutshell:


A convoluted soap opera with superpowers.

Summary:

That's two sets of claws, with three in each set; is he trying to tell us that this series will go until six?“Convoluted” doesn’t even begin to cover it. Since X2 assumes knowledge of X1, perhaps you ought to start with my review of the last film in this series, if you haven’t already.

Up to speed now? Good. At the beginning of this installment, a blue-skinned teleporter mutant called Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) wanders away from his White House tour group and attacks the President. A bullet grazes Nightcrawler’s arm, driving him away. The President naturally begins to consider regulation of the “mutant problem” once again.

This is a source of consternation to mutant guru Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Fearing backlash, he cancels his secret mutant school’s field trip so that he can use his psychic mutant-finding room Cerebro to home in on Nightcrawler’s location. He sends ultrahot mutant ladies Storm (Halle Berry) and Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) to collect the would-be assassin while he takes Cyclops (James Marsden) to visit Magneto (Ian McKellan) in prison, hoping his old nemesis will know something about the attempt on the President’s life. They leave Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) in charge of all the mutant kids back at the school.

Confused yet? I told you to go back and read up on the first film. If you haven’t done that yet, do it now, ‘cause this is the last time I’m stopping the summary for you.

Back at the White House, the President takes a meeting with mutant containment specialist William Stryker (Brian Cox), who requests permission to raid a mutant school he’s found in upstate New York. Yes, it’s Xavier’s school full of innocent mutant children. The President reluctantly grants permission, over the objections of fellow meeting attendee Senator Kelly.

Now we get to the secret plot-ed-ness of it all. I’m going a bit out of order here for the sake of the summary, but it breaks down as follows: Stryker knows about Xavier’s school because he owns Magneto’s prison, and has been torturing the elderly metal manipulator for information. Using the cranial fluid of his estranged mutant son, he’s found a way to brainwash mutants into doing his bidding. This includes the gentle, religious Nightcrawler, whose attack on the President served two purposes—scare the President into granting permission to raid Xavier’s school and lure Xavier into Magneto’s prison so that he can gas and capture the wheelchair-bound psychic.

With the school’s main defenders incapacitated and their ultrahot backup out of town, Stryker’s elite squad catches the school by surprise, but manage to dart and capture only six students before the metal-clawed Wolverine starts scything down astonished invaders by the dozen. This allows the extras to escape. Eventually Stryker arrives to tantalize Wolverine with cryptic comments about the latter’s unremembered past. Fortunately, principal students Rogue, Iceman and Pyro rescue him from this ill-advised and ultimately irrelevant bit of backstory.

I've always suspected the Devil was German.They escape to Iceman’s parents’ house, who didn’t know that their son was a mutant and aren’t happy about it when they find out. The youngest brother goes so far as to call 911 while the others are distracted, inspiring a police raid. The angry Pyro sets everyone on fire, forcing the lifeforce-absorbing Rogue to stop him while Iceman douses the flames. Storm and Jean arrive to pick them up in their mutant jet. The cops call in military pursuit, who manage to fire missiles before the weather-controlling Storm knocks their fighter jets out of the sky. The telekinetic Jean disables one missile, but the other hits them, sending their vessel plummeting earthward...

Let’s pause and go back to Senator Kelly, who, as you recall (if you did your homework like a good boy and/or girl), died about two thirds of the way through the previous film. Hot blue mutant shapeshifter Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) has taken over his identity and used it to obtain details relating to Stryker’s plot and Magneto’s whereabouts. She spikes a prison guard’s blood with iron, thus smuggling it in to Magneto, who uses it to murder his captors and escape. Now determined to take revenge against Stryker, Magneto catches the X-Men’s falling jet. He convinces Jean to use her psychic powers to extract the location of Stryker’s base from Nightcrawler’s mind.

There’s a lot of amnesia and romantic triangle-related shenanigans here, but in the interest of getting to the point, I’ll skip ahead to the rest of Stryker’s plot, which involves using his son’s powers of illusion and a beefed-up version of Cerebro to trick the captive Xavier into killing all the mutants in the world. (There’s some tragic backstory here that explains his motivations, but it’s not that interesting). While Xavier unknowingly prepares to massacre all mutantkind, the others assault the base, fighting their way through to rescue the captured children, unbrainwash Cyclops, find out more about Wolverine’s past, and generally save their race from annihilation. The genocidal Magneto makes it to the false Cerebro first, but rather than shut it down, he alters it to affect humans instead of mutants. All the humans in the world thrash around in dying agony until Nightcrawler teleports Storm inside Cerebro to put a stop to it.

Having rescued Xavier and everyone else who needed it, they head back to the jet. But hang on, kids; the drama’s not done yet! Did I mention that the secret base is inside a dam? And that all the aforementioned fighting has weakened said dam? So now our heroes must escape before the water comes crashing down on them. While the others struggle to start their damaged jet, Jean sacrifices herself to hold off the water until liftoff. Both her lovers scream with grief for a little while, and then they head down to Washington to explain that the whole aborted “everyone in the world thrashes around in dying agony” thing was all Stryker’s fault. Now the filmmakers hint that Jean isn’t really dead, and we’re done.

Thoughts:

Professor X can send these two to capture me anytime.X2 is just like X-Men, only more so, in that it should have collapsed under the weight of so many characters and plot twists, but didn’t. It’s not especially deep or thought-provoking, but manages to stay exciting and not too confusing, with the latter feat especially amazing if you look at the summary above. It’s a bit like a magician’s act, the way the twisting story keeps turning in just such a way to keep you from seeing the plot holes. Like the way Jean had to go outside the jet to lift off and hold back the water, when doing it from the inside would have kept her just as close to the action. Or the way no one thought of sending Iceman to freeze the oncoming flood instead. Or the way Nightcrawler couldn’t teleport to a place outside his line-of-sight for most of the movie, but manages it several times in rapid succession with no hesitation or apparent ill effects at the end. Come to think of it, how did he manage to rescue Rogue from falling in the middle of the film? Even if she was in his line of sight, their relative speeds would have smacked them into each other hard enough to reduce them both to mangled lumps of flesh and bone splinters...

Anyway, Bryan Singer directed, and if his departure after this entry has proved anything, it’s that no one else could have pulled this off. In fact, can we all agree to pretend that the series died when he left it, and declare all that embarrassing crap that went on in the third sequel non-canon? I know Jean was set up to come back to life and all, but without Singer to handle that for us, we’re much better off just letting her rest in peace.

The (ahem) usual suspects Mike, Bill and Kevin, are on hand for the commentary, and their best lines make fun of the characters powers and appearances. Regarding Wolverine, “Wolverines do not have hair fins and sideburns like Martin Van Buren,” (Kevin); regarding Jean’s ability to read dozens of minds at once, “Everyone is secretly plotting against her; finally a character I can relate to,” (Bill); regarding Storm, “Black transsexual Jonathan Winters!” (Kevin); regarding Nightcrawler’s accent and demonic appearance, “I’ve always suspected the Devil was German,” (Kevin); regarding Pyro’s dependence on cigarette lighters, “The first butane-based superhero,” (Mike). Actually, this Rifftrax reminds me most of the one for Spider-Man 3—very few actual laugh-out-loud moments, but quietly, consistently funny for the entire running time.