Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Great Alphabet of Films—X is For

X2: X-Men United

      We've made it to the XYZ affair. Before you interject with some sarcastic remark, let me just state that I'm fully aware that I'm going from an incisive discussion of Jean-Luc Godard's Weekend into an enthusiastic discussion of X2 (two films cannot be more antithetical in design and purpose). But there's a reason I won the Versatile Blogger Award, and it has nothing to do with the fact that said award is merely the blogosphere's version of a chain letter. It's because I faithfully impose my diverse love for film on y'all. After all, FilmMattic is a repository of movie-centric ramblings, as vintage as Weekend and contemporary as Source Code.  
      Today's letter of the day usually implies an exodus, a removal, or some kind of exclusion of sorts. Well, this negative connotation does not apply on this spring day because I'm here to highlight one awfully exciting, well-executed comic book film. Expunge any repugnant preconceptions you may associate with the letter "X" and embrace this fine entry, for it deserves some actual deliberation. In lieu of the new X-Men film coming out this June, let's jump into a discussion of my favorite of the bunch...well, so far.
      A failed assassination attempt against the President of the United States (Cotter Smith) provokes a new war between humans and mutants. Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and his School for Gifted Youngsters are targeted for the crime. The mutants must band together against a common adversary: General William Stryker. The mysterious governmental scientist ratchets up his plan to eradicate all mutants, employing radical methods to cull information from an old foe of the X-Men, Magneto (Ian McKellan). Stryker plots an immediate attack on Professor Xavier's school. On the night of the attack, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is left alone to babysit the young students while Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and Storm (Halle Berry) search for the mutant assassin (Nightcrawler). After Stryker's devious trap, Professor X is locked inside Magneto's plastic prison. As the proverbial saying goes, the plot thickens from this point forward, mostly, with a faithful adherence to the comic book mythology—a mind-controlling agent, a crack commando team, an infiltration, the sinister Mystique (Rebecca Romijn), Lady Deathstrike (Kelly Hu), Rogue (Anna Paquin), Cyclops (James Marsden), a Cerebro machine, a snowstorm, a titanic flood, a telekinetic wall, a soul-searching Wolverine, a rescue operation, and a major cliffhanger.  

      The 2000's signaled an emergence of great superhero movies, notably Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, and Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2 (if you don't believe me, read my analysis of Superhero films). But X2 is the comic book movie that really ushered in the extraordinary revival of the superhero genre (along with X-Men, Blade, Hulk and Spider-Man). Bryan Singer, fresh off his highly lauded 2000 adaptation of X-Men, got right back to work on the famous Marvel Comics series. And his designs for X2 were extremely ambitious, modeling the superhero sequel after Empire Strikes Back (my "E" pick). But as crazy as it sounds, the comparison is not as tenuous as one presumes (and I'm not saying this film is as good as Empire because no film can replace or match the awe of Star Wars). Instead, I'm merely insinuating that Singer's grand aspirations actually help transform the derivative nature of comic book films into an enjoyable, more robust, cutting-edge saga defined by a dazzling visual delight and an unswerving storyline might.
      X2 boasts a wonderful ensemble cast, but Hugh Jackman's rugged and tormented Wolverine is the focal point. And the handsome and charismatic Aussie does not disappoint. He captures Logan's evolving feelings of resentment regarding his cloudy past with an earnest temperament while also intimating a genuine courage and compassion towards his fellow mutants. But the other actors also perform admirably in their supporting roles. Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart bring an old school charisma and credibility to their respective characters while newcomers like Aaron Stanford, Anna Paquin, James Marsden, and Kelly Hu all perform delightfully in their given roles. Brian Cox smartly inhabits the seedy and violent depths of Stryker while the beautiful trio of Famke Janssen, Rebecca Romijn and Halle Berry—superpower femme fatales—provide a fierce energy and competency. Storm's eyes signify the onset of a calamitous weather disturbance while Romijn adorns a sleek and scaly, blue-birthday suit, as the devious, shape-shifting Mystique. Mr. Singer handles this diverse cast of characters with a confident dexterity, giving them ample room to explore their mutant feelings amidst the standard action fare: well-choreographed fights and colossal explosions. He fills this comic book world with tender moments of human emotion (remember Iceman's coming-out scene). It's precisely this kind of attention to detail and character development that separates Singer's mutant action-drama from most other superhero films.

      One of the markedly consistent qualities of old Marvel comics is their dramatical depiction of adolescent angst. Aside from their detailed graphical panache and hyperbolic assessment of human functions, comic books magnify youthful antipathy on an apocalyptic scale, bridging the private disaffection of its heroes and readers, with the primordial struggle between good and evil. Bryan Singer's X2 competently marries these sovereign principals, honoring the allegorical grandiloquence of the Marvel mythology and the peculiar attitudes of the superpower mutants that inhabit it. An astonishing opening sequence, featuring the teleporting Nightcrawler, immediately transports us into this fascinating comic book world, and a remarkable succession of compelling visual sequences, keeps us there. 
      The Mutant Registration Act reminds us of the psychological and political plight of these superpower figures, and the superpower figures themselves, remind us why their struggle for survival is so damn thrilling. Storm wields tornadoes, Dr. Jean Grey restarts an airplane in mid-air, Magneto brandishes telepathic powers, Wolverine struts around with an indestructible adamantium skeleton, Cyclops shoots beams from his eyes, Rogue absorbs people's memories, and Pyro and Iceman do, well...what their names suggest. Though there is an abundance of distinct mutants with distinct powers, Singer performs an almost miraculous balancing act, working in each character's motivations and responsibilities with a tactful cohesion (too bad Snyder didn't take any notes for Sucker Punch).  
      Singer sought out to design a rich, but coherent environment that credited Road to Perdition as a visual influence, and strived to deliver an entertaining sequel that recalled to memory, Empire Strikes Back. While failing to conjure up the awe-inducing nostalgia of Lucas' fantasy epic or the dramatic cinematographic artistry of Mendes' masterful gangster drama, Singer did actualize a two-hour spectacle that is, in subtle but important ways, an all-of-the-above answer to his extremely ambitious blueprint. Devout fans of the comic book cannon will appreciate his delicate design, and fans of substantive, adult-action storytelling will, no doubt, Marvel at his construction. 

*X2: X-Men United Official Trailer


  1. Cyclops, Mystique and Wolverine were my favourite, but I could never stand Rogue since it was played by that artificial and truly horrible Anna Paquin.

  2. and PS Rebecca Romijn hasn't been Stamos for years now :) she got married to Jerry O'Connel and they have kids :)

  3. Aha, touche. I'll always remember her as a former Stamos. I'll fix it though, thanks!

  4. Brilliant choice! X2 is my favorite of the X Men films for its maturity, its depth of character and that balance you talked about. Not just a balance of heroes and their motives, but of light and dark. Things did not end so well. Yes, they won, but there was sacrifice. To me there cannot be great heroic epics without great sacrifice.

  5. Thank you. I feel the same way. It raises the stakes from the first, and dwarfs the execution, in every respect, of The Last Stand (not that our expectations were too high with Ratner directing).

    Hopefully, Vaughn's installment rekindles the atmospheric and emotional gravity of X2. I'm optimistic.

  6. Last Stand really disappointed. I'm very optimistic for Vaughn's installment as well. The clips I've seen are stellar and have an emotional depth lacking with Ratner's effort.

  7. My thoughts exactly. Vaughn has proven his talents as a stylist and storyteller, so I think he can balance the top-flight action with the character/narrative substance.

  8. AHAHA! Excellent choice! This is definitely a guilty pleasure movie of mine. It was running a marathon on TV once and my sister and I literally watched it sometime like three times in a row. It's just way too much fun. And Halle Berry ranks high on my sexiest women of all time list.

  9. Matty, the best possible pick for "X"! "X2" is definitely the most accomplished and entertaining installment in the franchise. It was near perfect... just like your awesome review :)

  10. I hated Xmen 2! It sucked ass! Killing all the notable characters was a hideous thing to do! HIDEOUS!

    That said, have a great weekend everyone.

  11. @ M.

    Thanks! "Guilty pleasure" is a good way of putting it. Ooooh, Halle Berry was in her sexy glory during the early 2000's and she's still a complete fox!

    @ Nebular

    Thanks buddy! I totally agree. Thrilling, emotional, action-packed, intense, exaggerated—all the comic book buzz words are apt descriptors for this movie.

    @ T.D.

    Really? For the sake of avoiding any contentious argument, I'll just say I completely disagree. Deathstrike died and Jean Grey sacrificed herself (becoming Phoenix in The Last Stand), so I'm not sure who you're referring to as "all the notable characters." Besides, it's a comic book movie. Inevitably, some characters are going to meet their demise.

    I think you're confusing my review with X-Men The Last stand.

    But thanks for the gesture. Have a good one yourself!

  12. Now that you mention it, I think so too. It was so unspeakably horrible the exact title was flushed out of my mind.

    In that case, do carry on. :D

  13. It's all good. All's fair in blogosphere.

  14. Matthew - and we thought Q was a bit of a challenge - but once again, you have proven yourself up to the task - a very fine film. Without a doubt it whips the first one because we have fewer origin touchstones to carry, plus this is a perfect example of fixing mistakes in the second movie. And I'll go on record saying The Last Stand is a fine X-Men movie - not really understanding the Ratner Bashing he faces EVERYWHERE - he may well be the most arrogant, self-centered ahole to ever take a breath - but he's made some kickass movies, and I think X3 is one of them. X2 is better, but only a little bit! ;) Cheers!

  15. Haha, you are right my friend. It's not so much that I deeply dislike The Last Stand, I just thought it was a rather porous and, by comparison, lackluster entry into the series. There was no real emotional investment. X2>X1>X3...we shall see where First Class ranks.

    As for the Ratner bashing, I think he is a bit of a narcissistic prick. But I won't discredit him completely. He has shown some promise as a director. I really enjoyed the first Rush Hour and I liked The Family Man. And Money Talks was another fun time with Chris Tucker. But a lot of his other work has been really meh.

  16. What a great read! This film was really an improvement over the first one and there was some character development as well.

    I for one, loved The Last Stand (I know i´m probably on the minority side) even though it does not compare with the first two. However, what I loved in The Last Stand was that Storm finally reminded me of the character I knew from the comic-books which I think Singer failed to accomplish before.

    I hope someday we get another sequel instead of Hollywood rebooting it once more like they are doing with Spider-man.

  17. Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

    I'm glad your opinion resides closely with mine, in terms of X2 being the best of the series. And I respect anyone who is willing to announce their opinion no matter how far from the consensus is strays. I applaud your appreciation for The Last Stand.

    And your point about Storm is well-taken. Her character was one of the more appealing aspects of Ratner's direction.

    I hope for a sequel too since First Class is only merely a prequel.

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