At the opposite end of the spectrum are those hastily-compiled sequels whose sole purpose is to serve as a stepping stone between the original film and its (presumed) third installment. X2: X-Men United, the long-awaited sequel to 2000s X-Men, is a prime example of such lesser-caliber sequels.
This is not to say that X2, based on Marvels X-Men comics, does not retain some of the integrity established by its original cinematic counterpart. The entire cast of X-Men returns for the sequel, along with several credible newcomers (namely, Alan Cumming as the special-effects-driven Nightcrawler). No X-Men movie would be complete without the wisecracking, devil-may-care Hugh Jackman as the surly Wolverine or without Ian McKellen as the sophisticated villain Magneto. Director Bryan Singer has, at least, managed to cast his film with finesse.
X2 runs for an uncomfortable 135 minutes and, following the lead of the first film, depicts humans and mutants pitted against one another in a battle for humanitys upper-hand. Brian Cox steps in as the newest bad-guy a mutant-hating, senior military man bent on destroying the X-Men from inside their inner-circle and wields the role of the antagonist well (Cox once again displays the evil persona he exhibited as the original Hannibal Lecter in 1986s Manhunter). In doing so, Cox has usurped McKellens role as the X-Mens primary opponent. But rest assured, Magnetos villainous streak appears to be far from over.
The biggest problem with X2 is that it lacks any substantial plot development. Character introductions are surprisingly brief, and many aspects of the films story are resolved with little exposition. The characters shifting alliances are easily foreseen, and the films climax is more than predictable. Make way for X3.
With an all-star cast and the pervading popularity of X-Men riding in its wake, one would expect more from the much-hyped X2. The problem with a comic book-based plot and a cast of over 12 primary characters, however, is that true depth of story is difficult to achieve. Ian McKellen has little screen time during which he can flex the theatrical genius he has displayed in previous projects, and Halle Berrys talents are too often hidden behind her superhero guise.
The abundance of special effects spread throughout X2 lends the film its only true entertainment value. Nightcrawlers instantaneous transporting is fluidly depicted in the blue, smoke-like plumes of his fleeting aura, and Deathstrikes knive-like nails paired against Wolverines retractable steel claws makes for a nasty, highly-watchable battle.
X2 has all of the elements it needs to break into the superior sequel category, but fails to do so. Perhaps with more character development and more solidity of plot the film could have succeeded where it was destined to fail.
And, lets face it, a few more shots of Hugh Jackman wearing nothing but his metal dog-tag necklace couldnt have hurt.