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ISSUE 116 VOL 19 PUBLISHED 5/9/2003

Critic's Corner

By Molly Bayrd
Variety Editor

Friday, May 9, 2003

There are some sequels that surpass, both in quality and content, the movies for which they were intended merely as supplementary follow-ups. “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Aliens” and “The Godfather Part II” (debatably) are a few of the time-honored sequels that fall into this category.

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 2000’s “X-Men,” is a prime example of such lesser-caliber sequels.

This is not to say that “X2,” based on Marvel’s “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 humanity’s 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 1986’s “Manhunter”). In doing so, Cox has usurped McKellen’s role as the X-Men’s primary opponent. But rest assured, Magneto’s 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 film’s story are resolved with little exposition. The characters’ shifting alliances are easily foreseen, and the film’s 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 Berry’s 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. Nightcrawler’s instantaneous transporting is fluidly depicted in the blue, smoke-like plumes of his fleeting aura, and Deathstrike’s knive-like nails paired against Wolverine’s 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, let’s face it, a few more shots of Hugh Jackman wearing nothing but his metal dog-tag necklace couldn’t have hurt.

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