Put The Knives Down! – X-Men 2 (X2)

20 10 2015

X-Men 2 (20th Century Fox - 2003)

Life as a mutant in the X-Men world is tough; you live in a world where everyone hates you because you are a different species to man, although you may look exactly like them. You have gifts, powers and people see you as dangerous, different, and as such humanity isn’t willing to give you a slice of the planet. Many mutants face endless persecution, while humanity comes up with ways to deal with you, going as far as to plan your extinction.

Released in 2003 by 20th Century Fox, Directed by Bryan Singer and Produced Lauren Shuler Donner, X-Men 2 (or X2 as titled) is the second film in the X-Men film series. Like its predecessor, the X-Men are a super hero team of mutants who fight both the forces of Evil (usually in the form of other mutants) as well as fight for mutant freedom from a world that hates them. This time though, they will need to make uneasy alliances, as all mutants face extinction, from a sinister new enemy and a face from the past for one of the X-Men’s most iconic characters. The plot for X-Men 2 is largely based on the graphic novel X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills.

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In Washington DC, during a regular tour of the Whitehouse, a mutant attempts to assassinate the President (Cotter Smith), but fails. Up in Canada at Alkali Lake, Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), finds an abandoned Military base looking for answers about his past, but nothing is left. Back at the Whitehouse, Colonel William Stryker (Brian Cox) asks the president for authority to accomplish a little mission regarding the mutant problem. The president agrees, and Stryker visits Magneto (Ian McKellen) in his plastic prison to get more information regarding Charles Xavier’s school. At his school, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) tells a returned Wolverine that he will need to find out the answers to his past by himself. Xavier then sends Jean (Famke Janssen) and Storm (Halle Berry) to Boston where he has finally tracked down the mutant that attacked the President, while he and Scott/Cyclops (James Marsden) go to see Magneto. In Boston, Jean and Storm meet the teleporting mutant Kurt Wagner, also known as Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) and ask him why he attacked the President, to which he cannot remember. At his Prison, Magneto tells Xavier about the frequent appearances of Stryker, but his visit is a trap as Xavier is knocked out, and Cyclops is rendered unconscious when attacked by Stryker’s assistant, Yuriko Oyama (Kelly Hu).

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At Xavier’s school, while Logan gets acquainted to Rogue’s boyfriend Iceman/Bobby Drake (Shawn Ashmore), the school is attacked by armed soldiers under the orders of Stryker. Several of the students escape thanks to the help of Peter Rasputin/Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), although several others are captured. Rouge (Anna Paquin), Bobby and their friend John/Pyro (Aaron Stanford) manage to escape, but go back to help Logan. Logan meanwhile, who has killed a large group of the attacking soldiers, comes face to face with Stryker. He remembers him for some reason, but doesn’t know why, and before he can find out more, he is unwillingly rescued by Bobby and escapes with him and the others. On the jet, Jean and Storm try to contact the school with no answer. Storm talks to Nightcrawler who talks about his past and why he does not fear, but rather pity those who persecute him. In Boston, Logan, Rogue, John and Bobby go to Bobby’s parents’ house and reveal that they are all mutants. Bobby’s parents try to hide past the issue and find it hard to accept his son for who he really is. Bobby’s brother meanwhile calls the police who come to the house and shoot Logan. While Bobby and Rogue follow the police’s orders, John uses his fire manipulation power to attack the police officers before being rescued by Jean and Storm arriving in the jet. At an undisclosed location; Xavier meets Stryker who blames Charles for not being able to cure his son Jason (Michael Reid MacKay) of his mutation and as such plans revenge on all mutants. Xavier discovers that Stryker orchestrated the attack on the President to help achieve this. Back at his Plastic Prison, Magneto manages to escape after sucking all the iron from his prison guard; Laurio’s (Ty Olsson) blood stream, which was put there by Mystique (Rebecca Romijn).

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Back on its way to the Xavier Institute, the jet is attacked by a squadron of fighter jets responding to John’s attack on the police. Storm manages to lose the fighter’s, but one shoots off a couple of missiles. Jean, using some new-found power which she has been struggling to control, destroys one of them, but the other causes a tear in the ship. Certain that they are going to crash; they are all then rescued by Magneto. During a meeting at the camp, Magneto reveals what he knows, that Stryker wants to use Cerebro to kill all the mutants in the world. He says that he told Stryker because he uses a powerful sedative on the back of Mutants necks to control them. He reveals that Nightcrawler too was manipulated by Stryker to attack the president. Through Nightcrawler, the uneasy alliance finds that Stryker’s base is back at Alkali Lake. Xavier is now under the control of Stryker’s son Jason who uses his powers of illusion to make Xavier think that he is back at the school, and that Jason is nothing more than a small girl (Keely Purvis). The X-Men spend the night at a makeshift camp where Logan tries to fall into a relationship with Jean, who keeps saying she is in a relationship with Scott.

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At the base, Mystique manages to gain access to the base allowing everyone else to get inside. Storm and Nightcrawler head off to rescue the captured children from the school, while Magneto, Mystique and Jean head off to Stryker’s Cerebro. Logan meanwhile heads off to find answers. On their way to Cerebro, Jean, Mystique and Magneto are attacked by a brainwashed Cyclops. Jean manages to rescue him, but causes damage to the dam in the process. In an Adamantium smelting room, Logan discovers answers as to what happened to him, but is then found by Stryker. Logan fights Yuriko, who possesses similar powers to him, but he kills her after injecting her with Adamantium. Outside Cerebro, Magneto attacks to gain entry just as Xavier starts the killing process. All the mutants in the world begin to break down, but Magneto manages to stop the machine in time. Once inside though, he switches the machine’s components round and has Xavier do it again, but this time, attacking humans instead. Logan finds Stryker to get more information out of him, but doesn’t get very far, he then finds out that the dam is going to burst, killing everyone inside. At Cerebro, the X-Men discover what Magneto has done. Storm puts her faith in Nightcrawler to get inside and rescue the professor. All the humans in the world begin to break down from the attack, but Storm manages to stop and rescue Charles in time.

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After escaping the dam; the team is rescued by Rogue who flies the jet to them, crashing into the snow in the process. Logan confronts Stryker one last time, deciding to just let his past with Stryker go. On the Jet, Jean discovers that Pyro has gone with Magneto, but also that the water from the dam will kill everyone on the jet before they can take off. She goes out and uses her new powers to stop anyone from leaving, lift the jet out of the snow and hold the water back. Just as it takes off, the waters consume her, and a heartbroken Cyclops can’t believe it. The team travel to the White House to confront the President providing him with information regarding Stryker and warn him about a potential war between Humans and Mutants, and that it is together that they should try to build peace. Back at the mansion, all the pupils have returned and classes have begun again. Xavier consoles both Logan and Scott about Jean and says the reason she went outside the jet was because she made a choice. They leave as Xavier begins his class, with Wolverine telling Scott, that Jean chose him. Back at Alkali Lake, a phoenix like shape appears flying under the water.

Since 2006 when X-Men: The Last Stand came out, I have regarded X-Men 2 as the best film in the series. I have always felt that X-Men 2 is still superior, even when more films have been released. It’s a really good film with lots of plot twists, themes and characters. Much like its predecessor, X2 deals a lot with the themes of racism and persecution, shown through its mutant characters and their desire for freedom. As the film’s narrative goes though, while X-Men used some narratives to strengthen and give the main plot weight, X2 only really uses one major plot, and this time it’s through little stories and characters that help the plot along. X2 also carries the narrative of persecution and freedom of mutants as its main plot, where as in X1 it’s more of a sub plot that leads to a big moment. This is greatly helped along by its characters, some of whom have had something of a re-designation and more of a presence in this film. One that strikes out to me more than others is Jean Grey. After looking at X-Men 1, I kind of get the feeling that she was more of a support character who adds conflict for being the love interest to both Logan and Scott. While she was a good character, it just felt like she was there, for just being there. In this film though, she has gone from that to almost taking over the narration duties of the film from Logan and Rogue. Jean begins the film, experiencing a range of new powers that she cannot seem to control, and as the film develops, so does she. With Scott gone she is finding it hard to cope and to keep Logan away from her, although she may have feelings for him. She takes on more a role of a leader too, although is possibly shadowed a little by Storm. As time goes on she grows more with her new powers, and her sacrifice at the end gives the film one more plot twist. Instead of just escaping; one character that has become a major and enjoyable character, dies. It’s a moment which is so powerful, it almost makes you forget what has happened so far, but it works.

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Due to an increase in characters for this film, some characters are sort of held back, but given that the characters were given a good introduction in the first film, it means that for the most part, they are not having to be revisited a lot, however there is still some tension for them. Rogue for instance is a lot more confidant and outspoken than she previously was, but her powers are still a danger and is finding it hard to fully commit to a relationship with Bobby. I quite liked the scene where she nearly attacked Magneto, but I do think that maybe more could have been done with that scene or with the idea. Charles, whose position in the film is already well founded, is now more a tool of mutant destruction and despite his power level; he does not see what is really going on until he gets captured. His moments when he is both under manipulation, and not, are really good scenes and are some of his best in the series. Logan meanwhile still struggles with his past a great deal, and becomes one of the film’s main sub plots. He being so close to the truth really brings more out of him. Upon rediscovering his past though he is able to let it go, as he has found much better things, including friendship and things to really care about. Mystique, who is now less striking in who she is, as she was well introduced in the first one, has less of those scenes that made her visually striking in X1. This time however, she still has more of a part that reveals who she is and what she can do including her IT talents. Much like the theme/narrative of persecution, she becomes more of a focal point as to the idea of never judging a book by its cover. Magneto meanwhile is up to his usual tricks. To begin with he is sentenced to life imprisonment in his plastic prison, and comes to deal with some of it, but is consistently abused by both Laurio and Stryker. When he does escape, he decides to aid the X-Men in taking down Stryker, but then uses this ploy to do what he wants, and eradicate humanity. This little plot twist is a nice addition to the film. While he could have just destroyed Cerebro, he decided to use it for his own reasons.

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Jean Grey is not necessarily the only character to get more time on-screen; Storm really comes out of her shell in this film. Much like Jean, Storm was not much of an outstanding character in the film other than when talking to Logan and Senator Kelly, and during the final battle. In this film she comes out more as a leader but also a people person. She develops a great bond with Nightcrawler and learns from him. She cares greatly for those around her, and sort of steps in for the professor when he disappears. Given that she receives more on-screen time than in the previous film, plus much more of a role, makes her a rather enjoyable and stand-out character in this film. Scott though is possibly the most interesting. He sort of vanishes for a good bit of the film as he has been captured and manipulated, but when he comes back in, he has some terrific scenes. To begin with, he is much like he was in the first film, rather quiet and maybe a bit cold towards others. During the final act though, something much greater comes out of him, and this, more than anything is shown after Jean dies. While he is on the jet, he struggles with her being in peril and almost can’t control his emotions. It’s like right now, no one else is there it’s all Scott. Then when Jean dies, and the emotion drops to a sudden silence, he can’t control himself as he is physically and mentally heartbroken to her loss. While Logan tries to console him, Scott is not having any of it. It really does carry the emotion both on and off-screen, as someone in all this, is hurt more than anyone. While Scott may not be the film’s lead, or one of the more outstanding characters, for one traumatically and emotionally long scene, he is.

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After the old cast, we get more into the newer members. While Bobby Drake was in the first film, he gets more of a part in the second. A strong mutant who can create and manipulate ice, he starts off being the boyfriend of Rogue, but quickly builds to become a loyal member of the team, plus someone who is very reliable. Bobby’s movie moment though comes when his parents find out what he really is, and while state it’s all complicated, just can’t come to accept the situation or who he is. This then brings us on to Pyro. John is an important character as it builds up a rivalry between him and Bobby. Pyro who can manipulate but not create fire is a good, but possibly basic rival to Iceman, but also provides an interesting similarity in characters. While Bobby is caring for those around him, while also fleeting from the truth, Pyro stands out as someone who is quite possibly selfish. The moment he attacks the police is one of the film’s most emotionally driven moments as it deals with the persecution of mutants and what some will go to, to achieve acceptance and freedom. It’s a scene I rather like and have found myself sometimes dwelling on, even think acting on, as to what I would do in that situation. Pyro really helps to bring out the seriousness of that scene…..and is very destructive.

One character who makes a really great appearance in this film, but is used minutely is Colossus. He appears as the attack on the mansion commences, rescues the children and then is not seen until the very end. Daniel Cudmore plays the character rather well, and is physically striking. It’s a shame he is not used more, as when he appears he makes the scene. Colossus aside, the film does well at showing other small time characters. Laurio for instance is a really good character, as he is sort of depressed for the job he has been given to do, and it’s through this weakness which leads to his end. The President, although a small role, is pretty good too, as he is forced to come to realise the situation, but he seems regretful in what he does, but for the most part appears to not have a clue as to what is really going on. Stryker’s Sergeant (Peter Wingfield) also has some moments too, including his choice of makeup. Jason too does not appear to have much of a part other than to manipulate Charles. When he takes the appearance of a little girl however, a new character comes to light; that of a schemer and a deceiver. His appearance is horrifying and looks like a possible psychopath, and on-screen sort of hogs the screen, even when with other characters. As a little girl though something else comes to light; fear. When he loses against Storm, the girl reveals the mind of Jason who is scared of what his father might do to him and a little bit of empathy comes his way when you fully realise what has been done to him. The film also teases other mutants from the comics like Jubilee (Kea Wong), Siryn (Shauna Kain), Artie (Bryce Hodgson) and Shadowcat (Katie Stuart), and Jones (Connor Widdows) – who as far as I can find is not in the comics – as well as other comic characters in mention including Gambit. While not referenced by her comic name (Lady Deathstrike), Yuriko has a nice sinister look, who looks more like a bodyguard than an assistant. She constantly trails Stryker up until she fights Logan. She hardly speaks at all but remains a key part. Her part comes to more fruition in the second half and in her fight with Logan. Her fight the scene with Logan is pretty cool and her death also, but for every scene she is in, she is a real treat.

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Nightcrawler meanwhile is the main focus of all new mutants in this film. While other mutants try to hide from persecution, Nightcrawler represents what it’s like to go through it. A man who has lived on the streets, and has faced persecution from everyone, not for really being a mutant but to what he looks like with his blue skin. The film begins and near ends with him as a central character. In the mid parts he is something of a comic/comedy character, trying to fit in with others, and who is helped by Storm. But he becomes an eventual hero, helping to rescue Charles and turn Cerebro off. He feels for those around him, and while they may be shocked or scared by them, he remains headstrong throughout, as he understands what it’s like to be persecuted, and sees more in people. For a story whose main plot is the request and hope for freedom from persecution, it’s important to have a character in it that not only portrays what many people see, but also someone who understands why they act like that, but also pity’s them for it, and reveals that there is more to someone other than just the colour of their skin. The onscreen heavyweight for this film though is Brian Cox playing the part of Stryker. An unpleasant man from first looks, who later reveals and proves himself to be more than just sinister. He has a long history with Mutants, and whose son caused nothing but pain for him and his wife, and wanting revenge for what he truly wanted from Xavier, plans to get rid of all mutants. He cannibalises his own son so as to use him, and plans an attack on the President so as to use the event as an opportunity to get what he needs to complete his plan, which he nearly does. He is a man who also has history with Logan, being the man who gave Logan his steel claws, and for whom is someone Logan wants answers from. Brian Cox plays the role with belief and conviction, providing a character who is a real villain, through and through, and to which is one you want to see get their comeuppance, but also rather enjoy.

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The film like its predecessor uses a lot of special effects to convey the superpowers of its characters. More this time has been given to scenes of powers being used such as the ice wall and Pyro’s fireballs. Magneto also gets the use of SFX when escaping from his prison, and the removal of Iron from Laurio is a pretty cool, yet possibly gruesome scene. Other scenes use SFX in different ways however; including the end scene with Jean holding back the water, and the air battle. Make up is also used a great deal too, particularly for Nightcrawler. Costumes are pretty much the same as last time, with some changes (I think I preferred the green lining on Jean’s costume more than the red), and new ones for Rogue and Iceman, and even Lady Deathstrike gets one. The film also has some pretty amazing sets. These are reserved mostly for the end, the base in particular and Logan’s Adamantium room is terrific. It’s a film that has gone to great lengths to use what SFX they could, but not rely on them, and instead use other, more traditional and real effects to produce a much better look.

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I really do like the soundtrack (composed by John Ottman) for this film and consider it an improvement over the first film, but also one that is astounding. Nightcrawler’s attack on the White House uses a classic piece from Mozart’s Requiem which quickly ramps up tension within minutes of the film starting. It sounds monstrous as the President comes under attack from a mysterious assailant.

The rest of the soundtrack uses similar themes, but ones more in the style of tune of the film’s main theme piece. Storm’s piece inside the church for instance is very operatic and grand, while the attack on the school is grand, perilous and tense. Pyro’s attack on the police achieves something similar but starting with a growing feeling before exploding into a serious note. Jean’s scene holding back the water is like several pieces in one and continues to only get more tense until moment of realisation when the jet is rescued and Jean gets washed away. All of such scenes though are complimented with a nice piece woven everywhere in the film. It’s a piece of joy and resolution and helps sad, angry, emotional scenes recover and provide an element of happiness to the film. The film’s main theme is a piece I absolutely love. It’s a piece which causes tingles down my spine, a piece I can’t get enough of. While most of the films in the series have separate, and good theme pieces, I consider the piece from X-Men 2 to be the series real theme music. Much like how Christopher Nolan’s Batman films all have an associated piece of  music which becomes their theme, this series theme for me is the opening and closing credits from X-Men 2. I was so happy when it was reused for Days of Future Past, as I think the series has needed that returning theme music for a good long time now. This piece of music is one of my favourite things about this film, I love it that much.

Alltogether, X-Men 2 is a great film. My favourite of the X-Men series, and one of my favourite comic/superhero related films. It’s a film of themes and narratives, all surrounding the subject of persecution and racism of mutants. It shows what they go through in their daily lives, how their families react, and humanities cruelty towards them plus what it’s like for them to fear both persecution and who they are. It shows people’s problems with mutants, and histories surrounding them and how bent out for revenge they are. It’s also a story of struggles. Characters like Jean whose powers are growing and she can’t control, or Logan who struggles to live not knowing who he is. It has a great cast of characters who make this film what it really is. A great diversity of characters from Mutants to Humans, heroes to villains. Brilliantly directed and a story so emotionally driven that you feel for protagonists, what they go through and feel a sense of empathy towards them with scenes producing moments of sadness, some happiness but also anger. When including the special effects, set pieces and a fantastic soundtrack, you have one really special film that you won’t regret and not be able to forget. A film with plot twists, things you neither expected nor saw coming, moments of drama, understanding, and sometimes a desire to leap into, not forgetting raw moments of emotion. X-Men 2 is Fantastic Film, one that I remember watching with great fondness, and look forward to watching it again soon.

GENEPOOL

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