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Directed by: Bryan Singer
Cast: Hugh Jackman (Wolverine), Patrick Stewart (Professor Xavier), Anna Paquin (Rogue)

During the promotional circus for the first X-Men movie, director Bryan Singer stated that his approach to the script wasn’t to make the film about a whole group of mutants, but to concentrate on one character – Wolverine – and tell his story. With X-Men 2, he ignores his own advice. And he gets away with it.

This time around, the roll call of graduates and students at Professor Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters (a euphemism for mutant superheroes) is expanded massively, while characters who only cameoed last time get promoted to a very crowded centre stage. So, as well as Wolverine’s voyage of self-discovery, we get Magneto’s escape from his plastic prison, Jean Grey trying to cope with telekinetic powers that are growing exponentially, and the introduction of teleporting Teutonic Nightcrawler.

There’s also the defection of Pyro to Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, Iceman coming out as a mutant to his parents, and General William Stryker – the guy in charge of the project that created Wolverine and other enhanced mutant hybrids such as Lady Deathstrike – with his plans to wipe out mutantkind. Any one of these strands would provide M Night Shyamalan with enough material to create an entire trilogy.

It’s amazing, then, that X2 isn’t a confused mess. On the contrary, it’s amazingly focused. The characters are fleshed out in deft, economic strokes, while the plots intertwine effortlessly. It’s witty, sharp, action-packed, touching, and visually stunning; every scene – heck, every frame – demands your attention.

It is a shame, though, that the movie opens with its best sequence – Nightcrawler’s audacious attack on the President in the White House is a breathtaking combination of fight choreography, stunts and effects. While later action setpieces (particularly Magneto’s extraordinary escape from his plastic prison) are still impressive, nothing else matches the sheer comic book energy that explodes from X2’s curtain-raiser. And the overwrought plotting does claim casualties: Professor X, Cyclops and Storm, despite ample screen time, don’t progress as characters.

You’re more than ready to forgive the movie such lapses, though, because there’s so much to enjoy. And if you’re a comics fan (the litmus test being quite how excited you get by that shape under the water in the final shot), with the power of your freeze frame button you can now have even more fun playing spot the references, and trying to work out which X-Men the kids at the school are going to grow up to be.


                    

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