`X2: X-Men United' captures the essence of its comic roots

New on DVD

Angst and pathos are balanced with fun and action

December 04, 2003|By Rob Lowman | Rob Lowman,LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS

X2: X-Men United, the second film installment of the Marvel Comics saga of mutants with super powers, could be titled X.2 -- an upgrade on the first, not an overhaul but an enhancement.

That's the good news, because X-Men, which was also directed by Bryan Singer, was already one of the more cohesive and intelligent of all the comic-book-to-screen mutations. In this case it's not a single lonely tortured soul with unusual powers hiding out from the world, but a whole minority of the population. Many of them hide from the general public -- most of whom don't understand or are fearful. When one -- Bobby (Shawn Ashmore), who has the power to freeze things -- confesses to his parents about being different, his mother's uncomprehending reaction is: "Have you ever considered, well, not being a mutant?"

In X2, now out on a two-disc DVD, Singer neatly balances the angst and pathos of his misunderstood characters with good old-fashioned comic-book fun and action. In this go-round, the students of the private school run by Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) have been targeted by a fanatic government agent named Stryker (Brian Cox) who is determined to wipe out all mutants. Meanwhile, the mutants are at odds among themselves about what to do. Xavier, who can control minds, wants to reach a peaceful coexistence, while the metal-controlling Magneto (Ian McKellen) -- the villain of the first film and now locked in an all-plastic cell -- believes war is inevitable.

Back for X2 are the mysterious Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), with super-metal claws and the power to heal within minutes. He is also the only mutant who may be man-made, making him the closest thing to the super-hero loner. A blond Halle Berry plays Storm, who can control the weather; Famke Janssen is Jean, a telekinetic; and James Marsden is the shaded Cyclops -- a laserlike beam emanates from his eyes -- who loves Jean and is wary of Wolverine's interest in her. And there is the young hot-to-trot Rogue (Anna Paquin), who has a crush on the older Wolverine but has feelings for Bobby, yet is cursed to be with neither because her power is to drain the life out of people she touches.

All of this makes for interestingly strange relationships, but Singer saves the most fun for Rebecca Romijn-Stamos' Mystique, a scaly, blue shape-shifter who can turn into anybody, including a very sexy version of the real supermodel Romijn-Stamos, which she does to great effect twice in the film. The other blue -- and amusing -- character is a transporter named Nightcrawler played by Alan Cumming, a tailed, lizardlike tattooed mutant with a religious bent who moves almost instantaneously from spot to spot.

The DVD offers some more background on the characters as well as an extensive look at the film itself from pre- to post-production. The action in X2, while filled with well-done special effects, is not as eye-popping (or as numbing) as The Matrix Reloaded. But the reason you're going to be interested in all this is that Singer has created a film that captures the essence of its comic-book roots, gives it a larger purpose, has some heart and remains entertaining.

The DVD set includes commentary by Singer and Tom Sigel, a second commentary by the producers, a making-of documentary, 11 featurettes and 11 deleted scenes.

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