It’s bigger, badder, and better than the first one, but in essence, what I said the first time applies to this one, too:
Let’s get right to the point. Extremely cool special effects? Check. Highly overqualified actors bringing Shakespearian line readings to comic book dialogue? Check. Highly attractive young stars bringing sensational bodies to skin-tight costumes? Check. Really fun action sequences, at least one involving a national landmark? Check. Just the right balance of irony, self-awareness, and oh, what the heck, check your brains at the door, grab some popcorn and let’s just go with it? Check. And did I mention the extremely cool special effects? Check!!
In other words, this is the summer movie for teenagers and anyone who’d like to pretend to be one, which is just what summer movies are all about.
This time it is the ubiquitous Brian Cox (of “Adaptation,” “The 25th Hour,” “The Ring,” and “The Rookie” in 2002 alone) as Colonel Stryker who wants to wipe out the mutants. Stryker and his soldiers invade the school run by wise and benevolent mutant Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart). They capture Xavier and some of the students. Stryker plans to use Xavier’s brain and the machine he developed to track down and destroy every mutant.
Meanwhile, Magneto (Ian McKellan) is in an enormous plastic prison, unable to use his powers because they require metal. The way metal is smuggled into him is highly original, to say the least. Once he is out, he has to work with Xavier’s mutants (the X-Men), his former enemies, to defeat Stryker.
This movie is all about the action, so it seems unfair to quibble about the fact that there are so many characters it is hard to include them all in anything meaningful, giving parts of the movie the feel of a prolongued introduction. The fans of the comics want to see every character up on the screen, and the movie tries to make it happen. But the result is that it is hard for people who are not familiar with the stories to keep everyone straight or develop much of a commitment to any of them. Halle Berry and Anna Paquin in particular are still criminally underused. The most memorable character is Mystique, played by Rebecca Romjin-Stamos, who is so good that she can even act under all that blue paint and those sequin-like scales. Alan Cummings is a welcome addition as Nightcrawler, but his German accent and Biblical references seem out of place and attracted some laughter from the audience. This is handled with more sensitivity in the comic books, where he is portrayed as a devout Catholic.
Parents should know that the movie has intense and graphic comic-book-style violence, including injury and death of characters. There are some mild sexual situations and references.
Families who see this movie should talk about the way the story uses the fights over the mutants as a metaphor for struggles over racism and other forms of bigotry. What are some of the real-life examples most like the debates over the mutants? Which characters and which powers are most appealing to you? They may also want to discuss the sacrifice one character makes to save the others.
Families who enjoy this movie should see the first one and they should read the comics as well as some of the classic comics that inspired them. It used to be that only comic books could create the kinds of fantasy stories that included superpowers and other worlds, and the comics of the 1930’s-40’s have some of the most imaginative and striking images ever created. They were an important influence on the movies, which did not catch up to them until the development of computer graphics in the 1990’s.
Families who like this movie will also enjoy other comic book-based movies like the “Batman” series and “Spiderman.”