X-MEN 2 (12A) 111mm .000

An evolutionary lea

The second X-Men film marks an evolutionary leap forward from the overrated original, fulfiling director Bryan Singer's promise that it would be ‘edgier. darker, funnier and more romantic.’ The first film spent so long introducing its many characters, and outlining the idea of a world divided into ‘normal’ human beings and their mutant counterparts, that its perfunctory plot only kicked in during the last half-hour.

This time we're plunged straight into the action, with an assassination attempt on the US president by disaffected mutant Kurt Wagner (Ian Cumming), a teleporter whose rapid movements are marked only by inky blue swirls. This exciting opening sets the tone for a sequel whose underlying ideas and more resonant storylines are not dwarfed by the imaginative visual effects lavished upon them. That said, the comic book-derived plot again consists of isolated chunks of plot laid end-to-end, and there are still times when the whole thing feels like a transparent, if elaborate, plea for gay civil rights.

At first, it is familiarity that breeds content, with the welcome return of all-powerful telepath Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), mentor to his much-loved mutants. But X-Men 2’s new cutting edge derives mostly from its sharply delineated human villain, Stryker - a smoothly menacing, mutant-hating military scientist played by Brian Cox - and his razor-fingered assistant Deathstrike (Kelly Hu).

It is Stryker who plans the attack on the president, in order to provoke an anti-mutant backlash and rally support for the re-introduction of the anti-libertarian Mutant Registration Act. Stryker also orchestrates the government-sanctioned attack on Xavier's mutant school, scattering the experienced and unschooled mutants to the four winds. Later, he harnesses the powers of the X-Men’s old arch enemy, Magneto (Ian McKellen), and attempts to eradicate the entire mutant population in one fell swoop. Stryker's past familial connection with the partially-amnesiac Wolverine also adds some much- needed emotional depth to the proceedings. Best of all, a bigger budget and a better script have given Singer the confidence to introduce some leavening humour. Smart, superior popular entertainment.

(Nigel Floyd)

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