Sunday, October 28, 2012

Marvel Movie Project #5: X2: X-Men United

And here we are in the Top 5!  And kicking it off with what was the greatest team movie for a very long time!  When X-men came out it was a vanguard.  It broke new ground and made all of the mistakes one might make when blazing a new trail.  X2 was the follow-up that smoothed all of those wrinkles.  In the vein of Empire Strikes Back, X2 captures the essence of great characters in a way the introductory tail cannot.  It puts those great characters through their paces and explores their motivations and desires with a level of depth and care you can only achieve with characters that are already established. And the best part of it all (for nerds), is that this film manages to do that by successfully drawing from powerful source material in the comic books.

One of the best things you can do in storytelling is make the villain of the piece so compelling that you can almost see their side of the story and you find yourself not entirely against them.  X2 nails this.  Mutants as a whole are up against a communal threat in William Stryker, a human who seeks to use his mutant son (no moral ambiguity there) to wipe out all mutants.  The abduction of Charles Xavier to this end forces an extremely uneasy alliance between Magneto and his rag-tag bad of evil mutants and the X-men.  The two divergent teams must work together to free Xavier and stop Stryker's plan.  This leads to many opportunities for tension between Magneto and the X-men and forces you to consider that Magneto is more than just a bad guy who tried to basically do the reverse of Stryker last movie.  The depth and complexity of the character gets careful attention as you realize he is more about protecting his people from those who hate and fear them, than he is about just being evil.  And the best part is that X2 allows this to happen organically and not shove it down your throat.  Smartly done.  Magneto led the X-men in the comics for a time as well (probably several times given Marvel's inability to write fresh stories in the past 20 years...), and it was a powerful story to read.  It is always nice to see that kind of crafty storytelling translated to the 2 hour format.

He said he could help you! Let him! Damn it! It would be so badass!

Because the people behind X2 learned from the first film, there is also a healthy Wolverine sub-plot that pits him against the man who made him (Stryker) and his newest, deadliest toy, Lady Deathstrike.  Thus, we gets lots more Wolverine action and as you all know, I could watch Hugh Jackman be a badass all day.  But the Logan subplot is smart too, and it doesn't try to steal the show, it just hums along adding meat to an already delicious story.   The showdown between Logan and Deathstrike is as epic as anything in the comics.

And I haven't even mentioned Nightcrawler yet!  Kurt Wagner is as rich and complex a character as you might want.  To be able to introduce him and use him as an obvious plot device, and still make him a funny and sympathetic character proves that X2 is one of the most carefully written movies on our list.  And creepiest, watch closely during the part where they go to rescue the children, Nightcrawler is actually in the room BEFORE he teleports in.  Look in the shadows behind the children just before he teleports in, he's already THERE!  CREEPY!

The only weak part of this movie for me was Stryker.  He was compelling as the mastermind of the plan, but he was kind of flat as the main enemy.  His son is a wheelchair bound headcase, so there's not much threat there either.  But if it means a smart story rife with moral ambiguity and deep characters, I'll take a meek bad guy.  To be honest, The Incredible Hulk would have been #1 on this list (maybe) if it had taken the meeker villain approach.  X2 features the kind of story that doesn't want a big Hollywood beat 'em up ending.  We don't need a literal monster to fight here, because Stryker, his hate and his plan are evil enough. I just wish Stryker himself were a bit more interesting.

All in all mild critique for what is otherwise a smart, action-packed sequel that learns all of the lessons from its ground-breaking predecessor. X2 is definitely top 5 material.

Aimee's Take:

First, allow me to apologize for the tardiness of this article--Stan and I welcomed baby boy into the Frankfurter family at the end of September, and it's been quite a little while since I had a few minutes to string together somewhat coherent thoughts while at a keyboard. As you can see, based upon the previous sentence, I'm not quite back into the swing of things yet. 

X2. Whew, ok, let me start by saying this is probably in my personal top 5 for sure. It's certainly my favorite of the first series X-Men movies (eat that Wolverine). 

What can I say? I love pretty much everything about it. I love the cooperative aspect between the X-Men and the Brotherhood; I love Magneto's escape from the plastic prison; I love the Weapon X sequence... but most of all I love how it's a relatively small story that has large implications. What they're working to stop is the annihilation of all mutants/then humans, but it's not a doomsday device--it's the mind and Cerebro with which we play. In other words, the antagonists exploit Professor X's own equipment. Very refreshing. 

I don't mind Stryker as much as my loving husband. I think he seems like the right kind of bloated old asshole who has allowed prejudice and personal tragedy to fester. I can easily see why he has spent years grinding an ax. I think he's pretty much the perfect threat.

But who are we kidding? The best part of the movie is the opening Nightcrawler sequence. Actually, I think Nightcrawler is the best thing about this movie (and considering it's mostly about Wolverine, that's saying something.)

And, the second best part of this movie is the sequence where the mansion is evacuated and Wolverine is a freakin' badass.

You tell me this doesn't belong in the top 5. Seriously. Yeah, I know, I know, Captain America, blah blah blah. It sucked, get over it. Maybe Winter Soldier will be better.

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