“Logan, my tolerance for you smoking in the mansion notwithstanding, continue smoking that in here and you’ll spend the rest of your life under the illusion you’re a six year old girl.”
You can argue that there are better comic book movies than ‘X2’ but I don’t think you can find me a better example of one which completely serves the interests of the die hard fans while also being totally accessible to someone who knows nothing about the comic books. ‘X2’ is the best wet dream a comic book fan could ask for.
It is also the Marvel movie among the least likely to date as the years and decades go by. ‘X2’ is not a copycat product of other blockbusters of the period but almost an homage to ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’. It does not rely on fake rubber doll CGI characters to pull off its action sequences and actually depends on little computer effects throughout. It is not an allegory or commentary on modern times but deals with classic themes of isolation and persecution. It is entirely focused on the relationships between its characters. It actually has a plot driving it forward and the heroes have to save the entire world at the end. As a film of its genre, it hits every single note perfectly.
That makes it a pretty tricky subject for this series of articles. The whole objective of ‘marveling at the past’ is partially to reflect on the Marvel movies but this time we are dealing with one which has been fan-analyzed to death simply due to the fact that the film gives the comic book readers so much back in terms of being faithful to the established characters, perfectly translating new ones like Nightcrawler to the screen and being an adaptation of an actual Chris Claremont X-Men story.
Then we have the Easter eggs such as the names and places from the comic universe to be found on Stryker’s computer and the tip of the hat to the paternal relationship between Nightcrawler and Mystique. These are the things which reassure the vocal fan community that their beloved property is in the hands of people who care. But these articles are also designed to look at where things went wrong. How can you do that with something like ‘X2’? Well, in typical style, I do have one problem with the film.
The first two thirds of the film are flawless. It is only once we launch into the third and the showdown at Alkali Lake where things start to go a little awry. It isn’t that there isn’t good stuff in there, nor that the film descends into mindless mayhem; quite the opposite in fact. The heart racing climax we have been building to instead devolves into thirty minutes of our heroes running around the corridors of an underground bunker, almost aimlessly.
The Wolverine versus Deathstryke fight is frankly not very good. Stryker’s entire private army is taken out with one hand gesture by Magneto. The showdown between Jean and the drugged Cyclops (clearly meant to mirror the conflict they will be forced into during the Phoenix saga) is over in a few seconds.
Before we talk about solutions, it is important to note the constraints facing the filmmakers. Firstly, Bryan Singer is simply not an action director. It is not that he can’t stage an action set piece; he merely has little interest in them. Secondly, it is refreshing to see an action film climax where the villain’s lair doesn’t self destruct in a ball of flame immediately after his defeat. Thirdly, you are faced with the handicap of regular mortal men being pitted against homosuperiors, all of them with incredible powers. No matter what weapons they have, they don’t stand a chance against the mutants.
But there are things that could have really made the third act smoke. The whole crux of why the mutants are at Stryker’s lair is to snap Xavier out of his hypnotized state and stop him from using Cerebro to locate and kill every homosuperior on the planet. The way the film is structured, Xavier begins to find them at about the same time the X-Men have infiltrated the base and for the next twenty minutes the film is constantly cutting between them. We cut to Xavier finding the mutants. We cut back to some minimal action. We cut back to Xavier doing the exact same thing. It removes any sense of urgency from the climax because it seems, at least to me, that our heroes have all day to stop the professor.
I would have much preferred that Xavier not reach Cerebro so soon. As the X-Men arrive at the base, the professor is, still within the illusion created by Stryker’s son, inching slowly but surely through the corridors towards Cerebro. With the heroes’ arrival putting the pressure on Stryker, he organizes a military escort to accompany Xavier, completely oblivious to the man himself. We even see his students crying out to him from across the way to stop what he’s doing and Xavier not even turning to acknowledge.
Also, rather than Xavier concentrating on wiping out every single mutant at the exact same time, we could actually see him picking them off in groups. We could see several mutants actually die. Just touches like that would have greatly added to the tension and urgency of the sequence.
Singer does, however, know exactly how to place each of the characters in a situation most appropriate for them. Storm is charged with rescuing the kidnapped children because she is the one we have seen most in the role of teacher at Xavier’s school. We see Wolverine finally confronting his place of origin. Nightcrawler, purely by faith and belief, is critical to stopping Xavier. Jean and Cyclops go head to head, foreshadowing the events that will tear them apart in the Phoenix Saga (if only we’d be given it). Magneto gets to be the one to actually stop Xavier from wiping out the mutants, allowing himself a moment to gloat as to how well Charles’ naivety has served him in this situation. Rather than bringing mutants and humans together peacefully, he almost became the tool of their annihilation.
My only problem is that, though the context is perfect, the actual sequences are highly lackluster. The Jean and Cyclops fight is over before it even begins. It is never particularly exciting, at least for me, to watch super powered people simply standing still firing waves of magic at each other. It would have been great to see the fight get a little rough. Since so much of the film is about people being used as pawns, what better way to emphasize how these two lovers have no choice over their actions than to really see them beating the hell out of each other?
Then we have the not particularly exciting removal of Stryker’s soldiers from the film when Magneto pulls all of their grenade pins simultaneously and takes them out in a matter of seconds. Yes it is one more demonstration of how monstrously powerful and amazingly cool Magneto is but it doesn’t create much conflict. It occurred to me watching the film back how great it would have been to have Nightcrawler taking the soldiers out, mimicking the exact way he took out the White House guards in the opening sequence. But instead of watching a brainwashed puppet, we are watching a free man turning the tables on his persecutors. It would have been powerful imagery.
But in a film with so much powerful imagery, memorable scenes and a stunning ending that makes your head swim with the possibilities of where the series will go next, I really am just being greedy.
Next time on ‘Marveling at the past’ it's time to get mean and green with an entirely different kind of Marvel movie; a film which pretty much needed a page one rewrite. It is time for us to plunge back into the painful memory of ‘Hulk’.