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X-Men 2: X-Men United ***
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Starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, and Famke Janssen
Directed by Bryan Singer


     X-Men 2 will thrill comic fans and laymen alike.  The story is smoother, and the ride stays interesting throughout the movie's run time.  Gone are all the lengthy and sometimes creaky introductions to characters and story elements.  In its place, the writers have decided to introduce characters as they are introduced to the story, sometimes without explanation or reason.  This proves to be, along with improved action sequences, the reason to say that X2 surpasses its predecessor.
     The story brings Wolverine (Jackman) back from his quest for answers about his past.  His flirtations with Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) have added weight and, thanks to improved writing and subtle acting, more believeable.  This sets up the love triangle between the two and Scott Summers (James Marsden).
     The first conflict presented, and perhaps the movie's best action sequence, introduces a new mutant in his attack on the secret service in the white house.  We learn that Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming), or Kurt Wagner, is more of a friend than the foe he is presented as.  He is the movie's chief new character, and definitely its best addition.  Cumming plays the role at first with bravado, then settles into a subtle routine that best captures the character and captivates the viewer.
     The trailer to the film sets up the gist of the plot nicely, providing a trunk from which the story can branch out.  William Stryker (Brian Cox) is a government military-type guy with a hidden agenda.  He gains permission to raid Xavier's School for gifted youngsters, or what he calls a mutant training facility, after a mutant scare in Washington.  He brings a formidable army along, and the raid on the school becomes another action sequence of thrills and entertainment. 
     The war against mutants has begun, leaving the opposing sides of the internal mutant war, separately led by Magneto (Ian McKellan) and Professor X, to join together to save captured mutants and stop the faction led by Stryker.  The sides are wary of each other and fight along each other's side with one eye on the enemy and one eye on their questionable allies.
     The first movie was an enjoyable ride, but the sequel is the stuff sequels are supposed to be, better and bigger.  Director Singer ("The Usual Suspects," "X-Men," "Apt Pupil") is armed with a bigger budget and more leeway from the studio who provided the budget.  Singer has said that X-Men wasn't necessarily the final product he had in mind.  He infuses the sequel with elaborate action sequences, but he does something most director sacrifice in exchange for a bigger "pop,"  he doesn't forget character development.  Wolverine, Jean Grey, Iceman (Rogue's love interest from the first installment, Nightcrawler, Storm (Halle Berry), and even the scaled blue Mystique ( Rebecca Romijn Stamos) get character upgrades.  It's true that Nightcrawler was not in the first movie, but his character is fleshed out quite nicely.  The acting bar was raised and everybody met it. 
     I liked the movie a lot, but the film had its detractions.  The ending seemed stunted, and it was a shame after all the quality that came before it.  I don't want to divulge any details, so I won't go any further about the ending.  It should be made clear that the movie's final action sequence is stunning and satisfying.  The problem stems from the subsequent exposition, the story clean up.  Things are left unanswered, and there should be open-ended musings, but the dialogue and speeches at the very end left me with only a glimpse of what could have been. 
     Regardless of the broken down ending, the movie is very entertaining and worth the price of admission.  It thrills and locks you into its world long enough to entertain you, and there's not a lot more that you can ask of a summer blockbuster.  I saw the Matrix: Reloaded and found it to be a great movie and in every way the superior of X2, but I can feel better recommending X2.  It is more accessible and able to act as a stand alone film, unlike Matrix: Reloaded.  More people will feel satisfied coming out of X2 than Matrix: Reloaded, though I side with Matrix: Reloaded.

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