From Marvel Comics’ colorful world of superheroes springs X2: X-Men United, a sequel that picks up where X-Men left off. (Those already familiar with the X-Men universe can skip ahead; for those unsure of the basics, premise and players follow.) In mankind’s evolution from a single-cell organism to the present, sudden surges have occasionally occurred, ultimately resulting in human-like beings with extraordinary, almost supernatural powers. Referred to as mutants, these Homo sapien-plusers have come to be the target of political activists insisting on their registration (a process that would make it easier to bring them under the control of regular humans).
As with mankind, within the world of mutants, there exists both good and evil beings. On the side of right, the mutants boast a fatherly and wise leader, Professor Xavier, who possesses telepathic abilities and operates a superb school for mutant children. Because he desires mutants and humans to live together peacefully, the benevolent professor has launched a secret superhero force of adult mutants (X-Men) assigned to tackle mutant and non-mutant opposition groups. Meanwhile, representing the dark side, Eric Lensherr, aka Magneto (who can manipulate, shape and move metal objects at will), believes that mutants will forever be rejected by humankind and is therefore inflamed with hatred toward them. His goal? Mankind’s total extermination.
Among the X-Men (and there are many more than discussed here) are Wolverine (who oxymoronically possesses both retractable adamantium claws and a keen ability to heal), Storm (who manipulates weather), Cyclops (he can release an optic blast with destructive capabilities), Jean Grey (who wields telepathic and telekinetic abilities), Rogue (who absorbs the powers of those she touches), Nightcrawler (who dematerializes and moves at supersonic speeds), Pyro (who aptly enough can control fire) and Iceman (who can freeze liquids and solids). Siding with Magneto are Mystique (who can transform her body into the shape of anyone or anything she touches) and Deathstrike (who bares retractable claws similar to Wolverine’s).
X2 begins with the blue-skinned mutant Nightcrawler entering the White House, frenetically wreaking havoc in the Oval Office and taking on the Secret Service. His mission? [Spoiler Warning] To give mutants a bad name and turn public opinion against them. But Nightcrawler’s dirty deeds are out of character. He’s actually a good guy who has come to be controlled by William Stryker, a wealthy, ex-military man and scientist. With negative national attention focused on mutants, Stryker (with apparent governmental support) instigates the use of military force to assault Xavier’s school. Motivated by personal reasons (that we discover later on), Stryker is bent on annihilating all mutants—something he hopes to accomplish using Cerebro, a powerful locating device. To defend themselves against Stryker and his use of Cerebro, nifty and nasty mutants alike must unite.
positive elements: Because mutants are different and considered social outcasts by many, this film highlights the downsides of prejudice. It also illuminates the triumphs of those who rise above it. Many of the mutants who deal with their ostracism gracefully discover themselves in the process. Explains director Bryan Singer, "The X-Men films pose the questions that we all have: Am I alone in the world? Why am I so different, and how am I going to fit in? These questions are universal and timeless, particularly among adolescents. We’ve all felt at times like mutants." Friendship and self-sacrifice are commended. [Spoiler Warning] Jean Grey sacrifices herself to save her X-Men team (albeit setting up her return as Phoenix in the next installment). A tour guide at the White House applauds Lincoln’s inaugural address.
spiritual content: Nightcrawler is spiritually minded, knowledgeable about scripture (reciting several verses from memory) and prayerful. Besides praying the Rosary, when facing adversity he prays the Lord’s Prayer and recalls Psalm 23. His devotion is portrayed as genuine, never an excuse for some deviancy or character flaw. When Storm and Jean Grey locate him in a Boston cathedral, he motions toward a statue of Jesus on the cross, and reverently wonders if the Lord is not teaching him something through his present trials (he’s being falsely blamed for the attack on the President). The tattoos on his blue body are supposedly "angelic symbols passed on by Gabriel."
nudity and sexual content: The blue-skinned Mystique appears just barely beyond nude. Clothed is too strong a word here. Revealingly scaled is more accurate. Although obscuring some of her private anatomy, the makeup job provides little more coverage than an ultra-tight, see-through body suit, especially on top and from the rear. Rebecca Romijn-Stamos brags that her character is "much more sexual in this film, and she tries to use her ability to transform into others to take care of her sensual needs." Those needs include seducing an off-duty prison guard at a bar and enticing him by flirtatiously crossing her legs (the camera zeroes in). After slipping him two knockout pills in his beer, this metamorph leads him to the bathroom, kissing and groping passionately as they walk. Once inside a stall, she aggressively sits him down on the toilet seat, kneels in front of him and proceeds as if she’s going to perform a sex act. Then the pill takes affect and she injects his unconscious body with a hypodermic needle. This sort of sexualized violence is intense enough and far enough out of bounds that many discerning families will choose to put the kibosh on X2 right here.
Sexual tension between Rogue and Iceman leads to various innuendoes. In one scene, Rogue starts to undress in front of her boyfriend. Low-cut outfits with plenty of cleavage are commonplace for Rogue and Storm. In flashback, Wolverine is shown naked (nothing explicit is seen) after he’s subjected to a scientific experiment. Wolverine and Jean passionately kiss, as do Rogue and Iceman (until her touch threatens his life). In one scene, Mystique (shape-shifted to look like Jean) comes into Wolverine’s tent. She gets on top of him and as he begins to lift her shirt, she morphs several times before his eyes.
violence and gore: Comic book violence leaps off the page and quite literally leaps on to the big screen. Mutants are constantly somersaulting, flipping, karate kicking, jabbing, stabbing and punching. There’s quite a high body count as well—although the relatively low gore quotient probably helped this flick squeak by with a PG-13 rating. From the opening scene involving Nightcrawler brawling with the Secret Service and threatening the President with a knife (before being shot by White House security), X2 relies on slug-fests to hold audiences’ attention. Unfortunately, a lot of the scenes go too far, are too intense and run too long. Watching Logan slice and dice his female nemesis is more than unsettling (of course she returns the favor and attempts to strangle him, too). When he eventually kills her (some would argue to defend himself), the stabbing is dreadfully gruesome—and even more so because she’s a woman. As she dies, liquid metal oozes out of her nose, mouth and eyes. Elsewhere, among other things, a young boy takes a dart to the neck. Wolverine uses his claws to slice various militiamen. Soldiers fire guns. An ice wall is demolished with explosives. A dam gives way, flooding a valley. Magneto extracts the iron-rich blood of his guard (shown as ball bearings) through his skin, leaving him dead and bloodstained. When Wolverine is shot in the head, a trickle of blood is shown running down his forehead. Pyro’s pyrotechnics blow up a half-dozen police cars, some landing on top of each other. Until Rogue stops him, his flame-throwing antics threaten the life of several law-enforcement officers. A guy’s arms catch on fire when Pyro gets irritated. A fighter plane nearly downs the X-Jet (Rogue is sucked out of a large hole made by an explosion). Storm damages the inside of a church with a lightening bolt. Cyclops repeatedly uses his destructive laser. It’s explained that Stryker’s wife committed suicide by taking a power drill to her head.
crude or profane language: A smattering of mild profanity is trumped by three s-words, including one combined with the word "holy." God’s name is misused. Crude terms for male genitalia and female breasts also get screen time. Mystique makes an obscene gesture.
drug and alcohol content: The President pours himself a drink in the Oval Office. Wolverine is often shown puffing on a cigar. (Xavier reprimands him once for doing so when he’s near Cerebro.) When a bully deeply inhales his cigarette, Pyro uses the spark to ignite the cancer stick. Wolverine gets frustrated when he can’t find a beer inside the fridge at the mutant school. Later, he finds a beer and drinks it. Mystique drugs a man.
other negative elements: Evolution is accepted as fact, and the theory shapes the movie’s premise (man began as a single cell; man is now evolving beyond humanness). Iceman lies to his parents, telling them that Wolverine is a professor (Wolverine plays along).
conclusion: The director describes X2 as "edgier, darker, funnier and more romantic than its predecessor." I’m not so sure about the funny part or the romantic part, but he’s dead right about the "edgier, darker" part. And since the first film was already pretty dim, that’s saying something. Despite such pronouncements (or perhaps because of them), teens will line up to see X2. And that’s not such a great thing. Interwoven scripture recitation, prayer and positive themes about prejudice don’t override these mutants’ negativity.