VOD film review: X-Men 2: United (X2)
James R | On 20, May 2014
Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Anna Paquin, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen
Watch X-Men 2 online in the UK: Disney+ / TalkTalk TV / Apple TV (iTunes) / Sky Store / Rakuten TV / Amazon Instant Video
There’s one rule when it comes to sequels: go bigger. For X-Men, a film that worked so well because it felt so small, the prospect of opening up the ensemble to include even more characters and even more action was as risky as inviting Wolverine over to sleep on your water bed. Bryan Singer, though, keeps his grip firmly on the characters who made the first X-Men film so entertaining – then builds something bigger around them.
X2 (or X-Men: United) wastes no time in showing that things have moved up a notch: the film opens with an attack on the White House by Nightcrawler, a teleporting frenzy quite unlike anything else on screen at the time. Chucking the camera about and cutting rapidly between rooms while Dies Irae booms in the background, it’s a flawless piece of choreography that disorients without being confusing; proof that Singer has the chops to handle ambitious action.
That rise in scale is balanced by burrowing depth, as Singer establishes Logan as the team’s star player. Enter Colonel William Stryker (Brian Cox), who is using mutants for experiments – and knows how the Wolverine got his claws. Tying together Logan’s past and search for answers with the villain gives David Hayter, Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris’ script a well-defined playing field in which to have fun.
McKellen is clearly enjoying himself as Magneto, forming an uneasy alliance with his old psycho friend, Charles (Stewart), who winds up a subject to Stryker’s own mind games. The rest of the mutants, meanwhile, get more to do: Alan Cumming is unrecognisable as the blue teleporter; Halle Berry brings substance to Storm, with whom Nightcrawler has a believable romantic chemistry; while Mystique messes with Logan’s emotions rather as much as his exoskeleton, establishing a love triangle between Cyclops, Jean and Wolverine.
But Jackman is the best of the bunch, his showdowns with Brian Cox’s venomous Colonel (not to mention a similarly-clawed woman) pack one heck of a punch. The set pieces keep escalating throughout the hefty two-hour runtime, from Professor X’s Thunderbirds-like school to a gigantic dam in the middle of Canada. The action is cut evenly with the acting, meaning that old favourites such as Rogue still explore their growing pains while other new faces blow stuff up. Led by Logan – and his charismatic sideburns – the result is an ensemble blockbuster that gives every team member equal attention; an epic that somehow stays intimate.
There’s one rule when it comes to sequels. X-2 manages it effortlessly. Like an HBO mini-series after a promising pilot, it evolves from a small character-driven drama to a large character-driven blockbuster. Yes, it’s bigger – but it’s better too.
X-Men 2 is available on Disney+ UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription or a £79.99 yearly subscription.