Year: 2003
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, Alan Cumming, James Marsden, Anna Paquin, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Brian Cox, Bruce Davison, Kelly Hu
The first X-Men movie was a gamble. The success of the first big screen incantation of comic book superheroes (Batman) was a fading memory from ten years earlier, and nobody knew if audiences would respond to the current fad. Of course they did, and the success of the new screen superhero movement would propel Spider-Man and Daredevil into the stratosphere.

But at the time, 20th Century Fox didn't want to give director Bryan Singer a lot of money for an untested genre with a then-unknown heroic lead (Jackman).

Unfortunately, it showed - in flat action and an uninspiring premise - seeming to be a more run of the mill action movie instead of a vehicle to bring the spirit of the comic X-Men to life.

The rest, of course, is history. Perth expat Hugh Jackman is one of the most bankable names in Hollywood and X Men did huge business (a sequel was planned after a week into the film's release). Fox threw a bucketload more money at Singer and his production design and special effects teams this time, and it was very well spent.

X2 is more than X-Men was (and should have been) - bigger, meaner, funnier, louder, darker and hotter. Romantic and dramatic subplots from the first film are ratcheted up to fever pitch, and the effects and sets take us into the comic book world with armrest-shredding detail.

X2's plot is as much a continuation as a sequel. Despite overt commerciality, the story can't easily be dismissed as a hammered-together cash-in on the franchise's success. The Mutant Registration Act is getting serious teeth thanks to militant army colonel and rampant anti-mutant Stryker (Cox), who wants to scare-monger enough bigotry to wipe the mutants out.

Wolverine (Jackman) is closer to unlocking the mystery of his origins, and moving in closer to Jean Grey (Janssen), the beautiful telepath and fiancé of laser-eyed Cyclops (Marsden). The younger generation also see more romance and action themselves, led by Rogue (Paquin) and Iceman (boy-band clone Ashmore).

When Xavier's (Stewart) school for the gifted is invaded by armed forces under accusation of harbouring terrorists (you'll get a strange feeling of deja vu for some reason), the X-Men scatter. While also trying to solve an assassination attempt on the President, they have to team up with Magneto (McKellen) and Mystique (Romijn-Stamos) to fight for their freedom and survival.

And when Stryker takes Xavier prisoner and starts to use his telepathic powers to hunt down and kill every mutant alive, the race is on to find Stryker's underground lair and save the world.

Set against warm and fuzzy themes of tolerance, acceptance and diversity that we could all do well to remember right now, X2 is a crackling action adventure with blistering fight scenes, action sequences, special effects and astounding set design. It's not without faults - sometimes style is chosen over sense and you'll find yourself confused a few times. But don't except Marcel Proust-like scriptwriting wit, just strap yourself into the rollercoaster and enjoy.

Multiple sequels are now assured, and X2 has been the most faithful second-film installment of any comic book premise so far. We're yet to see the first (new) Superman film or second Spider-Man or Daredevil movies, and the all-but-dead Batman franchise floundered badly by the second installment.

But now the X-Men series has found its feet in a big way, all that's left is to hope the filmmakers and studio keep the comic's spirit in sight.

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