‘X2: X-Men United’ Retrospective

It seems so long ago that an adaptation of a comic book film wasn’t obligatory Summer viewing. It’s getting to the point where it’s comparable to your kid’s graduation: come May or June, you drag yourself out of the house, go through the motions, hope your seat is good, and hope it doesn’t get too boring. Then the ceremony ends, and you forget about it a week later. Comic book properties aren’t exactly new, but there was a time when they were complex, dramatic, good AND new. Flashback 15 years ago, and we will now examine X2: X-Men United – a top contender for best page to screen adaptation.

Don’t think me a cynic for my droll introduction; because I love comic book movies. It is a hobby of mine to watch film, and to see my beloved superheroes get a loving big-screen adaptation (for the most part) fills me with such joy. I do acknowledge that there is an over saturation of these films in the market, where it seems like every other film released is a comic book property. But that beats a cheap disaster film with people just running and shouting, while each member of the audience constantly looks at their watch. It was a different time when one comic book film was an oddity that would pop up every 1-2 years, and people were cautiously optimistic about it, because we all remember Batman and Superman, but at the same time remember Batman and Robin, as well as Superman 3 and Superman 4.

I’ve always been a huge X-Men fan. I stand by the opinion that it’s the best cartoon show based on a superhero property. It has very adult themes that went way over my head as a child, but also has Wolverine calling a sentinel “Tin Woodsmen” and telling it “I’m going to send you back to Oz”. The first X-Men movie is a landmark film for comic book movies because it not only set a precedent for comic book movies, it gave Kevin Feige a big break in the Marvel Universe. It’s about fear of the unknown, societal acceptance/normality, xenophobia, responsibility, all the while disguised as a small scale action film. A few years later, we get X2, which follows The Empire Strikes Back formula of bigger, darker, and more at stake. As much as I love the first X-Men for what it stands for, I have to acknowledge that the “bigger” sequel is the superior film.

X2 is a very loose adaptation of the story God Loves, Man Kills; which is a great piece to select for your whimsical action movie. Because the concept of a mutant is so malleable, it allows the creators to efficiently weave social commentary into their superhero property in a way that doesn’t put our main characters in another “we’ve got to save the world” trope. X2 puts our characters through hardships because they are just human beings who’s only goal is worldwide acceptance into everyday culture. This is their goal, and opposition sees mutants as a threat, which is the springboard for the X-Men to cut to the action. We constantly get parallels to the Civil Rights Movement, which separates this series from its counterparts, but we also get to see Wolverine rage and annihilate a group of commandos who’ve infiltrated the X-Mansion. Charles did say he’d pity those souls, if they came for his children.

I do love Superman and I also love Spider-Man, but sometimes I want a little more substance to my action than, “I need to save the people, but I can’t save everyone.” I didn’t delve too deep into the plot of X2, because I’m assuming the reader may want to go into this film fresh. 15 years ago could be long enough that you may have missed this one, and I wanted to establish some context for the time this was released. X2 is a unique film in that’s narrative focus is a team over a central protagonist, and its themes (though mostly dated by modern day) are feasible, and understandable. Sure some of the action sequences are a bit silly, but it is a comic book property. It gives us just enough cheese that we are reminded we are actually watching a goofy comic book movie, and not Sophie’s Choice. The X-Men franchise is now all over the place tonally, and its initial message has been bogged down by a few major missteps in the franchise, which have since been corrected. We are stepping into an era where the X-Men will soon join the greater MCU, but don’t forget: X2 was the film that made the series.

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