The world is waking up to the fact there are so-called mutants in their midst, people with special powers who almost all appear to be homo sapiens, but are actually homo superior: the next step in evolution, and the ordinary folks are not all happy about it, especially after one of the mutants, a metal-controlling leader calling himself Magneto (Ian McKellen), tried to stage a huge terrorist attack recently. He has been placed behind (plastic) bars, yet there has been another attack when a teleporting mutant (Alan Cumming) evaded White House security and almost murdered the American President. Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), a mutant advocate, must act fast...
If X-Men in 2001 had been well-received, proving along with the likes of Blade and Spider-Man that audiences were getting used to going to watch superheroes in the movies, then X2 cemented that popular love born from a passion for comic books that received wisdom had told most of us to grow out of once we reached adulthood. For the naysayers, this was evidence of the infantilization of mass culture (Harry Potter started cleaning up at the box office the same year, for instance, another children's fiction embraced by adults), yet for the appreciators it was more proof that the world had found its equivalent of the Greek myths, playing out as modern morality tales of good vs evil.
Both ends of that argument were overdoing their hyperbole somewhat, but what was obvious was if Marvel gave their properties to a filmmaker with a clear vision for what to do with their vast back catalogue of stories and characters, and more or less let them have their way, the results would probably be gigantic successes. It didn't always work out that way - would Ant-Man have been a massive hit if Edgar Wright had stayed on, or would it have been the mid-table effort that it turned out as? - but X-Men were owned by 20th Century Fox, and not subject to the demands of the official Marvel Universe. That said, director Bryan Singer did bring his own stamp of personality to this.
That was perceived as being down to his homosexuality (he was bisexual, to be precise) and tapping into the idea that the mutants were veiled stand-ins for the gay community with their troubled attempts to fit in with the wider society. Certainly here Singer added a gay sensibility that made you wonder about some decisions: there was a "coming out" scene for Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and his family, there were militants here (represented by Magneto's bunch) who wanted nothing to do with the straights, there was ignorant prejudice that did more harm than good, here led by military commander Stryker (Brian Cox), yet there was also a tendency to portray beautiful women, alluring in different ways, as potentially deadly to males, such as goodies like Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) corrupted by her psychic powers, or Rogue (Anna Paquin) unable to have sex with Iceman without killing him.
The baddies, like Magneto's right hand woman Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) or Lady Deathstrike (Kelly Hu) were even more blatant about those troublesome, meddling females making life impossible for men, though they plot the non-militant males' downfall, but if Singer did not give into the most obvious pitfalls of misogyny, you may pause a little even in a film that changed its title from X-Men 2 to X2 to remove the "M" word, so it would appeal better to one half of the world's population. More problematic than that, however, were the allegations that increasingly began to plague Singer's career, professionally he was accused of losing interest in projects mid-production, delegating often instead, and more troubling, sexual abuse rumours and lawsuits circled him. Was X2 destined for the scrapheap along with the work of other issue-afflicted talents? Singer was so identified with the franchise that you might think so, and the dip in X-Men popularity that became considerable with Dark Phoenix might confirm it (Deadpool made them a joke). Yet this example remained a very decent superhero team effort, and the director was the only one with those issues following him: everyone else did fine (yes, even Halle Berry, h8rs). Music by John Ottman.
[X2 is available as part of the X-Men Trilogy, a collection of 4K discs which see the opening three films in the long running franchise given the Ultra-HD treatment, one step up from Blu-ray. They've never looked better, and the discs include featurettes and audio commentaries. If you're tempted to make the upgrade, this is a good place to start.]