Anybody who remembers the theme of the X-Men comics, or indeed the first film, will have noticed some obvious parallels. Here we have mutants, a section of the world’s population who are “different”, treated with fear, aggression and hostility by the world’s politicians. Fighting for their rights, two distinct movements spring up: one believes in working with the politicians, patiently trying to change their minds and embrace diversity, while another favours more direct action.
The allegory isn’t hard to spot, although it speaks just as much on issues of race and gender as it does on sexuality, but it fuels the whole X-Men mythos with a contemporary resonance that propels it into the leagues of truly great science fiction. And with the first film in what looks like becoming an ongoing franchise setting a high standard in terms of adrenaline-pumping action and great acting from some of the industry’s finest, X2 has a great deal to live up to.
Glad to say, for the most part director Bryan Singer delivers. Freed from the mountains of exposition about each character needed in the first film, there’s a sense of a much broader canvas here. Taking its cue from its predecessor (and, indeed, the comics on which the series is based), X2 concentrates on Hugh Jackman’s amnesiac Logan, aka Wolverine, and his struggle to recall his past, while simultaneously trying to cope with his growing attraction to Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and the subsequent jealousy from Jean’s boyfriend Cyclops (a criminally underused James Marsden).
Given the large cast of the first film, it would be tricky enough to ensure everybody got a decent amount of screen time in the sequel. Yet X2 nearly doubles the cast of “regulars”, bringing in a range of new mutant pupils to the school established by Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), and the brilliantly hammy Brian Cox as the villainous Stryker.
The film’s masterstroke, though, is the mysterious mutant Nightcrawler, whose daring attempted assassination of the US President in the Oval Office at the film’s opening sets a level of gob-smacking tension and wonder that subsequent scenes try, and nearly succeed, in matching. Under the layers of prosthetics, Scottish actor Alan Cumming delivers the standout performance of the film, no mean feat when pitted against the likes of Jackman, Janssen, Stewart, Ian McKellen’s Magneto and Anna Paquin’s Rogue.
Interspersed amongst the high-octane fight sequences are plenty of character moments, with a script liberally laced with charm and knowing wit. One particular scene will delight, as young mutant Bobby Drake (‘Iceman’) is forced by circumstance to ‘come out’ to his parents as being not quite like other boys. The deadpan reaction of his non-plussed mother (“Have you tried… not being a mutant?”) is just one of many gems that make X2 far more than an average beat-em-up blockbuster. While there’s nothing to compare to X-Men’s opening concentration camp sequence, the ending to X2 will have fans of the original comic with a tear in their eye and a smile of hope on their lips.
* Originally published on [Gay.com UK](http://uk.gay.com/)