Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Famke Janssen, Halle Berry PG-13, 134 mins., 2 discs, 2003 (Fox)
Teleporting blue-skinned mutant Nightcrawler (played to devilish perfection by Alan Cumming) invades the Oval Office and lunges for the President, brandishing a knife on which is scrawled ”MUTANT FREEDOM NOW.” And X2 is off and running. Director Bryan Singer strikes a mesmerizing balance between action and allegory in the follow-up to his 2000 comic-book-movie hit, where we first met brooding, iron-clawed Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), serene sage Xavier (Patrick Stewart), and powerful psychic Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) – marginalized heroes crusading for mutant rights. This time, continuing on their mission, they fight against a corrupt, high-ranking military scientist bent on turning an already wary government against them and ultimately ostracizing them into oblivion.
The sequel also explores deep-seated issues of teenage alienation, introducing the pugnacious Pyro (Aaron Stamford), and expanding on the stories of heroes-in-training Rogue (Anna Paquin) and Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) – ”Have you tried not being a mutant?” Iceman’s mother asks cautiously in a ”coming-out” scene.
The deleted scenes add little to the storytelling, but the filmmakers’ commentaries on turning a comic-book series into a movie franchise are more interesting, as are the visual effects behind Nightcrawler’s gravity-defying stunts. Best of all is the extra, featuring X-Men creator Stan Lee, about the history of the comic, the reasons behind the characters’ unique mutations, and the radical impetus (in 1975, anyway) for creating Storm, Marvel’s first black female superhero. B+