''I always get in trouble for telling too much -- or not enough,'' says Hugh Jackman, a.k.a. stiletto-knuckled mutant Wolverine. He's trying to explain the plot of ''X2: X-Men United,'' the sequel to 2000's superhero blockbuster ''X-Men'' -- without explaining too much. ''You know about the President being assassinated?'' Huh? What? The President gets assassinated? Jackman hesitates. ''Or not being assassinated -- an attempt being made on his life?'' Okay, not quite as shocking a development -- still, plenty risky in these jumpy times.
Jackman seems to sense impending controversy. ''The stakes are pretty high in 'X2,''' he says, retreating into the safely vague. ''Not that this is 'War and Peace' or anything, but there's a little more meat on the bones than you'd find in your normal superhero movie.''
Indubitably. New mutants (including Alan Cumming's Nightcrawler) and new villains (Brian Cox's mutant-fearing general, William Stryker) assure a melee of epic proportions -- something that didn't quite materialize in the original. ''If people have criticized the first movie to me, it's always 'We want to see you kicking some ass,''' says Jackman. ''At first I was like, what do you mean? And then I watched ''X1'' and I realized it's true, there's not a lot of that going on.'' He certainly compensates this time around: Wolverine goes bloody berserk when the military breaks down mutant leader Professor Xavier's door, then later locks claws with Kelly Hu's villainous Deathstrike.
All that PG-13-rated carnage takes a lot of effort -- and a lot of special-effects work -- to bring off properly (Director Bryan Singer even shot a new final scene in March). But cast members and Fox studio execs are confident the second coming of the X-Men will top the first, which grossed $157 million domestically. ''His movies come out genius,'' says Halle Berry, who donned an improved wig for the role of white-maned weather witch Storm. ''At the end of the day, that's all that really matters.''