A new age of moral clarity is dawning. Words like ''good'' and ''evil'' are back in vogue. Citizens eye their neighbors with fear and suspicion. War is coming, and already the grim scent of inevitability is on the wind.
At least, that's what's in the script.
It's the vivid, volatile, very familiar world of ''X2: X-Men United'' (May 2), the second film in the franchise following ostracized mutant savants who use their abilities to defend a human society that rejects them. ''X2'' -- also directed by Bryan Singer, and built upon the 40-year-old Marvel Comics series that confronts such real-world issues as tolerance, minority rights, and the responsible use of retractable adamantium claws -- was green-lighted before the end of ''X-Men'''s $55 million opening weekend in 2000.
But it wasn't until late 2001 that Twentieth Century Fox did the near impossible and synchronized the busy schedules of ''X2'''s leads: no small feat, considering Hugh Jackman (an obscure Australian actor when he was cast as knife-knuckled Wolverine in the first film) had become a legitimate star, Ian McKellen (metal-manipulating rebel leader Magneto) had gotten an Oscar nod for his role in ''The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,'' and Halle Berry (weather controller Storm) was about to heave the Oscar Sob Heard Round the World. Singer -- who had been working on other projects while ''X2'' was in limbo -- turned his attention to combing through decades' worth of comic-book plotlines.