Nothing spurs mutation like money. Still basking in the $155 million global opening for ''X2: X-Men United,'' Fox confirms that plans for a sequel are indeed in motion. But how exactly will it play out? ''X2'''s cliff-hanger ending saw the telekinetic Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) lay down her life for her friends. Or did she? Here, we present speculative answers to X-cruciating sequel questions.
What happens neXt? In the 1970s and '80s X-Men comics, Grey sacrifices herself to save her mutant comrades (as in ''X2''). She then rises, resurrected as Phoenix, a vessel of unlimited power. Eventually, she sacrifices herself again -- permanently -- to save the universe from an apocalypse of her own making.
Is this the blueprint for ''X3''? ''Wolverine's story is the fun one,'' says ''X2'' writer David Hayter, ''but the heart of the X-Men really revolves around what's happening to Jean and if we see her in the future.''
Here's the catch: For maximum impact, this story line requires all the X-ers. Janssen has signed on for another film. Which brings us to...
Who's coming back? ''Technically, I'm done,'' says Halle Berry, and boy, she sounds like she means it. The Oscar winner has made it no secret that she feels her character, Storm, has been marginalized; and with a career as busy as hers, she could easily afford to skip future ''X''s. The story might weather her departure, but could it afford to lose Hugh Jackman, whose Wolverine is in a love triangle with Grey and Cyclops (James Marsden, whose contract must also be renegotiated)? ''There's a lot to explore'' is all Jackman will say about ''X3.'' ''He's a very three-dimensional character.''
Ian McKellen (Magneto) also expresses guarded interest: ''If the script -- and my part in it -- were any good, and if I liked the director, and if, of course, I was asked, I should be happy to return.''
The X-kids -- Anna Paquin (Rogue), Aaron Stanford (Pyro), and Shawn Ashmore (Iceman) -- will return, but a ''Generation NeXt'' movie seems doubtful. Says director Bryan Singer: ''The two that are most essential would be Wolverine and Professor Xavier [Patrick Stewart].''
As for Singer, he's not actually signed, but he's assuming he'll be back. ''The only issue for me is, I'm desiring to do something in between. I had wanted to do something between the first two films and I didn't.'' He's already developing a Sci Fi Channel project with ''Independence Day'' producer Dean Devlin.
Will there be new mutants? Is Patrick Stewart bald? Singer can't tell us who or what will be in the next movie; but he's a big fan of the winged Angel, the azure-furred Beast, and the card-throwing Cajun Gambit -- who might present Iceman with some competition for the affections of Rogue, Singer hints.
When should I start standing in line? Right now, geek boy. And don't forget your glue-on muttonchops.