And tonight's excuse for not posting any worthwhile links … is that I was out seeing X-Men 2.
The Executive Summary: unless you're completely allergic to superhero movies, you need to go and see this film. Soon. Tomorrow.
Bryan Singer & Co got a great deal right first time round, but weren't quite able to cut loose because a) they had to find time to introduce a bunch of characters, explain the extent of their powers and fit in a decent plot, and b) famously, they were on a limited budget by the standards of superhero action movies. The latter limitation is the one that tends to be mentioned in reviews of the sequel, but it was the former problem which really made life difficult for Singer, and made his achievement all the greater. (The self same problem afflicts science fiction writers, who frequently have to spend a great deal of time in a novel spelling out their world's background. Which is one of the few justifications for the ever-expanding page counts and sequelitis in modern SF novels – but that's a tale for a different posting.)
This time round, Singer wastes no time explaining who Magneto is, how his views differ from those of Professor Xavier, or outlining the history which created a bond between Rogue and Wolverine. Instead he dives straight in and starts making life difficult for the X Men, as a mutant makes an assassination attempt upon the president of the United States. In the wake of the attack General Stryker, who is in charge of Magneto's prison, is given permission to launch an assault on Xavier's Academy. This gives Singer the opportunity to stage one of the highlights of the film, with Wolverine going ballistic and various mutant pupils reacting to the attack in their different – and sometimes highly entertaining – ways. In the aftermath of the attack, the X Men and Magneto form a reluctant alliance to stop Stryer from pressing home his advantage.
Hugh Jackman's Wolverine is still the star of the show, but Famke Janssen's Dr Jean Gray and Halle Berry's Storm get more to do, as does Rebecca Romijn-Stamos' Mystique. Of course, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen are as rock-solid as ever as the leaders of the two mutant factions, with McKellen's Magneto even better than last time: more seductive and (scarily) with more of the good arguments on his side. Brian Cox makes a memorable Stryker, and Alan Cumming is hugely impressive as the timid but tremendously powerful Nightcrawler. Of the new major characters, only Kelly Hu's Lady Deathstrike is a slight disappointment, featuring strongly in only a single – though admittedly very impressive – fight scene.
Basically, everything Singer's team did right last time round is done well again this time, only more so. More action, more plot, bigger consequences. With more money to spend and the chance to develop a nicely complicated plot, Singer has delivered a sequel which improves on the original in every way. I can't wait to see what he does with the inevitable third film in the sequence.