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X2: X-Men United

The MPAA rated X2: X-Men United (2003) PG-13 for sci-fi action/violence, some sexuality and brief language.

Another mutant uprising is about to begin, and this time it’s a lot more difficult to tell who the “good” and “bad” guys really are. And that alone makes this sequel a much better film than the first mutant movie.

This time the X-Men face a human challenge in the form of General William Stryker (Brian Cox). An ex-military man, he’s assigned the task of getting control over the mutant problem after a cloaked invader, capable of swishing from room to room with ease, overruns the White House. But Stryker’s dislike for the malformed populace runs far deeper than his assignment to keep things in check. He also has more than guns to use for artillery.

Stryker has managed to get a fix on Professor Charles Xavier’s (Patrick Stewart) School for Gifted Children, the headquarters where young people who are identified as having special gifts are taught to use them within society in peaceful and productive ways. This information can enable Stryker to eliminate the hub of mutant education, and gain control of Xavier’s Cerebro machine, so he can identify and eliminate every deviant on Earth.

His far-reaching designs have all mutants concerned, including Erik Lehnsherr (Ian McKellen), better known as the rebellious “Magneto.” The only choice for this leader of all that isn’t good in the world of the odd and gifted is to form a reluctant pact with Xavier in the hopes of thwarting Stryker’s evil plans.

From a script point of view, it shouldn’t be a great surprise when the second installment of a three movie series is better than its predecessor. We are already familiar with most of the characters, the exceptions being Stryker, a “teleporter” mutant named “Nightcrawler” (Alan Cumming) – who is also a practicing Catholic, and a few additional “Junior X-Men.” This foreknowledge allows writers to spend more screen time developing the story, which, in this case, is paced superbly with some very cool “tricks.”

After promotional promises of “edgier and darker,” the sequel's emphasis on plot rather than violent scenarios came as a pleasant surprise. Don’t take that to mean your six-year-old should be headed to the theater. There are still plenty of fierce confrontations, including an opportunity for Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) to pull out his bladed knuckles.

Finally, you’ll also see more of Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos)… in more ways than one. Reprising her former role, the body-painted female's extra time on screen includes using her torso as a convenient background during an extended close-up of her mentor, Magneto. She also provides two of the film’s brief sensual interludes.

X2: X-Men United presents a difficult choice for parents. Few movies aimed at teens provide this much action along with complex characters showing cooperation and determination. Yet this will need to be weighed against the movie’s noted violence, brief sexuality, and handful of profanities. Just like these new X-Men, parents will have to determine what’s good and bad for their families.

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