Volume 21, Number 1, Spring/Summer, 2003

Film Review: X2

Written and directed by Bryan Singer

Reviewed by William H. Stoddard

The peculiar art of portraying superpowers and superheroic combat in live action films has made great advances over the past quarter century. It used to be impossible for films to show what a comic book artist could draw; now it's merely expensive—and given the enthusiastic audiences for such films such expenses can the economically justified.

X2, like many other recent films, gets back to the original source: the comics industry. Marvel Comics first published the X-Men in the 1960s; in the 1970s, their title became one of the industry's hottest sellers. The X-Men were the ultimate persecuted minority, a new species of humanity whose differences made them targets of envy, fear, and hatred. Despite changes of storyline. this is still the core idea of the first two films about these characters. Its mutant heroes find themselves in conflict both with normal humanity and with others of their own kind who return normal humanity's hatred.

Both the first film and this sequel had memorable suĊ“rheroic action sequences. This one's best include a teleporting attacker's invasion of the White House and a quasi–martial arts duel between two mutants with metal claws and superhuman healing capabilities.

The characterization in X2 has more depth than that in X-Men. The best portrayed is a new characters Kurt Wagner—a former circus freak with blue skin and a prehensile tail, but also a devout Catholic whose faith is ingeniously integrated into the action.

This film isn't ideologically libertarian, but its theme is of interest for libertarians: the proper limits of retaliatory force. One of its villains, Colonel Stryker, sees war between the two species as inevitable and manipulates the President into a pre–emptive strike against Charles Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, which he describes as a training base for mutant terrorists, followed by an attempt to exterminate every mutant on Earth. The mutant villain Erik Lensher also sees war as inevitable and tries to turn Stryker's attack around to exterminate all the normal humans. In between them are the X-Men, who are willing to use force—even deadly force—but only against actual enemies and wrongdoers, not humanity in general. This central theme makes X2 a film libertarians can watch with unusual pleasure.

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