Overview: The X-Men must unite with Magneto to stop Colonel Stryker from committing mutant genocide. 20th Century Fox; Rated PG-13; 134 minutes.

The Building Blocks: Bryan Singer builds off his first entry in the franchise with a natural progression of story. Magneto tried to turn humans into mutants – which would also make them melt and turn into weird jellyfish things – so mutants are deemed more dangerous than ever. Add an assassination attempt on the President’s life and you have political pressure reaching levels of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Wolverine still remains the most interesting of the X-Men but he doesn’t have to be. Bryan Singer’s seeming disinterest in characters like Cyclops and Storm stops the movie from feeling like a true ensemble. The actors still do some good work. Hugh Jackman commands the screen as Wolverine. Famke Janssen gets a fulfilling emotional arc as Jean Grey while getting caught in one of those pesky movie love-triangles. Anna Paquin returns as Rogue, now more confident in her abilities and an active member of the X-Men. This is still the Wolverine show, but Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen have affable chemistry as Charles Xavier and Magneto. If Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine is the face of the franchise, then Xavier and Magneto are the heart.

Little Style. All Substance: For all the movie gets right, it still gets some things wrong. The heart and political subtext is presented well but the sets and costumes are awfully bland. Not straight up bad or offensive, just far too tame. X2 is more grounded in terms of comic book movies but it is still a comic book movie. X-Men, of all the team based superheroes, have the widest variety of superpowers to display. There are still moments of impressive creativity.

An opening assassination sequence uses a teleporting Nightcrawler to astonishing  effect. Guards fly through the air, the action is shot just close enough to see clearly, and the White House corridors heighten the tension. Perhaps the standout sequence is an attack on the X-Mansion. Soldiers raiding the school for gifted youngsters is a nightmare sneaking into reality. A government built to protect and defend is actually violating and attacking. It’s a scary thought with real world implications, but once Wolverine unleashes his claws, you just know shit is about to get real.

There's a disturbing lack of Nightcrawler in this series.

There’s a disturbing lack of Nightcrawler in this series.

Final Thoughts: X2 isn’t perfect. Age hasn’t treated it well and it lacks a visual splendor that modern day superhero movies have. But I’ll be damned if this movie doesn’t still pack a punch.

Rating: A-