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X2 (2003)

While nowhere nearly as satisfying as Sam Raimi’s pristine Spider-Man 2 (or even Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins), the focus on character relationships and driving motivations is the key to Bryan Singer’s X2 being lifted above the marks of the average superhero sequel. More viscerally engaging than the laborious (and not very good) original X-Men, this part dues sees the previously opposing sides of outcast mutants (feared by society for their unique powers) joining together against an anti-mutant government official who aims to eradicate their kind from the planet. With Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) aiming to integrate humans and mutants in peaceful fashion and holocaust-survivor Magneto (Ian McKellen) working to separate the two races completely, the film suggests a social war waged between Martin Luther King, Jr. and a pre-enlightenment Malcolm X, although the current battle for gay rights acts as a more fitting modern comparison for “the mutant problem,” as is stated in the film. The multitude of characters is almost too much baggage for the film to handle in it’s two-hour running time, although it does come very close to managing them all with equal regard and depth (particularly the cigar-chomping Wolverine’s existential pangs, finely played by Hugh Jackman). X2 might be a bit too ho-hum for it’s own good in the end, but it’s earnest entertainment and acknowledgement of the audience’s capacity for intellectual and emotional involvement sets it well above the majority of summer’s typical popcorn fodder.