Directed by Bryan Singer
Written by Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris
Starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen



There have been very few sequels that were as good as the originals; the ones that come to mind are "Toy Story 2" and the second and third films of the original Star Wars trilogy. The reason should be obvious but is very seldom understood. In those successful cases, the writers and directors were as concerned with their characters as they were with the plots. So in "Toy Story 2," for example, the toys had to deal with an important existential question: Is it better to live forever and never change, or to live once, grow and experience life, and then die? We in the audience shared in that dilemma along with Woody and Buzz Lightyear. "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi" succeeded because they continued not just the story but the lives of Han Solo, Leia and Luke, with their personalities intact and even deepened from the first film.

"X-Men," taken from the Marvel comic books that starred a whole group of mutant superheroes, was only partly successful in separating each from the others and giving them some kind of life and personality. The only two completely captivating characters were the non-heroes, the human beings with special powers, Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen). The others - including Wolverine, Storm, Cyclops, Mystique, Rogue and Pyro - were identified more by their powers than their inner beings. And yet they did have some non-plot interactions, which gave them and the film a bit of texture.

But "X2," the new sequel, has made the mistake of taking them for granted. They're defined here only by their body makeup (blue, brown, red) and their differing powers. We know Pyro only because he makes things burn; Storm can make a, umm, you know. And Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), the supposed central figure, is always just hanging around the edges of the action so we're not really sure what he can do with those knife-blade fingernail-extenders. What we do know is that with his twin pompadours he looks exactly like Dilbert's boss. They make him recognizable, certainly, but hardly attractive.

Director Bryan Singer ("The Usual Suspects," "Apt Pupil" and the first "X-Men") moves things around but never pauses for a breath of air. So the film's two hours and fifteen minutes are an endless series of confrontations, imminent disasters averted, and whup-'em fights. The protagonists are essentially interchangeable, with each one's special power being called upon as needed for the moment, then put away till the next sequence. Some critics are thrilled with the scene in which Iceman comes out as a mutant to his parents ("Have you ever considered, well, not being a mutant?" asks his mother); in the context of the rest of the film it stands out as the one sop to the writers. We imagine the script conference in which they say "Okay - take out everything else, but you have to give us that one!" It's just not nearly enough.