"X-Men 3" is going to be fantastic. "X-Men 1" was entertaining, but too short, while the second picture is even more entertaining, but a little too long. Maybe the third picture will be just right. All that aside, "X2" really is quite a grand improvement over the first picture. With the first film, the filmmakers didn't seem entirely sure whether or not the audience would be there for the first picture, and it seemed somewhat restrained. Given the success of the first film, this feature is bigger, somewhat more effects-heavy and dynamic.
The second feature starts where the first one left off: Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is searching out his roots, while Magneto (Ian McKellen) is still imprisoned. Mutants are still being threatened, and the Mutant Registration Act may pass - the act gets new backing when a teleporting mutant named Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) launches an attack on the president in one of the film's early scenes.
After the attack, General William Stryker (Brian Cox) asks for the power to launch a special operation to investigate Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart)'s school for mutants, or, as he describes it, a "training facility". Given his access to Magneto, Stryker knows all about Xavier and his powers, and soon enough, his larger plan against the mutants is revealed.
All of the original X-Men - Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Scott Summers/Cyclops (James Marsden), Ororo Munroe/Storm (Halle Berry) and Rogue (Anna Paquin) return, and there's introductions (if only somewhat brief ones) to a handful of new characters, including Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and Pyro (Aaron Stanford). Shape-shifter Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) is also up to her old tricks, including changing into...Rebecca Romijn-Stamos. Although I wasn't going to give it away, the trailers and title (X2: X-Men United) do already; both the good (Xavier's mutants) and "bad" (Magneto's side) must join later in the picture to face Stryker.
Speaking of that bit, "X2" is surprisingly funny (dare I say hilarious?) in quite a few scenes - and I don't mean unintentionally so. McKellen seems to be having much more fun this time around (everyone seems to have a firmer grasp on their characters) and there's some very amusing bits involving Wolverine. These very funny bits do deflate the tension at times (and occasionally, seem to contrast a bit too much with some of the darker - and occasionally more violent - moments in this PG-13 picture), but I suppose they worked well enough that that isn't much of a concern. At about 130 minutes, the film also could have used a little tightening. It's nothing of great concerns, but a few scenes could have been a couple of beats shorter.
Technically, this is also a superior film, in part because Singer has once again used long-time collaborators like cinematographer Newton Thomas Siegel and composer/editor John Ottman. The film's special effects, aside from one or two little things, were outstanding and certainly an improvement on the effects from the first picture.
Overall, a very enjoyable Summer movie that provided fairly strong character development (well, about as best as one can do with this many characters), superb visual effects and several well-staged action scenes. A really good film, but I couldn't help but feel that it's leading to a really great one.