For the much-anticipated sequel, Singer ramped up both the action and the emotional stakes. Magneto’s thrilling escape from his plastic prison (telepathically ripping the iron atoms from the blood of his guards before gliding to his escape) remains one of my all-time favourite cinematic moments. Equally as thrilling is the film’s opening sequence, following renegade mutant Kurt Wagner/’Nightcrawler’ (Alan Cumming) as he defeats ranks of White House bodyguards in order to get within an inch of the US President – in my opinion, easily the best opening to any comic book adaptation.
Compare this to the other supposed ‘greats’ of the genre: in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008), do we the audience really care about the death of Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal)? If we have any prior knowledge of the Spider-Man universe before going into one of Sam Raimi’s recent adaptations, we know that the protagonist’s Uncle Ben will die as it’s intrinsic to the structure and psychology of both the narrative and character.
Vaughn’s Kick-Ass perhaps comes closest to X2’s pathos, yet it is undeniably easier to make a character who we are constantly reminded is ‘only human’, seem human. Singer’s X2 delivers on its opening promise – a recitation of Lincoln’s inaugural speech on the importance of friendship over enmity – by reminding us that ‘humanity’ is more than just mere genetics; the film’s mutants, reviled as freaks, are still people. It may sound clichéd when put across so bluntly, but it is this subtext of acceptance and equality that raises X2 above the competition.
Sadly, the third film in the series, Brett Ratner’s overwrought, brainless, soul-crushingly awful X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), book-ended the trilogy with a disappointing low. The feminism of Singer’s films was replaced by idiotic misogyny; the calls for accepting and understanding all others replaced with fear-mongering and analogies of racial-war. The Last Stand was not only a failure of filmmaking in terms of narrative and character construction, but a complete betrayal of the ideological standpoint of the first two films.
Singer has since gone on to make the underrated Superman Returns (2006), a project reportedly closer to his heart than X-Men. However, with rumours suggesting that Singer could be set for a return to the franchise as soon as his schedule allows, it seems that the superior style and substance of X2 could potentially be revived. I for one can’t wait to see the end product.