The summer movie season effectively kicked off last night with Bryan Singer’s “X2: X-Men United.” With these would-be blockbusters, it takes a dogged determination to avoid being inundated by advance publicity; I tried my best over the past few weeks to avoid trailers, television commercials, critical reviews and entertainment journalism, all in an attempt to preserve as much novelty as possible for the 10:00p show on opening night. What little publicity I was unable to avoid seemed really positive — the ‘buzz’ was good, sometimes outrageously positive. I worried that my expectations were already being inflated but I shouldn’t have, as “X2” is a complete success.Even the best of comic book adaptations, like Richard Donner’s “Superman: The Movie” succeed less on the merits of filmmaking than on the wonder of mythmaking; their central purpose seems to be to adapt and interpret their source material. Having felt so strongly about comic books as a kid, I tend to carry slightly higher — or at least different — aspirations for those that become films: I want to see a super-hero film that’s a solid movie, that can be judged simply as a good piece of filmmaking first of all, and regarded as a faithful adaptation second.
This is what “X2” is. Well, certainly it’s no “Vertigo,” but it’s as well-paced, bracing and unexpectedly emotional as any action-adventure film you can name. The movie is never boring or tiresome, never succumbs to prolonged exposition or dreary sentimentality, and it’s frequently inventive and gently hilarious.
“X2” even qualifies as a rare sequel that surpasses its predecessor, relying far less on the history of its characters than on fundamentals of storytelling; with barely any modifications, this movie could easily have stood as the X-Men’s screen debut.
Perhaps most notably, Singer has done a commendable job in orchestrating a huge cast of characters into a coherent whole. With an overqualified roster of marquee names and powerful acting talents and no less than eleven key roles in the movie, the director surely must have been under duress to find the right balance of screen time and narrative inertia. Remarkably, he shortchanges neither the actors nor the characters. This kind of capacity for managing so many performances so expertly is a rare talent, and it’s a thrill to see it applied to the bright, kinetic world of super-heroes.