The pitch: In this sequel, ethical super-powered mutants like Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and evil ones like Magneto (Ian McKellen) become reluctant allies when the gleefully nasty Gen. Stryker (Brian Cox) launches an attack on the Xavier School for the Gifted.
Money shots: The premise means that every mutant has a money shot, but the best are newcomer Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) and his teleportation attack on the Oval Office; weather-controlling Storm (Halle Berry), who thwarts fighter jets with funnel clouds; Pyro (Aaron Stanford), who tosses fireballs at cops; and the skin-shredding showdown between metal-clawed Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and wickedly-fingernailed Deathstrike (Kelly Hu).
Fashion statements: As in the first film, leather body suits replace the comics' colored tights, but Jackman should stick with the muscle T. Professor X sports a spiffy blue suit with gold tie and vest. Wolverine's swooping coiffure looks like he belongs with Flock of Seagulls.
Flesh factor: There's more skin than you usually see in a comic book movie, and it's blue: As the kinky, shapeshifting Mystique, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos wears little more than sapphire-colored body paint and strategically placed scales.
Off the bench: Teenaged Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) gets bumped up from a first-film cameo to a lead role to romance life-draining Rogue (Anna Paquin).
Product placement: Iceman cools off Wolverine's Dr. Pepper with a touch. Besieged mutants make their getaway in a Mazda.
Pop references: The star field we see during Stewart's first lines about mutants as the next step in evolution directly evokes Capt. Picard's intro for "Star Trek."
Political subtext: Mainstream fear of mutants echoes real-world bigotry, profiling and homophobia. When Iceman "outs" himself to his family, his mother asks, "Have you tried not being a mutant?"
For the fanboys: Established X-Men Kitty Pride (who walks through walls) and Colossus (who has a metal body) have scene-stealing cameos, and sharp-eyed fans will spot the civilian names of several others. The telepathic control issues of Jean "No Nickname" Gray (Famke Janssen) strongly hint that a sequel will pick up the comics' "Dark Phoenix" storyline.
Hey, wait a minute: In the trailer, Stewart says, "I pity anyone who comes to my school looking for a fight," but it didn't make the final cut.
Better than the first?: It's a half-hour longer than the first film, and that half-hour has saggy pace and false climax problems. But being more x-pensive, x-pansive and x-citing makes X2 a step forward in the evolution of a satisfying superhero franchise.
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