Someone telephone B. Ruby Rich, because X2: X-Men United can be lumped in as the latest evolution of the New Queer Cinema. This Marvel Comics adaptation again takes place in and around the special school for gifted mutants—ostracized superheroes—run by wheelchair-bound Professor X (Patrick Stewart). It plays into adolescent fantasies of isolation and escaping from a world that “just doesn’t understand.” But evil government agents (led by Brian Cox, playing a moustache-twirling version of Jesse Helms) attack their paradise and kidnap the good professor. The mutants are forced to go out into the world and fend for themselves. This leads to the inevitable scene where Bobby Drake, a.k.a. Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) brings his on-the-run friends home to suburban mom and dad and has to come out of the mutant closet, as it were.
The best moment involves Ian McKellen’s arch-villain Magneto and his shape-shifting, gender-bending henchwoman Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) giggling in the back of an airplane, obviously mocking X-Girl Rogue (Anna Paquin) and the appealing streaks of gray in her hair. McKellen queens up his dialogue wonderfully, just falling short of commending Rogue’s hairdresser. X2 has moments of unintentional humor, though it offers little insight into being an outsider. It’s one of those big, gaudy blockbuster films where every other scene involves a death-defying spectacle, and it’s certainly busy what with 12 or 13 major mutant heroes running around: a cigar-chomping Wolverine (a charismatic Hugh Jackman); the college-educated Storm (the woefully miscast Halle Berry); Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming), a blue demon-figure with a German accent; and so on.
Spreading itself way too thin, X2 relies on glib Rod Serling moralizing. Storm and Nightcrawler have a surface allegorical discussion of faith versus anger that would have Serling screaming for rewrites. You’d at least hope the action scenes would be effective, but like the climactic Statue of Liberty battle in the original X-Men, it’s often difficult to understand what’s going on, what the objectives are for heroes and villains, and when their super-powers will work and when they won’t. Because it’s all so arbitrary, one character’s self-sacrifice feels cheap and unearned. And it’s not even appealing to look at: all gauche arcade room colors and plastic sheens. If the set pieces don’t razzle dazzle, what’s the point of going to one of these dumb summer movies?
But let’s hear it for subversion. X2 fails in almost every way you can think of, but it’s still bleakly funny to witness the audacity of some of its claims: that the White House is the easiest place in the world to break into; that a mutant assassination of the Commander-in-Chief would be remarkably simple to pull off (don’t worry, the mutant lets him live); that the president pours himself a healthy dose of Jack Daniels in the midst of crisis; and that the mutants are able to hand deliver a message to Bush Jr. that says, “We’ll be watching you.” While I preferred the gentle mocking of President Clinton from the entertainment industry that loved him, it’s amusing to see some Bushwhacking…although the ultimate message in X2 is one it’s unwilling to explore: that our home security is faulty, and that the mutants could take over the White House whenever they feel like it. Homophobic Hollywood players probably feel the same way, that closeted gays are attempting to conquer the studios and that the first step is secret message movies like X2. If this is true, then tolerance breeds discontent. If they’re going to do it, at least make the movies palatable. X-Men already rammed its message down our collective throats. Now they’re back for seconds. Who wants some more?