In the grand tradition of Artsweek insinuating itself into the lives of the famous, this reviewer glimpsed a brief collision between two worlds at Monday’s premiere of the superb “X-Men 2” at Mann’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood.
As the actors strolled down a blue carpet before a crowd of X-nuts, Anna Paquin, whose charm justifies the stark reinterpretation of her character Rogue for the films, met the fat, black judge from “American Idol.” They shook hands. They introduced themselves. Anna feigned a smile. Artsweek witnessed this oddly intimate but ultimately inconsequential moment.
Stars juxtaposed themselves repeatedly in this fashion. An incoherent David Hasselhoff followed the crowd-pleasing Hugh Jackman. Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, whose statuesque physicality awed, followed Fez from “That 70s Show,” whose celebrity status plunked down to C-level just by comparison.
Famke Janssen and Alan Cumming both wore skirts. Alice Cooper and Marvel god Stan Lee both wore wrinkles, but proved true cool transcends old age.
Joyously, this stellar parade paled next to the film. “X-Men 2,” which this reporter prefers to the actual title of “X2,” rocks on every conceivable level. The film recaptures the moments of the original “X-Men,” in which the characters transitioned beautifully from comic book page to movie screen.
Furthermore, the first film’s flaws have thankfully vanished. Halle Berry, absent from the premiere, ditched the white fright wig, the one-liners, and the lame somewhere-from-Africa accent, transforming Storm into a good character. When Storm is concerned for her teammates, Berry evokes a genuinely sincere emotion. When Storm is pissed, Berry thunders like a true weather goddess.
Janssen’s Jean Grey also emerges as a powerful figure. No longer as slight as the Invisible Girl, Jean’s eyes flicker with just a bit of the fiery splendor the third movie will no doubt explore. Completing the troika of wowing superwomen is Mystique, who actually gets to talk. The scaly blue vixen gets enough screen time to further bump Romijn-Stamos to legitimate stardom.
Plotwise, “X-Men 2” succeeds where other superhero sequels fail. The multitude of screenwriters balance the cast of the first movie well, developing characters who took a back seat before. For example, Cyclops (James Marsden), the optic blast Boy Scout, plays a minor role in the action, while Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) inches toward becoming a full-fledged X-Man.
The introduction of the many new X-Men escapes overkill. Prepare to meet a spot-on Nightcrawler (Cumming) and a steely Deathstrike (Kelly Hu), as well as Pyro, Kitty Pryde, Jubilee, Colossus, Siren and a hairless Beast.
This X-adventure sends the superpowered minority to fight the genocidal Stryker (Brian Cox), who’s as scary as an ordinary human can be among mutants. Woven into this tale is an exploration of Wolverine’s (Jackman) mysterious origins, in which the short, furry one – cool as ever – reminds the audience why he’s everybody’s favorite. All the while, the rivalry between Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) boils hotter than liquid adamantium.
Director Bryan Singer has every reason to be proud. Plus, he won’t have to constantly be looking over his shoulder like Joel Schumacher, constantly waiting for that one diehard fan to reap revenge.
It’s a new standard for superheroes.