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X-Men 2: X-Men United

dir: Bryan Singer
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Nerds. Does God love them? Or hate them? Are they the saviours of this world, or are they a plague upon the rest of humanity? Are they the result of unpopular childhoods, or a genetic mutation unto themselves, blessed with incredible memories for the most trivial of data and a pathological ability to hyperfocus on the most worrying of details?

At the very least, nerds and geeks in their pupal stage (where they are invisible and mostly benign) or adult stage (where they can be lethal: look at Micro$oft Overlord Darth Bill Gates, David Letterman and Henry Rollins) are friends to capitalism. Their pool of disposable income is vast and desirable, vast because we are talking about people that will spend their last hundred bucks on a DVD boxset of The Prisoner or a Boba Fett lunch box signed by Jeremy Bulloch instead of paying the rent. They have what is known in cognitive psychology circles as "low impulse control" and a yen for collecting. They want this geeky thing, they must have this geeky thing; no amount of arguing or sex can dissuade them.

So, it makes you wonder; if the ranks of the geeky are made up of the socially inept, the unpopular and the disenfranchised, why is it that there are so many films, books and magical bits of merchandise aimed at them, trying to fulfill their nerdy needs? If they truly are a section of society that is neglected and despised, then why does everything seem to be aimed at them? Truly, they must be the sustainers of markets, they make so many things possible. Without them the cinemas would be filled exclusively with films starring Kate Hudson, Jennifer Lopez and Freddie Prinze Michelle Gellar Jnr.

And the rest of you normals should thank us for it.

Honestly, for nerds this is a Golden Era. Spider-Man last year, Hulk this year, three Lord of the Rings films released over three years, two Matrix sequels in the one year, multiple adaptations of comic book licensed filth (Blade II, Daredevil, this film), a third Terminator film, Gulf War II etc. Who says that Hollywood doesn't love you? Excluding George Lucas of course, who whilst being a very powerful and technically proficient (and let's not forget immensely wealthy) nerd hates all of you. Hates you all with a passion that would melt the polar icecaps if we gave him half a chance.

And why is it prime time for geeks and feebs all over the world? Well why not? Nerds are a veritable goldmine of money - making opportunities, have been for ages. Who else saves studios and salvages budgets like the nerds that see the film, buy the calendar, then order 3 different versions of the DVD just to be sure?

Who else do licenses matter to? When they say that such-and-such a comic or fantasy / sci-fi book has been optioned, the producers aren't rubbing their hands together because they think "Finally, that opportunity I've been waiting for to make that quality film that Mom said I'd always make. I'll let the inherent integrity of the material come out, and surely I won't ever shortchange the fans." They're thinking "Money in the fucking bank, the nerds will be all over this like flies on shit."

And who really blames them. Because the nerds do come out in force. All the shut-ins, the albinoes, the "I live my real life online" three hundred pound monstrosities that get all their sustenance from soft drinks, they go to see these kinds of films, with all the requisite love and gratitude.

And surely when they're this well made, well, who can blame them? Honestly, YOU would be CRAZY to blame them.

As much as I enjoyed this film, it is certainly for the nerds. No-one else could possibly get more out of this film that your average compulsive obsessive. Yes, there were a few women in the audience, today being opening day for X 2 in Australia, but I'm sure they were just in the wrong cinema, or, surprisingly enough, exclusively Asian.

All the other guys in the place were all mostly wearing black, were slightly or more so pudgy, and there were many ponytails and glasses to be seen. What I enjoyed most was watching guys come in to the cinema over about a ten minute timeframe, seeing them from my vantage point individually (for let us be frank, they are mostly lone wolves, no need have they for allies on nights as important as this) with the intention of sitting in the dead centre of an isle close to the front. Then another guy would come in and sit in front of him. And then
another, etc, going on down the line.

Truth be told I do flag my geek flag high, not being in any way less nerdy than those I ridicule for fun and profit. But again truth be told I didn't read comics when I was a wee bairn (that would mean 'small child' as opposed to 'incontinent farm building' for those not in the know), and as such could really not care less about the X Men legacy. I honestly know fuck-all about any of it. I've picked up some geek knowledge about some of it over the years, enough to get some of the references, but really, I have a career and a girlfriend, I don't have time to study up on the X Men comics. Life, etc...

The film doesn't really cater to the non-genre fan. I am sure someone knowing nothing about either the X Men comics or the first film (also directed by Bryan Singer) would watch this film and find it more confusing than a Bar Mitzvah in Chinatown. It seems to follow on from the first film almost as if it is the
next episode in a series, which is fine if it's on telly, but doesn't make a lot of sense on the big screen.

The film begins with an extended action sequence in the White House. A particularly fast and violent mutant introduces us to the film with the power to teleport all over the place and kick three shades of fuck out of those nasty Secret Service agents defending the hallowed President. It's a decent enough intro, a staple in high-end action films, whereby they whet the appetite but don't reveal too much about the story. What it
manages to do is set up a premise substantially different enough from the first film to apparently warrant our attention.

See, in the world this film is set in, genetic mutation is rampant. All these people have been born that have these super cool powers that usually let them do pretty cool things, as long as the script requires it. The rest of humanity hates them, but then again that's understandable. It's not enough that they convey the understanding to us that mundane humanity fears and hates mutants, they incorporate it into prevalent ideas regarding racism / homophobia etc.

The central point of the story is: people that hate mutants will happily use mutants to further their own goals, their ultimate goal being the extermination of mutants everywhere out of fear, ignorance or inadequacy. What a nicely egalitarian statement to make. Surely the writers aren't speaking against
reactionary paranoia and the supression of non-conformists within society? That'd be way too pinko in this day and age.

Honestly, apart from any of the ideological quibbles, the film is quite competently made. The main problem is the fact that only someone that cared about the characters due to previous knowledge could a) care about the fucking characters, since it's only with prior knowledge that you could have enough of an idea or affection for them that it would matter, since the film supplies nothing apart from basic traits, and b) stretching out
the origin of Wolverine story is proving progressively painful. It's patently clear that the film is less about some license called the X Men and more about an Australian actor playing a Canadian guy with a wacky hairstayle and metal claws coming out of his hands. Sure he does a fantastic job, and looks super
violent when he needs to, but with so many characters to not flesh out, as the story goes, why he is supposed to be the centre of the story is not clear. Although if you had a look at any of the promotional posters floating around Melbourne, with Hugh front and centre with the rest of the characters way in the
back and out of focus, you wonder why they didn't just call it the Hugh Jackman show and cut out the middle men completely.

Nightcrawler, played by Alan Cummings, gets to have the decent special effects 'speak' for him at film's beginning, and is later used only for plot convenience. There are sweet details given away about his character, his name, his origin, his religious obsession, but when there's so many people on screen
with little to do, you take what you can get, Mein Gott!!. He's great in the role.

I can't help but wish that there had been less characters and more concentration on characterisation and a dynamic story. But then again we geeks will swallow anything.

There were several times during that story where I kept thinking "that would so not make sense to a non-geek". And you have to wonder whether a non-geek would care. One of the many virtues you could label the film with is the fact that it is not entirely stereotypical and cliche, in that the obligatory material is kind of endemic to the peculiar universe pertaining to this geek playground, as opposed to being a template on a screenwriter's computer.

It's fun, it's mostly fun, it doesn't all make sense, but it's not embrassing for the majority of it's length. The dialogue didn't make me cringe, and the action is certainly well directed. The only real problem is that I wasn't sure why I should care a lot of the time. A certain character does what used to be known as a 'heel turn' in the old days, but since I knew nothing about him, whys was I supposed to care. Another dies, seemingly sacrificing herself for the greater good towards film's end, and I didn't really feel anything then
either. There are plenty of references for the fans that spent all their pocket money on these comics when they were young.

Now they don't even have the luxury of saying "It's not a comic, it's a graphic novel". Because in this instance it is actually some crappy comic from the 80s. With a bunch of people in it doing stuff that makes me think I should care, but I just can't seem to. But that doesn't make it all bad.

I wasn't bored, I'll say that. But its appeal is necessarily narrow. They try to give everyone something to do and in most cases they fail miserably. Still, the highpoints (the attack on the school, Logan going sick with the claws, Mystique fighting, the attack on Alkali Flats and Stryker, Magneto escaping and seducing Pyro, the minor Dark Phoenix stuff) are great. The low points (Cyclops is annoying and mostly non-existent, Rogue being around just to be all cute (which Anna Paquin certainly is), useless mostly and a bad pilot, the whole Cerebro thing, the villain (a bureaucratic - seeming Stryker as opposed to a diabolical one, it all seems
ludicrous in the real world, but of paramount importance to the nerd obsessives. Decent action, reasonable effects, plenty of previous references and other geek insanity, and you've got something the geeks can all get together and love. A marketer's wet dream, a nerd's paradise indeed.

Relish this time, boys, it won't last forever. Eventually it'll go back to being about violence and bad craziness and Ben Affleck's navel, mark my word.

7 mutants trying to take over the world out of 10

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"You're a god amongst insects, don't let anyone tell you
different" - Magneto, X-Men 2: X-Men United.

Rating: