“Have you tried … well … not being a mutant?” Such simple motherly advice may seem like mere comic relief, but these words actually sum up the premise for the newest X-Men brawl quite well. Paired against their arch-nemesis and the president of the free world, the coalition of kick-ass characters fight to keep their very race alive in this summer’s first blockbuster action flick.

As expected, “X2: X-Men United” picks up where its predecessor left off, with the maniacal Magneto (Ian McKellen) trapped in his bubble prison, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) struggling to discover the truth of his past and little Rogue (Anna Paquin) still trying to get some sugar from the boys. Even the mutated senator from the preceding storyline carries over as a reformed advocate for mutant rights.

But Magneto’s prophecy of an impending mutant war rings true in the sequel, as an assassination attempt on the president provokes a mutant annihilation campaign in the White House. Military general William Stryker (Brian Cox) arranges a midnight raid on Xavier’s School for the Gifted, and the X-Men are pitted against the most dangerous foe yet: the Professor.

With the introduction of the elusive teleporter Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) and some crowd-pleasing battle scenes, the special effects in ‘X2’ far surpass those of the first movie. The German freak show artist snakes his way into any space, dodging a tirade of bullets and leaving only a smoky blue trail in his wake. His strange physical appearance leaves the audience wanting to know more about his fixation with sin and faith, isolation and acceptance.

Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and Storm (Halle Berry) have their shining moments too. Here, they capture their prey with a simple flick of the wrist and assume control of the X-Men jet, maneuvering around government fighter planes as their male counterparts stumble around in the back. In fact, the females of the species reignssupreme in most cases in terms of skill and overall action. Each of the men is easily manipulated with mind tricks, illusions and fantasies galore, but the women refrain from such weakness. While the men sometimes shy away from the danger (ahem … Iceman) or manage to get themselves pinned into unpleasant situations, the women continue to hold their own on land and off.

Sadly, the newly added character of Deathstrike (Kelly Hu), Stryker’s pet project and the updated, female version of Wolverine, receives very little of the spotlight. She has no lines to speak of and is rarely seen until her short, yet intense brawl with her counterpart, which is, by far, one of the movie’s best. For such an intriguing addition to the plot, her role is disappointingly understated.

In order to save the Professor and the world at large, the X-Men must join forces with their previous enemies, Magneto and Mystique, a pairing which allows for an interesting tension between the two sides. True, the end result is predictable from the beginning, but the combination increases the humor and appeal inherent in the film.

Though the reintroduction to the characters is slightly longer than expected (It takes almost a full hour to reach any decent fight scenes), X2 maintains the balance between action and plot without really overemphasizing either aspect. Surprisingly, the movie manages to include a special twist to its ending, breaking the tradition and monotony of many predictable superhero stories. In what’s shaping up to be yet another summer of sequels, X2 provides hope to its moviegoers that the trend will result in comparably satisfying follow-ups.

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