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<i>X-Men</i> Sequel Promises to Wow Loyal Fans - 2003-05-02

Marvel comic book characters popular for more than 40 years return to the screen in a sequel to the blockbuster hit film from 2000. Alan Silverman has a look at X2: X-Men United

Wolverine is back, with those deadly metal claws that extend from his hands when he's riled up.

Stunning Storm once again controls the climate around her; and there's Rogue, Cyclops, Pyro, Mystique, Magneto and more mutants with amazing powers. To some, they represent the next stage in evolution: to others, a scourge that must be eliminated. The X-Men first appeared in Marvel Comics in the early 1960's and the original movie, three years ago, met the expectations of fans around the world. Director Bryan Singer, who also made the original, says he had those many fans in mind when he chose, this time, to launch right into the action fantasy and n-o-t to repeat the introductions from the first film.

"I think this film, X2, is designed to stand on its own as a separate entity," says Singer. " It's the movie I would have, should have, could have made the first time, but could n-o-t have made without having made the first film."

"I think now those characters are so well defined (that) you know where they're coming from," he adds. " The universe is somewhat established. You see them use their powers very early on. There are certain 'gifts' for the audience so they can catch up to speed, but ultimately there seemed no point in it because the characters were already moving forward. I didn't want to move backward and waste that kind of time."

Ian McKellan again plays renegade mutant leader Magneto, rival to professor Xavier, played by Patrick Stewart, who says the cast understands its responsibility to the X-Men fans.

"There are plenty of 'keepers of the grail' around on this movie to make sure what should be preserved is preserved. I think we have to be convincing and I look on it as being, in part, my job as Charles Xavier, to give an intellectual and moral substance to what we do. He's a serious man," says Stewart.

Logan, who when angered becomes the fierce Wolverine, is serious about fighting; and Hugh Jackman says he does more of that in the sequel.

"I've been talking to fans and if there's one thing they said to me it was 'come on, let's see that berserker rage. Let's go for it.' I thought about that and they are right. When I went back to X-Men (the first film), there really wasn't a lot of it," says Jackman. " I had a huge fight sequence with Mystique where I ended up on my back, knocked out; and then there's a bit at the beginning, but there wasn't a lot of that berserker rage. When I read this script I thought the relationships were better; I thought it was funnier and there was more action, but I still said we've got to get even more action."

Wolverine gets a worthy opponent in Deathstrike, a woman with metal claws like his own, played by Kelly Hu. The universe has always been equal opportunity with women like shape-shifting Mystique played by Rebecca Romin-Stamos, again covered in blue body paint; Famke Janssen as telepathic Jean Grey; teenager Rogue, Anna Paquin, who saps the energy of people she touches; and Halle Berry as Storm.

"When I was growing up and in my 20s all the action heroes were men. It's only been in the last five or six years that women have emerged in some instances as action heroes. I think that's indicative that our society is changing, as women we're evolving and becoming more empowered," notes Berry.

X2: X-Men United, the mutants battle prejudice and discrimination; and they struggle for their lives when the government launches an all-out war against them. Director Bryan Singer acknowledges parallels with the real world, but says it is n-o-t inspired by any specific events.

"This story line was conceived prior to September 11 and, remember, the X-Men universe was conceived in the early 1960s at the height of the American civil rights movement," he explains. " So these ideas of bigotry, tolerance, fear and war, I think, are perpetual ideas. It is oddly relevant. I desperately tried n-o-t to let current events, as they unfolded, impact the process of making this film. It is, for me, primarily a fantasy entertainment; but I think if it didn't have some relevance to some social issues or personal issues it wouldn't be truly entertaining. I think truly entertaining movies affect you. I think good science fiction ultimately tells stories of the human condition from an extraordinary perspective."

X2: X-Men United hits theaters simultaneously in some 93 countries.