X-tra Mutants
They're back. With a better script and more fights.
By Rachel Deahl

Clap for the wolfman.

No matter what you call it, and with alternate titles including X-Men 2 and the shortened X-2, the sequel to last summer's popcorn comic book hit is irresistibly fun. Helmed again by wunderkind Bryan Singer (who was launched into the upper tier of the directorial Hollywood A-list with his sophomore effort, The Usual Suspects), this follow-up is a glib, enjoyable expansion on the beloved Marvel world.

Like so many comic book series that work well on screen, the first attribute of the X-Men storyline is that it's smart and feels as grounded in science as science fiction. For those who don't remember the first film (or, possibly, didn't see it) and are unfamiliar with the comic book, the basic gist behind the series is that in a not-so-distant future the Earth sees the birth of a new species. More specifically, evolution yields a superhuman life form and human beings begin spawning another race, the members of which are dubbed mutants. Blessed (and to a certain extent cursed) with unique super-powers, the mutant race is constantly at odds with the humans-with some "evil" factions in both groups looking to wipe out their evolutionary other.

The obvious social implications inspired by X-Men are wisely underscored by Singer here, as in the first film. Where the original set mutant against mutant as the peace-loving (and human-loving) X-Men battled the faction within their group looking to wipe out the race of man, the sequel unites the super-powered heroes and villains as the humans attempt to exterminate the mutants. The distinction, while a slight one, allows the sequel to be even more fun and inventive.

Riffing on the comedic scenarios that can arise from "mutant" status, X-2 is more playful than the original, and funnier. Whether watching new teenage X-Man, Bobby (nicknamed Iceman for his skills), try to get to second base with a girlfriend who happens to suck the life out of anyone she touches, or seeing shape-shifting Mystique nuzzle up to Wolverine as she conveniently changes into a series of his possibly desired partners, X-2 is as much about the ironies of having super-powers as it is the way in which they can be used to save mankind. More than anything, X-2 delights in the bizarre and unexpected, chronicling the ways each of its gifted characters can employ their particular skills. And, whether it means Iceman is chilling a warm soda or building a thick wall of frozen water to stop a brigade of soldiers, the fun is always finding out how and when these powers come in handy.

With an array of dazzling special effects to match its smart storytelling, it's hard to think of a moviegoer who won't be pleased with what X-2 has to offer. The stellar cast from the first film, which included wonderful turns from Hugh Jackman as the brooding Wolverine and Ian McKellen as the scheming and debonair super-villain Magneto, is only improved upon with juicy new roles for Brian Cox (playing a maniacal army general) and Alan Cumming (as a sweetly religious Austrian X-Man named Kurt Wagner with movement and teleportation powers). An infectiously good time, X-2 will no doubt make you forget about the doldrums of human existence and leave you wondering what kind of mutant you'd most like to be.