The first X-Men comic book appeared in September 1963, a few weeks after Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.
Evolution has suddenly sped up, spawning an advanced species of mutants ("Homo superiors") who are envied, feared, and hated by the bigoted and backward public. Magneto, a Malcolm X-like radical mutant, conspires to destroy the human race for oppressing him. Professor Charles Francis Xavier, a saintly moderate in the mold of Dr. King, leads the good mutants in battle against both Magneto's extremists and the reactionary normals egged on by the Joe McCarthyesque Senator Kelly.
Still, this common assumption that the X-Men were inspired by the travails of blacks doesn't really stand up. Dr. King fought for his people to be presumed equal rather than inferior to the majority. In contrast, the X-Men are an elite demonstratively richer, smarter, and more competent than the masses, who hate them for it.
Despite their multi-cultural moralizing, the X-Men films primarily appeal to straight white boys, the nerdy obsessives recently empowered by the Web to impose their tastes on pop culture through their ability to generate buzz for a movie.
The fanboys will be elated that "X2" utilizes no less than 18 of their favorite mutants. Others may find that the teeming freaks get on their nerves after awhile.
Worse, each of the dozen and a half mutants has a normal name, a superhero name and at least one superpower. For example, Oscar-winner Halle Berry plays (badly) Ororo Munroe, a.k.a. Storm, who has the uncanny ability to make it blow big time. Multiply these three data points by 18 mutants and you get 54 facts you're supposed to keep straight. What fun!
Some even have multiple powers. Logan/Wolverine is a mutant with both a cast-iron skeleton and, when he gets shot in the head, an amazing knack at squeezing bullets out using the supermuscle between his ears. Or something like that. Maybe I'm confusing crucial details, so, X-Men buffs, please send me long letters setting me straight. The more exhaustive and condescending the better!
Did I mention that "X2" is also thuddingly loud, and that it goes on -- and on -- for two hours and 15 minutes, a full half hour longer than the relatively painless first installment?
OK, OK, I'll stop venting. I will admit that "X2" will sell huge numbers of tickets and perfectly satisfy most of its customers.
My crankiness just exemplifies the standard problem with us film critics: you don't normally get a fun job being paid to watch movies until you are too old to enjoy them.
Take the volume level in "X2." A quarter of a century ago, going to the movies was typically a placid affair. When I wanted loud and fast, I'd go see The Ramones, not "Superman." As audio technology improved, however, theaters jacked up the volume, bringing the pleasure (and pain) of a rock concert into the multiplex.
As the art bloggers at 2Blowhards.com have pointed, movie sound engineers found that loudness excites young males, but drives away people older than about age 30. The movie industry decided youths were their core audience and catered to them even more, cranking the volume to eleven, and propelling even more of us over-30s to Blockbuster.
But, that's what I'm here for. I write movie reviews for the kind of man who -- although his wife did coax him into going with her to see "Chicago" and "A Beautiful Mind" -- hasn't been really excited about buying a ticket since "Saving Private Ryan."
Yet, movies play a bigger role in American culture today than at any time since the arrival of The Beatles. There's always something worth remarking about every film, and with "X2," there's one notably amusing irony.
Although the mutants have been struggling for four decades to be accepted as human beings, they finally met an implacable foe: their own owners. In January, Marvel won a bizarre legal battle with the U.S. Customs Service over whether the plastic action figures it imports from China for resale should be taxed at the higher tariff imposed on human dolls or the lower one on animal and monster toys. Marvel triumphed by persuading judge Judith Barzilay to declare the X-Men "something other than human."
Rated a hard PG-13 for action/violence, some sexuality and brief language.
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