Great fiction, no matter what the medium, uses itself to comment on real-world events. Since the early days of comic books when young Jewish writers and artists created Supermen and Captain Americas to take on foes they were unable to defeat themselves, superhero stories have been futile ground for allegorical comparisons. X-Men was created as a mirror to reflect the civil war struggle: Mutants are not accepted, they want the right to exist. Professor X (Martin Luther King) believes their fight can be won by non-violent means, whereas Magneto (Malcolm X) feels that violence is the only way to victory. That is no doubt a huge simplification to what the civil rights movement was about, but as an allegory it gives these fantastical tales of mutants some real-world depth. When the president says in X2 that “the last thing we need to see is the body of a mutant kid on the 6 o'clock news”, compared to recent real events, it is chilling to realise how close that comparison still is to reality.

If the film was just high-minded warnings against humanity it would be nowhere as well regarded as it is (Empire readers recently voted X2 the second best superhero film of all time, beaten only by Nolan's The Dark Knight). X2 features some of the most impressive set-pieces in the genre, but they themselves have subtle parallels. Previous to the opening White House invasion, in which Nightcrawler attempts to assassinate the President, a tour guide is heard lecturing on Abraham Lincoln who was a famously assassinated, as well as being an early powerful ally for civil rights. The siege of School for the Gifted scene also features foreshadowing in the form of a television documentary voice-over stating “without their mother the babies are helpless”. The final battle between Wolverine and Deathstrike is pre-faced by various clues that Deathstrike is similarly Adamantium-framed: the knuckle clicking and the X-Ray behind the injection tank all point to the fact that Wolverine will soon be facing an equal.

Another scene that sets X2 apart from lesser superhero efforts is the “coming out” scene. It is established earlier in the film that Bobby's (Iceman) parents are in the dark as to what he is going through. They believe that he is attending a prep school for the very gifted (which in a way he is). When he reveals to them that he is a mutant there is a very fearful lack of acceptance and understanding from his parents; his mum even asks him “have you tried not being a mutant?” Of course no one can change who they are. The idea of having a secret identity that a teenager might keep from telling their parents has echoes with that with sexuality and the act of “coming out” which Ian McKellen (Magneto) had some input in the scene's writing to reflect his experiences as a homosexual man. A more minimalist metaphor is Bobby's relationship with Jane. They want to be physical but her abilities damage him when they touch. Love, sometimes, hurts.

One thing that almost always collapses a superhero film is an over-abundance of characters. In X2 there are at least fourteen core characters that have something akin to narrative arcs, and further confusion involved due to the fact that most of them have more than one name (Logan/Wolverine, Bobby/Iceman, etc.). Director Bryan Singer manages to juggle most of this due to having already introduced most of the key players in the previous film (2000's X-Men). Most of the other character development is eased by having the characters having clearly defined, simplified relationships and pasts: Xavier and Eric have known each for years, both believe in the same thing, but with different ways of going about it; Logan loves Jane, but she loves Scott and Scott dislikes Logan etc. This would make for bland characters if it was not for the little personifying touches: Bobby instantly chilling a Dr. Pepper, Logan's apparent affinity with cats, and Mystic's sly middle finger as she slides through some shutting doors. This also keeps the film, that starts in the White House and ends with the near-annihilation of the human race, grounded in reality. These are people with quirks. These mutants aren't all that different from you.

See Also: The Usual Suspects (1996), X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

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