Picks and Pans Review: X2: X-Men United

updated 05/12/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/12/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, Ian McKellen, James Marsden

With movies about superheros, part of the attraction is speculating how having special powers could benefit one's own daily life. I already know which power I crave: In this bustling sequel to 2000's comic-book block-buster about genetic mutants with cool powers, a young mutant can change TV channels by merely blinking his eyes. He's glimpsed only briefly and doesn't even have a name, but if he returns for the third X-Men film (which is under consideration), he should be dubbed Remoto.

Not that superheros have much time for watching the telly. Their lives, at least as seen here, are in a constant state of upheaval, be it from human enemies conspiring against them, mutants undermining other mutants or romantic crises precipitated by their own hard-pumping hormones. X2's excessively complicated and character-crammed plot, which only a teen boy could care about enough to follow closely, has a nasty human bigwig (Brian Cox) fomenting a war against the mutants. All the mutants, including those who were villains in the first movie, must now unite against this common enemy. Every one of them gets a chance to demonstrate his or her special gift: Wolverine (Jackman) waves his metal claws; Storm (Berry) wreaks weather havoc; Cyclops (Marsden) blasts away with his fiery vision, etc.

It's a stretch, but one could interpret X2 as a post-9/11 plea for religious and ethnic tolerance. But that is probably giving this popcorn odyssey and director Bryan Singer, who also made the original, too much credit. It's really about action, special effects, dressing in tight leather outfits and jamming in even more characters to sell even more toys. One is just thankful that Jackman possesses the sexiest smolder in superherodom and isn't afraid to use it. (PG-13)

BOTTOM LINE: Love Wolverine, but the rest are just so many mundane mutants

Documentary

Spellbound

Critic's Choice

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If you see just one documentary this year, make it this marvel. Spellbound follows eight 13-and 14-year-olds as they prepare to compete at the 1999 National Spelling Bee. Watching them, viewers vicariously share in their victories and defeats. More significantly, this cross-section of contestants—children of immigrants, of privilege and of poverty—is a microcosm that shows the vitality of the American dream. The kids study hard, put almost unbearable pressure on themselves and hope for success. If you want to feel positive about the future, start here. (G)

BOTTOM LINE: E-X-C-E-L-L-E-N-T

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