Reviewed by Frank Lovece

They don't truck with no superheroes in this sequel to X-MEN (2000), based on the Marvel Comics series created in 1963 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The word is never uttered, the superpowered protagonists don't save little old ladies from getting mugged, and when someone refers to the X-Men's "costumes," a correction is quickly forthcoming: They're "uniforms." Following the breakthrough naturalism of the supernatural Marvel movie BLADE (1998) and his own X-MEN, director Bryan Singer continues to portray comic-book characters as flesh-and-blood people, not the kid-stuff of yore or stylized icons of late. And for the first hour, it's exhilarating — a political drama of behind-closed-doors intrigue, punctuated by bursts of dizzyingly choreographed battles that take action scenes to the next level by seamlessly blending slicing metal claws, instantaneous teleportation and other extreme additions. The film opens with the teleporting Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) attacking the U.S. president (Cotter Smith) in the White House; not only is the creature made to seem terrifyingly unstoppable, but the snap-to response of the president's men has a documentary verisimilitude. The public responds to the assassination attempt by clamoring for a Mutant Registration Act, and the president gives hard-line military scientist William Stryker (Brian Cox) the go-ahead to investigate what Stryker paints as a terrorist training camp — Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, where the Martin Luther King-like Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) advocates peaceful coexistence and trains young mutants to use their genetic-fluke powers responsibly. Stryker — who's used foul means to gather information from imprisoned mutant supremacist Erik Lehnsherr, aka Magneto (Ian McKellan) — heads an assault on the peaceful prep school when all the grown-ups, except brooding bad-ass Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), are away. The combat visuals that follow are as powerful as those of any war film, and all the more poignant since the victims are teens and pre-teens (many of them clever cameos by the comic's supporting players). Well-placed dramatic moments explore the complex reality of familial relationships and further the allegorized critique of anti-gay prejudice, yet once the regrouped X-Men track the kidnapped students to Stryker's underground facility, the movie becomes attenuated and repetitive, with a vaguely defined and (even for comics) hard-to-swallow super-weapon that would kill the billions of non-mutants on Earth. Halle Berry and James Marsden are blandly unconvincing in their roles, and one character's grand sacrifice carries little emotional weight and even less of a rationale. Yet as thoughtful spectacle with some tremendously talented performers, it's Bryan Singer's X-cellent adventure.