X2: X-Men United (2003)

A publicity still of Brian Cox in X2: X-Men United. 20th Century Fox.

The first X-Men was fine. It set up the characters and gave them black leather costumes that looked credible and not too comic-bookish to mainstream audience not yet fully ready to embrace the Marvel Universe — a situation that would soon change.

X2 raised the stakes dramatically, going apologetically full X-Men with a storyline inspired by the Chris Claremont-authored graphic novel God Loves, Man Kills.

X2 embraced that the X-Men comics have always been about: prejudice. The mutants of the X-Men face an unrepentant anti-mutant bigot, Colonel William Stryker (an icily great Brian Cox), and see their world so upended that they need to align themselves with their arch enemy, Magneto (Ian McKellan) to save Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart).

It is the X-Men movie that feels the most like Claremont’s X-Men comics, and that’s the highest compliment we can give.

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