Movie trilogies often follow a pattern: the first is fine, the second is superb, and the third is terrible. The X-Men trilogy is a wonderful example of this, in part because X2 (later retitled X2: X-Men United) is one of my favorite movies, and quite possibly my favorite superhero movie. This is the high point for the X-Men films; it’s all downhill from here! Well, except maybe for Logan and Deadpool, but still.
Taking place shortly after X-Men, X2 drops Toad and Sabretooth in favor of giving more screentime to Iceman (Mr. Shawn Ashmore) and Pryo (now Aaron Stanford because the previous Pyro was replaced for… reasons). We open with Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) trying to kill the President, but he fails and flees, starting the plot with a bang. Meanwhile, Jean Grey has experienced a boost in power since last movie, now putting her dangerously close to being useful! While she and Storm look for Nightcrawler, Cyclops and Professor X are captured while visiting Magneto. See, a military scientist named William Stryker (Brian Cox) hates mutants, but has figured out a way to brainwash them into doing his bidding. He sent Nightcrawler after the President and has been getting information on Xavier’s school and Cerebro by “interrogating” Magneto. Stryker orders a raid on the school, capturing several students, sending many more fleeing, and leaving Wolverine, Iceman, and Pyro on the run. They hide out at Iceman’s parents’ house while trying to figure out where everyone else is, but some anti-mutant sentiment that is ABSOLUTELY queer coded leads to a showdown with the cops. Pyro does not help. They meet up with Storm, Jean, and Nightcrawler, and eventually Mystique and a liberated Magneto. Collectively they realize Stryker is responsible for everything, he made Wolverine the violent amnesiac that he is, he’s going to use Professor X and Cerebro to kill all mutants, and that they have to work together to stop him. A raid on Stryker’s base goes fairly well but with some… issues. A fight between a brainwashed Cyclops and Jean causes structural damage that threatens to kill them all in a flood, and Magneto decides to reverse Cerebro and have Professor X kill all humans. As Magneto, Mystique, and Pyro escape, the X-Men stop the evil plan but are at risk of the floodwaters. Jean sacrifices herself to save everyone else, but a shape reminiscent of a firebird suggests that death is not the end for her.
Oh, and Rogue was also there. She even sometimes helped!
Unlike the last movie, this movie’s comic influence is pretty obvious. God Loves, Man Kills is a highly regarded story where the X-Men must team up with Magneto against the threat of William Stryker, who is trying to use Professor X to kill all mutants. But unlike the movie, Stryker in the comic is a megachurch reverend, which is… scarier? Like sure, a government operative hating a group of people so much that he wants to eradicate them all is terrifying, but a preacher with the same goal, but converting civilians to his cause chills me more. You may have seen the iconic panel where Stryker points at Nightcralwer and shouts, “Human?! You dare call that… thing–HUMAN?!?” I know I saw it from several non-comic people, mostly because comic Stryker bears a resemblance to a certain bigoted, deeply religious Vice President. But we need a movie level threat, and tying Stryker to the Weapon X Program (technically Weapon Plus, but still) makes him more of a punchable threat.
God Loves, Man Kills is also one of three instances that I know about where writer Chris Claremont had Kitty Pryde say the n-word, cause that’s a thing that happened. Chris… buddy… “mutie” will never be the slur you think it is.
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