The filmmakers behind X2 based their plot on the graphic novel God Loves, Man Kills, but they consciously molded the X-Men sequel after The Empire Strikes Back, knowing that it would be the fulcrum of a trilogy. As a result, the movie has a darker tone than X-Men and includes such elements as an early attack on the heroes’ secret base, a love triangle, some shocking revelations about characters’ pasts, and a climax involving tragic self-sacrifice. Even the film’s lighter moments have a bitter undercurrent, like the satirical sequence where Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) “comes out” as a mutant to his disapproving family.
The plot finds rival mutant leaders Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) forging a truce in order to combat General Stryker (Brian Cox), who has genocidal designs against all mutant-kind. (Stryker also holds the keys to Wolverine’s erased memories, including how he came to have a metal skeleton.) Against the threat posed by Stryker, the mutants’ personal issues (including the Wolverine-Jean Grey-Cyclops triangle) come to seem trivial. Singer manages to give a real emotional wallop to the mutants’ climactic struggle, including the apparent self-sacrifice of Jean Grey (though the final image hints at her resurrection to come in the Dark Phoenix plotline of X-Men: The Last Stand). As a result, many Marvel fans consider X2 among the best superhero movies.