There's a certain model that Hollywood tends to follow when it comes to franchises. Use the first movie to introduce the main characters and give us an idea what they are about. The first sequel should then hit the ground running with an actual story and maybe add a few more characters along the way. This is pretty much exactly what happens here. I prefer the original X-men movie to this one, and I think the main reason why is I'm not too crazy about the story.
They essentially decided to mash together the X-men graphic novel God Loves, Man Kills with the section of Wolverine's origin related to the Weapon X project. So Reverend Stryker becomes Colonel Stryker. Watching it this time around, I found myself being annoyed by the fact that so much focus is on Wolverine. It made sense in the first film because both he and Rogue were new to the X-men, but I feel like using so much time on his origin in this film is just too much. There are so many other good characters that I would have liked to have seen some of them have stronger roles in the film.
Which isn't to say that we don't get any other character development at all. I think Alan Cummings steals almost every scene he is in as Nightcrawler, and beyond the one "snooping" moment which comes off overly silly, he is a fine tribute to the comic version. As much as I would have liked to see him fuzzy, I think the tattoos fit his character well. I also liked seeing the scene between him and Mystique as a nod to her being his mother.
I also completely and utterly love the slow development of Jean into the Phoenix. It is portrayed in a way that matches the original intention of the comics - that this was a secondary form of her mutation. Notice that, unlike in the stupid stupid sequel (Note to self: save it for the next review!) we actually see flames. The fact that she allows them to escape in the blackbird by using her powers is pretty close to the way she piloted the spaceship down to earth in the comics. I literally jumped to my feet, raised my hands in the air, and said "Yes!" when I first saw that firebird forming at the end. Fortunately, it was just me and my brother in the theater at the time, since I got to see it the night before it premiered.
What may bother me most of all is the Jean/Wolverine relationship. She flat out tells him that she loves Scott and wants to be with him, and then Logan kisses her anyway! That is not cool. Since when do men in the last 30 years or more think no means yes? This isn't a romance novel, and that is not the Wolverine I know and love.
We get a lot more hints and cameos of other mutants this time around. The ones I noticed are Artie, Siryn, Colossus, Beast, Cannonball, Husk, Gambit, Multiple Man, Karma, Quicksilver, Scarlett Witch, Proteus, Danielle Moonstar, Kane, Silver Samurai, Omega Red, Franklin Richards, Kitty, Jubilee, and we also see folders on Stryker's computer mentioning Project Wideawake and Muir Island. I still don't know who that kid changing channels by blinking is though.
I should probably also mention for you non-comics readers that Deathstryke, or Lady Deathstrike as she is normally referred to, is not a mutant at all in the comics. She was the daughter of the man who developed the adamantium bonding process who got herself her own adamantium skeleton and other implants to become a cyborg.
To their credit, there really aren't too many other comic inaccuracies beyond what was already established in the first film. I think they built the world well enough that they didn't have to venture off too far. The only thing I'm uncertain of is Professor Xavier's powers. How does having telepathy make you able to make everyone in a room freeze, and not see what is happening while frozen? I also don't understand why concentrating on people via Cerebro would hurt and even kill them. This stuff only works as long as you don't think about it too hard. I've noticed that it is only this recent viewing, while having my "reviewer cap" on that I've noticed these little nitpicks. I've always really enjoyed the movie before this.
Things were going so well, and we had such a great set up for a fantastic finale, but then Singer left us for an alien in blue and red pajamas. I'll detail what makes me so angry about X3, and the few things about it I actually enjoy, tomorrow.