Release date: May 1, 2003
The story: Capitalizing on anti-mutant sentiment following Magneto’s actions at the end of X-Men, Colonel William Stryker enacts a plan that will wipe out all mutants if he’s successful. Using mutants as brainwashed pawns thanks to a fluid harvested from his mutant son, Stryker begins by turning the public and the U.S. government against mutants by sending the teleporting Nightcrawler to kill the president in the X-franchise’s first great action sequence. Information acquired from the imprisoned Magneto is used by Stryker to attack Xavier’s School For Gifted Youngsters, and the student body would be doomed if it wasn’t for Wolverine, who has just returned from exploring the Alkali Lake complex Xavier directed him to at the end of the last film.
After a short coming out trip to Iceman’s childhood home, Wolverine and his three young accomplices connect with Jean Grey, Storm, and a now-friendly Nightcrawler, and this team of X-Men joins forces with the escaped Magneto and Mystique to stop Stryker and rescue Cyclops and Xavier. Stryker has created his own version of Xavier’s mutant-tracking Cerebro and intends to have Xavier use it to kill all mutants, but the rescue operation is successful, saving the mutant race but costing the life of Jean Grey, who sacrifices herself for her team. Along the way, Wolverine begins to uncover secrets of his past and Jean Grey shows signs of extraordinary psychic power, and the film ends with a mysterious phoenix shape under Alkali Lake, suggesting Jean’s story is far from over.
Noteworthy events: Rogue and Iceman are officially a couple, and their relationship is the major motivator of Rogue’s actions in X-Men: The Last Stand. Pyro is the first student of Xavier’s school to leave the X-Men to join Magneto. Jean Grey’s “death” sets the stage for the rise of the Phoenix in the next film, and despite William Stryker’s death at the end of this film, he will continue to be a presence in X-movies as his history Wolverine and the rest of mutantkind is explored in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men: Days Of Future Past, and X-Men: Apocalypse.