Directed by Bryan Singer starring Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Brian Cox, Alan Cumming, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Shawn Ashmore, Aaron Stanford, Kelly Hu and James Marsden.

While playing the lead in the British Royal National Theatre's production of 'Oklahoma!' is a high profile gig, moving on to a $70m movie adaptation of a cherished comic with you in the role of a near sacred hero is a very big jump. But it's one Hugh Jackman did in style as Wolverine, giving Brian Singer's first 'X-Men' movie its most compelling character and leaving millions of fans worldwide counting down the days until the sequel. Now the wait is over and even with the bigger budget, better effects and new characters, Jackman still steals the show.

With the follow-up assuming everyone knows what happened in the first instalment, the story begins with an attack on the US President by a teleporting mutant called Nightcrawler (Cumming). Seizing on the hysteria, Army General Stryker (Cox) then gets the green light for a mutant crackdown with Professor Xavier's (Stewart) school for 'gifted' youngsters his main target. But Stryker's crusade has a far darker and troubled genesis than the White House knows. His own son was a mutant and he has manipulated both Nightcrawler and the imprisoned Magneto (McKellen) to get this point. Now that he has, Stryker can recapture the killer he created - Wolverine - and set about destroying the entire mutant race.

With half-an-hour more to play around this time, Singer seems like he wants a place in Professor Xavier's school for having enough arms to juggle all the plots, which are onscreen. As Wolverine, Rogue (Paquin) and newcomers Iceman (Ashmore) and Pyro (Stanford) try to evade capture, Jean (Janssen) and Storm (Berry) are seeking out Nightcrawler while Professor X - with Cyclops (Marsden) in tow - finds he is forced to turn his powers against his own people. Their greatest chance of salvation lies with the X-Men's enemy Magneto who, along with shape shifter Mystique (Romijn-Stamos), must try and reach Xavier before it's too late for all of them.

While Singer needed to trim down the amount of X-Men and devote more time to those remaining, in both plot and feel, his film owes much to 'The Empire Strikes Back'. The spectre of the past, the power of destiny and the challenge of sacrifice all cling to the heroes throughout and nowhere is this more apparent than in Wolverine's encounters with the one he despises, Stryker, and desires, Jean. These two subplots are by far the most interesting elements and, like some of the other character-driven scenes, work so well that Singer could have left out a few action sequences altogether and still squeezed the breath out of his audience.

In Jackman's portrayal of the tortured scrapper Wolverine the director has a performance that raises both hell and hopes and no-one else comes close to his intensity - no mean feat given the presence of McKellen, Stewart, Cox and Berry. And with his face front and centre on the posters, screen and audience's memories, the calls will now grow ever louder for Wolverine to get his own film - with any delays to a third instalment excused if a solo adventure emerges sooner.

In the meantime, this is one to enjoy – even though you'll come away convinced that these X-Men had a far more interesting story lurking in their genes.

Harry Guerin