In Douglas Adams' classic, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the Earth is summarized with the comment, "Mostly harmless." That's what can be said of the new film 22 Jump Street. the unimaginatively named sequel to 21 Jump Street. It reminds me a bit of how the pleasing Las Vegas caper Oceans Eleven was followed up by first Oceans Twelve and then — God help us — Oceans Thirteen.
Nonetheless, this film is mostly harmless, and by that I mean a reasonable way to kill two hours if you've got absolutely nothing better to do with your life. There's nothing too profound or revealing here, because (as is increasingly true with Hollywood movies these days), if you've seen the trailer, you already know the plot. In this case, undercover cops Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum team up to infiltrate a local college to find a drug dealer guilty of murder. Hilarity ensues, or at least a few decent jokes, as Hill finds a girlfriend and Tatum ends up in "bromance" when he joins the varsity football team and a fraternity. The punchline here — and one of the film's best moments — is that the football bromance creates jealousy in the non-sexual partnership of the two cops. They end up in couple's therapy and get help.
And that's the good-natured point of the film, if one is to be found. Even two heterosexual men can worry about loyalty, communication, and yes, fidelity to a partner. By now, the copy-buddy movie has taught us that partnerships between policemen are more profound, at least on screen, than most romantic relationships.
The X-Men series was always interesting because it used super-powers as a metaphor for racial conflict. In this fictional universe, certain people have random mutations that give them super-human abilities while also (in some cases) an unusual appearance. The majority of the human race — people who are "normal" — is naturally afraid. It's not easy being different. (And in the case of some mutants, it's not easy being green!)
Each mutant's abilities are unique. For example, Professor X (Patrick Stewart) has telepathic powers, while Magneto (an ominous Ian McKellen, threatening in his grand English style) can bend metal with his mind.
But here's the point: Professor Xavier is a Martin Luther King figure, insisting that when the rest of the human race is convinced that mutants are benevolent, mutants will be welcomed with open arms. Magneto is more like Malcolm X, saying it's beneath the mutants — who are, after all, superior beings — to bow and scrape before normal humans, as if mutants were so many Uncle Toms.
Much of this metaphor gets obscured in the latest film, which borrows a great deal from the Terminator series. We're shown a really horrible future, in which a mad scientist has developed super-robots to overcome all the mutants — but the robots never knew when to stop butt-kicking. Now the future is an all-around crappy one for everyone but the robots.
The solution? A time travel plot to go back and stop the chains of events that empowered the mad scientist to make the robots.
A couple of points are worth mentioning. First it's delightful to see the mad scientist played by Peter Dinklage, a break-out star from HBO's Game of Thrones. As anyone knows who's seen the series, Dinklage is a "little person," or whatever the politically correct term is these days. But his role in this film seems to have nothing to do with his height. This is a wonderful development. Just as the magnificent actor Morgan Freeman is almost always non-racially cast, Dinklage may be the first actor to benefit from non-height casting.
Another point is that special effects reach a new high in this film, even compared to other comic-book movies. There is a scene with the super-fast Quicksilver (Evan Peters), in which everything is slowed down so we see the world from his point of view. Bullets float through the air in slow motion a la The Matrix. Accompanied by the classic song "If I Could Keep Time in a Bottle," this scene alone is worth the price of admission.
Intriguing, as well, is the way the filmmakers (led by director Bryan Singer) have weaved historical figures and events into the background, specifically Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War. These historical touchstones get mixed up in the time-travel plot in ways too complex to explain, but the artistry of the effects and the editing is astonishing. All that's missing is a point of view. America stayed in Vietnam a long time and dropped a lot of napalm on villagers. What did the X-Men think about all that? I'm not really sure.