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Fox Home Entertainment presents
"Sometimes the mind needs to discover things for itself."
DVD ReviewFor the first X-Men film, director Bryan Singer took on the daunting task of introducing all of the characters while also creating an exciting picture that would satisfy both newcomers and fans of the popular comic book series. While a somewhat misguided film at times, Singer succeeded at creating a faithful comic book origin story as well as a thoroughly entertaining action extravaganza. After cleaning up at the box office, a sequel was inevitable, and Singer once again donned his mutant cap to create X2: X-Men United. Thanks to an inflated budget and a better story, X2 is even more ambitious in size and scope than its predecessor. With the necessary character development established in the first film, the sequel allows more room for the essence of this franchise—seeing the X-Men kick some serious butt. When it comes to sequels, X2 is proof that bigger certainly can be better.
Anyone reading this review most likely knows that the X-Men films are based off of the wildly successful X-Men comic books. Not the average super hero, the X-Men are mutants, human evolutionary anomalies that are blessed yet cursed with unique super powers. An interesting appeal of these characters is their reluctance towards their inherent gifts, which they would gladly exchange for an ordinary life. They are disparaged as outcasts and freaks of society, a concept that closely parallels the feelings of prejudice that many human beings have experienced at one time or another. It is this emotional connection that allows everyone, not just comic book fans, to easily relate to the X-Men. At the same time, their thrilling super powers also helps to keep the excitement level high and the series rooted in carefree escapist entertainment.
The plot of X2, involving a venomous military leader's crazed obsession to rid the world of all mutants, is very simple and straightforward, and filled with conveniences and contrivances in order to move the action from point A to point B. Yet, the handling of this material is a refreshing step above the typical modern-day action picture. Gone are many of the generic one-liners and the absurd comic relief that plagues so many other films in the genre. While it possesses a keen dramatic edge, X2 is really all about great action sequences. It begins with a tour-de-force scene that introduces a new mutant to the franchise—Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming), who has the ability to teleport himself. In what is one of the most breathtaking moments of the film, we witness Nightcrawler teleport his way around the White House, disabling security guards as he moves closer to an attack on the President. The fun and excitement starts here and never lets up.
All of the major mutants from the first film are back, including Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen), and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). Many of these characters are fleshed out further than they were in the first film, particularly Wolverine, for whom we are given more insight into the origins of his elusive past. Other characters, however, such as Cyclops (James Marsden) and Rogue (Anna Paquin), have little to do with the story and seem to exist merely out of necessity. There are other missteps along the way, including a laughably underdeveloped love triangle between Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Wolverine.
Even with its flaws, X2 is pure comic book fun. It need not be any more than that, but the filmmakers have managed to also create a film that avoids the campy clichés that typically undermine these types of movies. Thanks to Singer's skilled direction, relentless pacing, and shrewd character development, X2 is far superior to the average summer blockbuster. I am certain it will live on to age as well as the best films in the genre.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: X2 boasts a beautiful visual style that is captured exquisitely on this 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer. The picture is wonderfully crisp and vivid, appearing nearly as detailed as what I remember from my theatrical viewing. The image is superbly saturated with bold colors that are reproduced with lifelike vibrancy. Rock solid black level adds considerable depth to the three-dimensional quality of the image. Edge enhancement is occasionally obtrusive, but its presence is infrequent. I noticed strange digital artifacts on occasion, but seeing as my review copy is an early screener, I anticipate this will be ironed out by the time the official release hits the shelves. Overall, this is a superior transfer that ranks with one of the very best I have seen lately.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: When I saw X2 in a state-of-the-art cinema, I remember thinking to myself, "If the DVD sounds half this good it's going to be incredible." Honestly, the DVD does not sound half as good—it sounds nearly equal. Presented in both Dolby Digital and DTS, this is an absolutely angelic soundtrack that fully demonstrates the capabilities of the 5.1 format. While not an official 6.1 mix, those with back surround capabilities may wish to utilize the technology on this surround heavy mix. Though I kept my receiver in 5.1 mode for this review, I still found myself checking to make sure that I did not somehow accidentally engage my back surround speaker. The sense of 360-degree imaging is nothing short of complete realism, with sounds seeming to emanate not merely from the speakers but from all around the listening environment. An action picture such as this often relies on deep, powerful bass, and X2 unquestionably delivers. Not only was the low end from my subwoofer felt as much as it was heard, but I was amazed by how clean it remained throughout the entire film. Never did I get a sense of boominess or overcooked artificiality from the onslaught of subsonic tones. Dynamic range plays a major factor in the effectiveness of this soundtrack, with transitions between soft and loud passages that are completely convincing. When not raging at maximum sound pressure levels, the soundtrack continues to present a wholly realistic soundfield, immersing the viewer with natural ambience while the dialogue stays locked front and center. This is truly an amazing soundtrack, offering the full whiz-bang flair of the 5.1 format as well as impeccable fidelity.
Audio Transfer Grade: A+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 40 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
3 Original Trailer(s)
4 Multiple Angles with remote access
11 Deleted Scenes
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by director Bryan Singer and cinematographer Tom Sigel; producers Lauren Shuler Donner and Ralph Winter, writers Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris, and David Hayter
Layers Switch: 00h:57m:10s
Disc One begins with an insightful commentary by director Bryan Singer and cinematographer Tom Sigel. Their discussion starts out a bit slow and dry, but once they get the ball rolling, they provide a wonderful analysis of the film, covering a wide array of interesting topics.
Equally enjoyable is the commentary with producers Lauren Shuler Donner and Ralph Winter, and the writing team of Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris, and David Hayter. All of the participants are energetic, considerate, and provide a wealth of interesting information. Many interesting facets are explored, including several secrets of the production, which are revealed without diminishing the magic of the film.
Disc Two contains the rest of the special features, divided into seven main sections. The first section is History of the X-Men, containing the following two features:
The Secret Origin of X-Men:
This is a serviceable featurette that traces the history of the X-Men comics and ties it in with the creation of the first film. It is nice to see participation from X-Men creator Stan Lee, in addition to a good collection of images from the X-Men comic books. While an enjoyable feature, it strangely contains nothing pertaining to X2.
Narrated by Chuck Austen, this section sheds light on the origins of the fascinating mutant. Nothing terribly interesting is revealed, though fans will most likely enjoy hearing Nightcrawler's back story.
The next main section is titled Pre-Production, consisting of the following three subsections:
Nightcrawler Attack: Multi-Angle Study:
This multi-angle section presents pre-production footage of the White House attack sequence. The viewer has the option to view the scene with the initial animatics, the unfinished effects shots, or a comparison of these with the final film version. At any time, the viewer can cycle through all of the angles by using the remote control angle button. This interesting feature allows an inside look at the work that went into creating this exhilarating sequence.
Evolution in the Details: Designing X2:
Guy Dyas, the production designer for X2, guides us through Evolution in the Details, which shows us the many elaborate sets and production locations used in the film. This is an in depth featurette that offers a candid look at the hard work that goes into the many aspects of making a motion picture that we as viewers might not always consider.
United Colors of X:
United Colors of X is dedicated to the unique costume design for many of the lead characters. Louise Mingebach discusses how she designed each character and shows examples from the extensive wardrobe. This is a fairly interesting piece, yet a bit tedious even at its short running time.
Moving on to Production, we find the following subsections:
Wolverine/Deathstrike Fight Rehearsal:
Here, we are given a look at the stunt rehearsal for the pivotal fight sequence between Wolverine and Deathstrike. Eliminating the typical boring narration and interview approach, we are simply treated to footage of the stunt performers sparring with one another. Though incredibly brief, this featurette is an admirable example of "show don't tell."
The Second Uncanny Issue of X-Men: Making of X2:
This is the meat and potatoes of the special features, an extensive hour-plus documentary covering the making of the film from conception to post production. It is a decent effort, but rehashes much of what is covered more admirably in the other special features. Ultimately, I found the running time somewhat excessive.
Introducing the Incredible Nightcrawler!:
This is a glimpse at the laborious process that the crew, and more specifically, Alan Cumming, went through to create this character. While we get a look at several Nightcrawler developmental sketches, the majority of this section focuses on the hardships endured in the makeup chair, which occasionally lasted as long as nine hours.
Nightcrawler Stunt Rehearsal:
Yet another look at the creation of the White House sequence, this time showing more of how the stunt performers bounced, zigged, and zagged around on wire harnesses. Short, but entertaining.
A companion piece to Introducing the Incredible Nightcrawler!, this section uses time-lapse photography to show the progression of a grueling day in the makeup chair for Alan Cumming. I hope the man was well compensated for this role.
FX2: Visual Effects:
Arguably the best of the bunch, this is a splendid look at the creation of the visual effects for several key scenes. Anyone interested in the art of visual design will learn invaluable information from the effects designers, who not only discuss but also demonstrate the secrets behind their craft.
The Post-Production section offers the following:
Requiem For Mutants: The Score of X2:
Requiem is also a fantastic featurette, focusing on John Ottman's musical score for the film. His insistence on keeping strong orchestral themes within the score helped to heighten it beyond what composer Michael Kamen created for the first film. This is a good featurette on what I believe to be one of the most under appreciated elements of movie making.
X2 Global Webcast Highlights:
These highlights are excerpts from a webcast that promoted the global theatrical launch for X2. Both the cast and crew answer questions from fans around the world, who apparently do not have anything interesting to ask.
Next are 11 deleted scenes presented in anamorphic widescreen. Several of the scenes last no longer than 10 seconds, and most of them are merely extended versions of what already appears in the movie. While interesting to see, there is nothing of great interest here. All of these scenes were apparently cut for pacing reasons, and rightfully so.
The Galleries section is a fantastic collection of production photos, storyboards, and drawings for a number of different characters and locations. Several standouts are X-ray photographs of different mutants, as well as production sketches for characters and locations that did not appear in the finished film.
Finally, we arrive upon the trailer section. Included is a teaser trailer for X2, as well as two full-length trailers. Each one is presented in nonanamorphic widescreen with Dolby 2.0 sound. This is a good collection of trailers, though I could swear that I once saw a theatrical trailer for X2 that is not included here. Enthusiasts may also be disappointed in the omission of TV spots. Also included in this section is information on the DVD-Rom features.
Extras Grade: A
Final CommentsX2 is a comic book film in all regards. The action is loud and aggressive, the special effects are dazzling, and the story is silly but pleasurable. I never believed I would actually state these words, but this is one sequel that actually improves upon the original film. Complete with a gorgeous image transfer, an overwhelming amount of special features, and a 5.1 soundtrack that will unquestionably serve as my new reference demo, X2 is one of this year's best DVD presentations.
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