I'd been looking forward to "X-Men" for quite some time. I've never read the comic book, but I've been looking forward to see what director Bryan Singer("The Usual Suspects") can do with a bigger budget. Although his "Apt Pupil" was a dissapointment, "The Usual Suspects" and his debut, "Public Access", remain two of my favorite films. 20th Century Fox pushed this production to its limits, with a small budget and an even smaller time to get the film completed. The odd thing is that even though the film was rushed, it feels well-crafted and detailed; the story, on the other hand, feels like it's in a rush.
That's not really a complaint, either. In a time where I feel that some films overstay their welcome, "X-Men" seemed to be over before it really began. Although the film clocks in at about 96 minutes or so, it felt like about an hour. Singer starts things quickly, then really never looks back. The question that's probably on the minds of most is, "if I've never picked up the comic book, will I understand what's going on?" The answer is definitely yes. The plot is sort of a new twist on the good vs. evil routine. In the future, some humans have evolved into mutants, humans that have special physical or mental capabilities.
A senator(Bruce Davison) is proposing a bill that will force mutants to register with the government as the movie opens. From there, we are introduced to the two teams of "mutants"; one that believes that humans and mutants should peacefully co-exist - the other that wants to strike the first blow in what they believe will be a war between the two sides. The "good guys" are lead by Professor X(Patrick Stewart), who is a telepath; following him are Cyclops(James Marsden); Jean Grey(Famke Jansen); Storm(Halle Berry) and the newest two, Wolverine(Hugh Jackman) and Rogue(Anna Paquin). On the opposing side, there's Magnito, a holocaust survivor who can move metal objects; Mystique(Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), Toad("Phantom Menace" and "Sleepy Hollow"'s Ray Park) and Sabertooth(Tyler Mane).
It's a large cast of interesting characters, and obviously, in a movie this busy(and this short), some characters are going to get less screen time than others. This is particularly apparent with the supporting villians, who aren't given enough of a chance to be menacing enough to be much of a threat. The characters who do get some attention, like Wolverine, Rogue and Storm, definitely do manage to be engaging. The plot, which involves Magnito's desire to turn humans into mutants using a device that sort of reminded me of a set piece from "Event Horizon".
I liked that an attempt has been made to make this film a mix of smart dialogue and the usual Summer effects; rather than just having the special effects wash over the audience, the story is detailed enough and the screenplay contains enough great one-liners to keep audiences interested. I haven't even gotten to the effects and look of the picture yet - both are extremely well-done. Although there were a couple of small sequences that didn't quite seem seamless, the majority of the action sequences deliver some dazzling visuals. This is certainly aided by the cinematography of Newton Thomas Siegel, who is gaining a reputation with films like "Usual Suspects" and "Three Kings" as one of the most interesting and creative cinematographers in this business - and it's definitely a reputation that's well deserved.
If I have one thing to say about "X-Men" is that I actually would have liked more. I found the characters and their individual powers fun to watch, and I actually found myself dissapointed when I realized that the film was almost over. A little more screen-time could have fleshed-out some of the supporting characters, but probably would have set the film's budget over the set $75 million dollar mark.
It's been a pretty quiet Summer so far, and obviously that has built up even more expectations for this film. After watching it, I definitely think it delivers and should live up to, if not surpass, the expectations of Summer movie audiences. Definitely recommended.
VIDEO: Fox has, since the begining of the year, really turned things around wonderfully. Although they're not always consistent in their output, at their very best, they've created some of the most stunning presentations of the year("Titan A.E.", "Fight Club", "The Beach"). Although I didn't find the video quality for "X-Men" to be as stunning as those previous three from the studio, it still does look very, very good. Sharpness and detail are both great with the exception of a few brief moments which look slightly soft. Newton Thomas Siegel's cinematography is often gorgeous, and the presentation here brings every stylish shot to life quite well.
Colors are also wonderful, looking bold and rich, with no problems at all. There are only a few very brief instances where a trace amount of pixelation is visible, but this definitely isn't a distracting problem. The print used is completely clear and clean, free of even the smallest speckle. Overall, the anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) is consistently solid; if not quite as "jaw-dropping" as efforts like "The Beach", it's still certainly close to that level of excellence.
SOUND: "X-Men" offers a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that playfully and creatively uses audio to really envelop the listener in the action, with, as expected, agressive and entertaining surround use that manages to be very active without being distracting from the on-screen action. There's even a cool effect where Stewart's voice travels around the room.
When the soundtrack isn't more intense, the Michael Kamen score energetically comes in, sounding clear and warm. It's an entertaining score that goes quite well with the movie. During the film's quieter moments, there are some enjoyable, subtle ambient sounds that add a nice sense of space and dimension. And, of course, during the action scenes, everything ramps upwards, with bass that is occasionally quite powerful. The excellent use of sound often really adds to the fun and experience of watching the movie. Last, but not least, dialogue is clear and easily heard. Definitely a very entertaining presentation that delievers what you would expect from an action movie like this one.
MENUS:: The menus that Fox has prepared for "X-Men" are enjoyable as there is quite a bit of animation to them, but the only problem is, and I've felt this way about other animated menus, is that there's a bit too much as we wait for the animation to do its thing before it gets to the next menu. Scene selection is animated, though and that's always nice.
EXTRAS: Although the extras here are enjoyable, the amount of extras is just passable. For a larger movie like this, I found have liked to have seen the film get a larger 2 disc special edition similar to what Fox has done recently. There's another element to this - I think for those who have heard Brian Singer's commentary track for "The Usual Suspects" would likely agree that that track remains one of the better if not one of the best commentary tracks out there. To not only lack a commentary from him, but to offer no commentary at all from anyone is dissapointing.
Deleted Scenes/Branching: Fox has done "extended branching" before to give the viewers the option of watching those scenes added into the movie for "Independence Day". Here, there are six scenes that can be added into the film, but the only problem is that the scenes that can be added in are non-anamorphic and in only Dolby 2.0 instead of 5.1, so these scenes aren't similar in look or feel to the rest of the movie. As for the scenes themselves, I didn't feel that they were all that interesting. As with all deleted scenes, they are interesting to have, but these aren't really that entertaining and are rightly left out of the film.
The Mutant Watch: The Fox special that aired right before the film's theatrical release, this is a decently entertaining piece that revolves around the senator's campaign to stop the mutants while telling us about the story and production of the film. Although it's promotional, I liked listening to the interviews and although it's not something I'm going to watch over and over again, it's a fun little documentary.
Charlie Rose Interview: Unfortunately, rather than the whole interview, we are only presented with 5 segements with Rose and Singer talking about; "Why He Made X-Men", "Bringing X-Men From Comic Book To The Big Screen", "Directing Actors", "Learning From Actors" and "The Challenges Of Making A Studio Film". While I found these segements interesting, I would have liked to have heard more, since I'm a fan of the director's work and find his views on filmmaking in general to be interesting.
Hugh Jackman's Screen Test: A short clip from Hugh Jackman's screen test. Interesting to watch, but not very long.
Ads: 2 Trailers and 3 TV spots along with a soundtrack ad. On the trailers menu, you'll see something else to highlight if you move around the menu a bit, and clicking on that brings up a very funny outtake featuring a different superhero.
Also: Animatics (nifty looking animated storyboards) for the "Train Station" and "Statue Of Liberty" fight sequences; large character and production design art galleries; THX optimode audio/video test.
Final Thoughts: Even considering some minor problems, I still thought "X-Men" was the best "Summer" movie this past Summer, and I still found it as entertaining to watch on this DVD edition. While Fox has done a very nice job with audio/video, I think that this could have been a much bigger edition in terms of extra features. Still, this is the edition of the movie on DVD, and the movie is certainly good - so it's a definite recommendation.