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X2: X-Men United
With the release of X2, director Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects) may have run an end-around on those who were disappointed in the first film. While the first film "only" made over $150 million, many people seemed to enjoy how it managed to introduce its main characters, and the clever ways it hinted at future characters for subsequent films. The first of the X-Men movies was the introduction; once that was out of the way, X2 became much more of an action film, bringing back characters that were main players in the first film and mixing in newer characters, along with a new villain to stir in the pot. The result of X2 was a box office take of over $200 million, and a film that not only surpassed its predecessor, but has apparently served as a template for comic book franchise sequels in the future.
This film hits the ground running - what better a way to start off an action film than to do it with one mutant's invasion of the Oval Office? The teleporting mutant named Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming, Spy Kids) goes through about 15 different secret service and security guards with relative ease in getting to the President. The shock of the attack helps the President to enlist the aid of William Stryker (Brian Cox, Adaptation.), who coordinates a movement to contain the mutants, including a raid of the school that Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart, Star Trek:Nemesis) runs with the help of the older mutants, all of whom respect the humans' space and try to stay away from any conflict. Stryker in the meantime has a mutant by his side, a woman nicknamed Deathstrike (Kelly Hu, The Scorpion King), who has an indestructible metal interior, much like her counterpart Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, Van Helsing). We find out later what's Stryker's methods are, as well as what his endgame is. We also get returning appearances by Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Femme Fatale), Storm (Halle Berry, Gothika) and Cyclops (James Marsden, Zoolander). But we find out more about Wolverine's past, although there's still a ways to go on it, and we also see Dr. Jean Grey's (Famke Janssen, I Spy) conflicts in dealing with her increasing psychic powers. We also see the blooming relationship between Iceman (Shawn Ashmore, Smallville) and Rogue (Anna Paquin, 25th Hour), as well as another internal conflict by new character Pyro (Aaron Stanford, Tadpole) and whether he thinks the school, and Xavier's beliefs are right for him.
Singer manages to incorporate all the plotlines very well, not leaving one ignored too long, and contributing something to most of them, all the while still managing to keep a frantic action pace and advancing storylines, making it what I believe to be the best action movie of 2003. The main storyline in the film, which carried from the first one, was Wolverine's desire to find out more about his past. You could almost sense Jackman's nerves a little in the first film, but he's grown into the muscular action star capable of carrying a motion picture. The other members of the cast follow suit, as Janssen, Marsden and Paquin jump up with increased face time, and on the other side of things, McKellen has the most fun that a protagonist has in quite some time. The other villain in the film is Stryker, and Cox plays the man with a sticky sweet delivery, who wound up possessing a venomous ulterior motive. Using these performances, combined with action sequences that build upon the first film, X2 is fascinating in its personality exploration and fun for the rock 'em and sock 'ems.The Blu-ray Disc:
Arguably one of the most desired Blu-ray titles in the Fox catalog, X2 arrives with a 2.40:1 AVC MPEG-4 encoded widescreen presentation which looks outstanding. Detail in fabrics and leathers are abundant, and blacks are deep and inky through the feature. From a tone standpoint, I hadn't seen the film in awhile, but was impressed with how it holds up in dark settings like the school at night, or driving through the woods, or Stryker's lair. Background shots possess a solid amount of detail and has a tendency to look multi-dimensional. If there was a complaint to be made, I'd point to the lack of detail in some closer shots, but almost all of he film is an accurate reproduction of Singer's intent, and it looks excellent.Sound:
The DTS-HD Master Audio lossless 5.1 track shows you what it's made of almost immediately, during the sequence when Nightcrawler invades the White House. Directional effects pump through all five speakers fluidly and clearly, bullet hits pack punch, and dialogue sounds strong. Speaker panning is also evident, particularly when Stryker is walking through the hallways of the school where Xavier's mutants are. But what I was surprised by, in a pleasant manner, is by the level of subwoofer activity. I was expecting it all over the place, but it only engagement when it was asked to, and did it well. It's a measured aggressiveness which complemented rather than dominated. With a film that has a ton of sound effects through two hours of film, it does the job and is great in doing so. Without a doubt a demo track for your home theater.Extras:
Most everything from the standard definition disc returns for the Blu-ray, starting off with a commentary with Singer and cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel. Singer provided a commentary on the double dip and it was OK, but this was very tedious. There's a lot of dead air as the two watch some scenes, and there is very little information to be gained from listening to these two talk. There is talk about everyone having a lot of fun on set and some good bloopers that occurred, why not throw them on here? There's a lot of technical stuff, and some philosophic stuff too, as Singer says that "ultimately there will be CG characters," but when you hear about Singer CG'ing the head on a couple beers during a scene, and write it down as if it's one of the highlights of the film, you know how disappointing this is.
There is a second commentary with producers Lauren Shuler Donner and Ralph Winter, and writers David Hayter and Dan Harris. It starts off slow, but everyone warms up as the commentary goes on, and it's much easier to listen to than the first one. The writers talk about having fun on the set, and staying away from Singer, and even some talk about drinking with Iceman and Pyro during breaks is mentioned too. There was also a discussion about how this was much more fun than the first, but they still mention the challenges in writing it, and Winter and Shuler Donner talk about the new characters left on the cutting room floor. While there are still some dead air gaps, it has a lot of information as well. The scene with Mystique in the bathroom recounts how the group wanted to put a scene in with Cyclops discovering his power, but to no avail. The obligatory talk of production costs and problems is mentioned as well, as well as their thoughts on the ending. The commentary seems a bit crowded at times, with people unsure of relaying stories for fear of interrupting someone else, but when you can get a reference to the Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer in a commentary, it has to be enjoyable, as this one is. Trailers for the other X-Men films, including the upcoming Origins: Wolverine feature, are next. Speaking of that, the BD-Live content on the disc includes an e-ticket purchase for the film, along with downloadable content for one of the scenes from said blockbuster.
Kicking off disc two is the multi-segment "History of the X-Men" production featurette. The first segment in that section is "The Secret Origin of X-Men" (15:26), a recollection piece that focuses on Lee's creation of the comic, and it interviews various writers of the books about the series. It also talks about the impacts the book has had on the genre, from its art to its writing, and also discusses the character introductions. Overall, it's a good look and the whole spectrum and influence of the series. "Nightcrawler Reborn" (7:37) looks at the character in the film, featuring the thoughts of those who created the character for the comic. The "Pre-Production" section starts with a multi-angle look of the opening attack by Nightcrawler. There are four angles which present a mix of animatics, work in progress footage, as well as the final cut, and it looks good. "Evolution in Details: Designing X2" (18:01) examines the production design for the film, using a variety of stills, posters, and tours of the sets themselves. Production Designer Guy Dyas walks the viewer through the school, the prison, the White House and the Stryker compound, along with the Nightcrawler church. "United: Colors of X2" (8:57) features costume designer Louise Mingenbach and her thoughts on the wardrobe for the major cast members, and incorporates test footage of the wardrobe. The "Production" section is the largest section on the set, in terms of time and probably information. It starts with a look at the Wolverine/Deathstrike fight sequence (1:24). Set against rehearsal and walkthrough footage, and playing against the final audio of the film (in two-channel stereo), it shows you when wires were used to make the fight look as good as it turned out to be. "The Second Uncanny Issue of X-Men: Making X2" (59:27) is the centerpiece of the set. It covers everything from start to finish, and features interviews from the cast of the film (at least those who had more than 5 line of dialogue) as well as the crew, and a lot of time with Singer. Singer talks about the differences in making this film as opposed to the last, and the piece explores the overall story, the characters, cast, and the popularity of the series, and the introduction of new characters in the film. Singer shows us some of the film himself by doing walkthroughs of a few scenes, and we get to see the stunt with Pyro and the police cars on set also. There's an outtake at the end that's pretty funny (an alternate ending perhaps?), but it seems like this dragged on at times, and maybe was 10 minutes too long, but this is still an excellent piece.
The next several segments focus on the Nightcrawler character. With "Introducing the Incredible Nightcrawler!" (9:49), we see how Cumming got the role, but the piece is pretty self-explanatory. It covers the training and makeup he endured for the part, and the Cumming transformation is pretty cool, and covered a bit further in other segments, such as the time lapse of him getting the makeup put on. It's neat to watch one time, but afterwards you focus on the times where he relaxes on the cell phone or other stuff, so see it and skip it later. The Nightcrawler stunt rehearsal (2:27) is very much like the Wolverine/Deathstrike piece earlier, but this includes many more animatics. Wrapping up this area in the visual effects of X2 (24:58). CG supervisor Michael Fink discusses his work in the first, and what he wanted to do to top himself, plus we get breakdowns of key CG scenes, such as the X-Jet dogfight, Magneto's prison escape, and the dam at Alkali Lake breaking, all of which is shown and discussed in detail to show you just how they went through methods to get to what they wanted.
The "Post-Production" area starts with a look at the score of the film, with composer/editor John Ottman (11:39). Ottman shares his thoughts on how he started, and what he wanted to do with the score of the film, giving individual characters a "theme song," etc. He also mentions the difficulty of scoring, working with an orchestra to score a movie, and editing it all at once, but he does each task very well. There are also highlights of a webcast just before the premiere of the film (17:01), where each of the main cast and crew members answer the fans' questions.
Following those areas of interest are eleven deleted scenes (11:58). Some are extended scenes, and others include Jubilee's cutting room floor footage, but there is a scene involving Xavier's escape that's cool to see. Next are galleries broken into six sections totaling about 650 stills. One teaser and two trailers (two of which are in high definition), complete the second disc.Final Thoughts:
Bryan Singer planted the seeds of solid storytelling in the first X-Men film and with time, care and acclimation, X2 is the fruits of that labor. With an interesting story combined with awesome action and effects sequences, it accomplishes the "topping the first film" act rather well. With abundant extras and a technical presentation that is as good as you might find, at the very least X2 is a must-buy for Blu-ray owners. And for those who don't have a Blu-ray player yet, you've got one less excuse.
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