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X2 - X-Men United (Widescreen Edition)
Most studios are hopeful that their big budget blockbuster release will meet their lofty expectations. Nowadays this happens more rarely than in the past. However, in the case of X2: X-Men United, it not only met the studios expectations by bringing in over $200 million at the box office, but it also far exceeded the expectations of moviegoers who surprisingly favored this movie over its highly anticipated direct competitor, The Matrix Reloaded. Most moviegoers expected X2 to be decent, but nothing exceptional. Happily most, like myself, were pleasantly surprised that X2 was far superior to its predecessor.
It appears Director Bryan Singer must have done his homework because X2 improves upon X-Men in almost every way. The plot is more complex yet has more structure, the characters are better written as they are more in their element in this movie, the special effects are more realistic, and the action is more engrossing, as it pulls you into the movie from the very beginning and never lets go. This is plainly a more entertaining movie than X-Men and it's evident from the opening scene to the end credits.
The plot is a little difficult to explain since so much is going on all at once. And since I'm the kind of reviewer who hates to ruin moves for those who haven't seen it, I won't go into great detail here. I will say there are a lot of little subplots going on, but the two most important are the mystery to Wolverine's dark and unknown past, and the sinister scheme underway to eliminate all Mutants from the planet. Along the journey we meet up with some old enemies, (who knew a scaly smurf-colored mutant could be so sexy?) and are introduced to new and, I must say, rather "cool" allies. The movie opens with an incredible scene where an unknown assailant has breached White House security in attempt to assassinate the President. I won't say anything more, but I can guarantee this scene shows you early on what you have to look forward to.
One of the best improvements about X2 over X-Men is that virtually no screen time is spent on background character development. Granted, I believe some was needed in the first film, but they could have gotten away with much less than they did. In X2, even the newer characters that are introduced get very little time devoted to their past. And you know what? It works. People in general are smart and can read between the lines, thus negating the necessity for cumbersome background information. Apparently the director figured this out, because X2 flows smoothly, with hardly a stutter along the way to break up the action.
Another great improvement was the smart use of special effects. Dazzling examples of computer-generated sequences weren't just used willy-nilly as often was the case in X-Men, instead, every amazing CG scene helped move the story along while keeping the viewer highly impressed. The appearing and disappearing mutant, Nightcrawler (Alan Cummings), and the subtle yet effective motion-stop powers of Xavier (Patrick Stewart) quickly come to mind. Overall the effects are near seamless, and look fantastic in every scene.
Another great improvement was the pacing. This movie never gave me the feeling that it was dragging on. The in-your-face action of the opening White House scene quickly gets you drawn into the movie, and the plot and characters from here on out keep you interested during the rest of the film. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is the rightfully the centerpiece of X2 and carries the role perfectly.
But the most eye-pleasing improvement has to be the more structured use of real-life sets. In X-Men a lot of shots were done in CG that probably would have looked better if they hadn't. In X2, larger, elaborate sets were built to add detail that was lost on some of the poorly rendered CG effects used in X-men. This may not seem to be the case when you look at the numbers, because in X-Men roughly 520 shots were dedicated to special effects, and in X2, the number increases to 800. But the improvement doesn't lie in the numbers; it lies in the execution and presentation. Bigger and better sets and soundstages allow the actors to act and react in a more convincing manner and give the finished shot a further believable feel. A great example is the set used for Magneto's plastic prison that was totally rebuilt for X2 and incorporated real-life props. In X-Men portions of this set had been digitally composed which did not look nearly as good as the new set built for X2. In X2, the shattering glass in Magneto's escape scene was mostly CG, but it looked fantastic because it incorporated real life set footage with cutting-edge CG animation.
About the only area that X2 could improve on is the less-than-satisfying ending. The final battle with Wolverine and his respectable foe was fast-paced and full of eye candy, but the final action sequence involving all of the mutant characters left a lot to be desired. But this is a problem with any blockbuster action movie, and most fail to do it right, with the exception of Peter Jackson and his Lord of the Rings movies..
When it comes down to it, X2 is just a great adrenaline-pumping action movie. If you loved or even mildly liked X-Men, you'll be blown away by X2. It's just as good and just as fun as people say it is. So don't hesitate to pick this DVD up when it hits stores Nov. 25th.
X2 is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is one fantastic video transfer. In fact, it's much better than many of the superbits collection DVD's I've reviewed lately. The picture is pristinely clear and crisp. There were no visible signs of pixelation or compression problems, and colors looked fantastic, as noticed with the dark blue skin of mutants Nightcrawler and Mystique. Thankfully, there was almost no discernable edge enhancement seen. I only noticed two scenes in the movie where I was able to see it, and I had to look really hard for it, and that's on my 120" widescreen projector setup. So chances are you won't see it at all if you've got a smaller set. In short, the picture looks nearly flawless. The only reason it doesn't get a perfect 5 rating is because it didn't have that subtle vividness that is found in the DVD Starship Troopers - Superbit Collection, which is my new reference test for video transfers. But make no mistake, this is almost as good a transfer as you're ever likely to find on the current level of DVD technology.
X2 gives you both a Dolby Digital 5.1 and a DTS audio track. Both tracks sound phenomenal and will not disappoint. But after toggling through both during various peak action scenes, I have to give the slight nod to the DTS audio track. The reason goes to slightly improved clarity and crispness of fine detail. But like I said, either way it'll knock your socks off.
X2 has to be one of the best examples of rear surround channel use I've ever experienced. Sound effects from the side and behind were heard easily and accurately. The sheer clarity of the screams of a young girl in Xavier's School was haunting. Wolverine's indestructible blades can be heard slicing and dicing from left to right with ferocious precision. And the shattering of Ice Man's protective frozen wall leaves the viewer looking for broken shards behind their sofa. Bass is abundant without being overbearing, and dialogue is extremely easy to hear when it's meant to be.
This audio track ranks up there with the best of them, and actually surpasses the rear surround abilities of the Dolby Digital track in The Two Towers. In short, this is one potent soundtrack that will rock the house.
Extra, extra…want any extras? If the answer is yes, then you'll be one happy camper when you pop disc 2 into your DVD player. There's a lot to cover, so let's dive in.
History of X-Men:
This lengthy featurette goes into great detail about the long and glorious history of Marvel Comic's hit comic book series, X-Men. The first segment called The Secret Origin of X-Men shows several interviews of people involved in the original comic book series, including legendary creator Stan Lee. We learn tons of historical information about the series, like how sales in 1963, '64, and '65 caused it to be momentarily cancelled. We also learn interesting tidbits like how daring X-Men was to incorporate women as lead characters, not to mention a black woman as in the case of the beautiful and powerful Storm. The segment also takes a peak into the beginning developments of both X-Men movies. If you have any interest in the original comic book series, then this segment was made for you.
Night Crawler Reborn is the next segment. Here we learn about the original character Nightcrawler and his evolution throughout the comic book series. We learn that he went through somewhat of a transformation during his stint in the series, and the writers of X2 wanted to bring him back to his glory days back in the beginning. We learn that Nightcrawler's original personality was strong, happy-go-lucky, and fun, but later turned to a path of religious faith. So the writers for X2 tried to incorporate aspects of both his fun and faithful side to develop this pivotal player. We also learn that several prequel comics were written for the movies promotion as well as add back-story to the character for depth.
At first I was excited to peruse these deleted scenes since I loved the movie so much, but unfortunately these scenes are mostly, for lack of a better word, worthless. The entire first half of deleted scenes add almost nothing to the content seen in the theatrical version. The only real notable scenes that are definitely worth checking out are the Professor X and Cyclops Escape, and Arriving to an Empty School scenes. I felt these were pivotal to understanding a certain point in the plot and should have been left in the theatrical version. There were a couple of other scenes that are worth a glance such as an entirely new scene with Jean and Storm in the X-Jet, but nothing as important to the story as the previously mentioned scenes. Deleted scenes are as follows, Extended Wolverine/Deathstrike Fight, Wolverine Kills the Intruder, Mystique in Styker's Files, Nightcrawler Bamfs to Save the Students, Jean and Storm in the X-Jet, Jubilee at the Museum, Pyro Starts the Campfire, One of the Children is Sick After Bamfing, Rogue helps the Children Escape, Professor X and Cyclops Escape, and Arriving to An Empty School.
The first featurette called Nightcrawler Attack - Multi Angle Study is a multi-angle composite of CG rough animation and live action footage of the famous opening scene. I'm glad this was included, but you probably won't watch this more than once.
Evolution in the Details - Designing X2 is a fantastic featurette hosted by X2 production designer Guy Dyas. Dyas takes us through a brief explanation of the entire set building process starting with conceptual storyboards. He takes us on a tour of the sets used for scenes in Xavier's House and explains the tricks used to duplicate the look from X-Men. We learn that all the exhibits seen in the science museum scenes had to be constructed from scratch. We get a close up look at the beautifully set used for Magneto's Plastic Prison, as well as the perfect replication process used to recreate the Oval Office. We learn that since no soundstage in Vancouver, Canada was large enough to accommodate the massive set for Striker's Hideout, a huge hangar was used to compensate for the lack of space. We're also treated to a glimpse at the three-piece set used for the more visible X-Jet. If you like seeing what makes these amazing sets tick, than this featurette is for you.
United Colors of X is a featurette explaining about the various costumes used in X2. Hosted by X2 costume designer Louise Mingebach, she gives a light-hearted talk telling us what she liked, and what she wished would happen with her costumes in the movie.
Wolverine/Deathstrike Fight Rehearsal is a short edited piece showing the stuntman and woman who choreographed the fight performing their stunts.
The Second Uncanny Issue of X-Men: Making of X2 is an hour-long featurette that is probably the single most enjoyable and informative supplement on this DVD two-disc set. A large portion of the segment is hosted by executive producer/director Bryan Singer who tells us that X2 was his opportunity to make a "real" X-Men movie. Here we get to meet the screenwriters, David Hayter, Dan Harris, and Michael Douglas and learn some of the insight that these talented people used going into the X2 project. The featurette is also jam packed with actor interviews, which were all wonderful. We get to see such behind-the-scenes footage as the putting up of the massive 3,500 lb ice wall used in the Xavier School escape scene, as well as the lengthy make-up application process that Alan Cummings (Nightcrawler) and Rebecca Romain-Stamos (Mystique) had to go through. This is the end-all of X2 featurettes, so if you can only view one, this is the one to see.
Introducing the Incredible Nightcrawler is a short segment showing us some of the techniques used for developing the on screen presence of Nightcrawler. Here we meet Terry Notary who was Cummings' movement coach. We are also introduced to Gordon Smith, who was the special make-up supervisor. We learn that Cummings' daily make-up routine was torturous in the sense that it was painfully boring. (9:50)
Nightcrawler Stunt Rehersal is a short mixture of live action footage and rough CG animation showing the process undergone to create the White House assassination scene. (2:28)
Nightcrawler Time-lapse is a speeded-up look at the application of make-up done to Alan Cummings. (3:40)
FX2 - Visual Effects is a fascinating look at the special effects used for all the major scenes in X2. Michael Fink who is the visual effects supervisor hosts the feature. Fink goes through every major special effects scene by way of mini segmented featurettes, such as X-Jet Documentary Sequence, The Banf Effect, Escape From the Plastic Prison, Cerebro, and many more. If you have any interest in seeing how these amazing special effects are created, this featurette is a real winner.
Requiem for Mutants: The Score of X2 is a wonderful featurette hosted by Editor/Composer John Ottman. Here we learn that his secret for creating movie scores is basically a "process of panic." He tells us that the pressure and time constraints are his biggest motivator, and it works because it has to. We hear that his goal was to bring "more humanity" to the score and each characters' personal theme. There is a particularly warm moment where Patrick Stewart visits the orchestra and is greeted by a overzealous reception. This portion was worth a look by itself.
X2 Global Webcast Highlights is a collection of the many, many Fox publicity interviews recorded for use on the Internet to promote X2 at its release. Just about every major actor and producer gets some brief camera time on this feature, so it's worth viewing.
Here you'll find a dizzying array of photo galleries that should satisfy even the heartiest of appetites. Galleries include, Characters, Locations, Mutant X-Rays, Nightcrawler & Circus Posters, On-Camera Graphics, and The Unseen X2
Here you'll find three trailers for X2, a public service announcement, and a DVD-Rom offer for three free comics.
X2 will claw its way to the top of your DVD wish list come November. This package is that good. The video and sound are exceptional, and the healthy amount of special features will keep you ocupied for hours. I hope they keep making more X-Men movies because I'm a believer now. X2 is a prime example as to why I love movies. It has everything I like to see in an action film, great acting, cutting edge special effects, superb action, and a storyline that isn't hokey. In short, it's entertainment I'd gladly pay for. I suppose all that's left to say is bring on X3! DVD Talk Collectors Series