X2: X-Men United review by Mike Long

I would like to open this review with a rant. I still can't believe that the marketing gurus at Fox decided to shorten X-Men 2: X-Men United to X2. In 1991, when Terminator 2: Judgment Day was released, the abbreviated T2 title was clever and made the film easy to discuss. But, when D2: The Mighty Ducks premiered in 1994, the trend of shortening film titles should have stopped. It's incredibly ironic that a film as complex as X-Men 2: X-Men United would be given a dummied-down title like X2. But, enough of my ranting, let's talk about one of the best comic book films ever made.

X2 takes place a short time after the conclusion of X-Men. The film opens with an attack on the President (Cotter Smith) by a blue mutant known as Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming). Following this, the President meets with William Stryker (Brian Cox), a "scientist" who wants to eradicate mutants. As the President is still shaky following the attack, he gives Stryker permission to investigate Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. Meanwhile, at that same school, Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) has been attempting to track Nightcrawler. Using the super-computer Cerebro, Xavier is able to track the mutant to Boston, and dispatches Storm (Halle Berry) and Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) to retrieve him. Meanwhile, Xavier takes Cyclops (James Marsden) to visit Magneto (Ian McKellen), to see if the mutant supremacist knows anything about the attack on the White House. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) returns to the X-mansion, following a journey to Canada, and is asked to watch over the students of the school.

Stryker and his forces invade the X-mansion, forcing Wolverine to flee, along with Rogue (Anna Paquin), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), and Pyro (Aaron Stanford). From this point on, X2 becomes a roller-coaster ride, with several different storylines coming together. It becomes apparent that Stryker has plans to use Professor Xavier's technology to lash out at mutants. Therefore, the X-Men must join forces with Magneto in order to stop Stryker and save the world.

When basing a film on any pre-existing material, there is always going to be controversy. But, if the film is based on a comic book, the probability that someone is going to freak out is very high. X-Men did a pretty good job of sticking to the comics, and X2 takes this a step further, bringing more of the mutant lore to the film. For comic fans, this makes the film more endearing. For general audiences, this practice brings more characters and a deeper storyline to the film. Whereas X-Men had to take precious story time introducing the audience to the characters and the idea of mutant superheroes, X2 is able to jump right into the story and get to the action. However, this doesn't diminish the plot or characters in the film. If anything, the story in X2 can be a bit overwhelming at times, as the different plot-lines come together. As for the characters, X2 gives us more insight into most of the main players, especially Wolverine. (That is, except for Cyclops, who is in the film for less than 20 minutes. I wasn't even in the film and I'm in it nearly as much as Cyclops.) Of course, these characters all get a boost from the great cast, who are clearly becoming more comfortable with their roles, most notably Jackman as Wolverine.

While X2 is, at heart, a sci-fi action film, it doesn't shy away from its complex plot and assumes that the audience is smart enough to keep up. While the film is introducing new characters such as Nightcrawler, Stryker, and Yuriko (Kelly Hu), it is interwoven with brilliant action scenes, most notably the X-mansion invasion scene. It's in this scene where we finally get to see the infamous berserker side of Wolverine, and it's worth the wait. (Especially since Wolverine rarely kills in the comics.) Director Bryan Singer has certainly made great strides in staging the action sequences, and the ones featured in X2 are certainly bigger and better. (Yes, I'm sure the bigger budget helped as well.) With a good story that does justice to the comics, a great cast, and non-stop action, X2 is a sure crowd-pleaser, and one of the best films of 2003.

X2 mutates onto DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. There will be two separate releases of the DVD, one with a full-frame transfer, the other widescreen. For the purposes of this review, the widescreen version was screened. The DVD features an anamorphic widescreen transfer, which has been letterboxed at 2.35:1. This is a magnificent transfer, as the image shows nary any defects. The picture is incredibly sharp and clear, showing only the tiniest amounts of grain in some of the brighter shots. The picture is very stable and there are few signs of artifacting, edge enhancement, or video noise. The colors are very good, and the rare appearance of a bright color, such as Pyro's fire, looks great. The darker scenes look fine and the action is always visible. This great video transfer is accompanied by two outstanding audio tracks. The DVD carries both a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, as well as a DTS 5.1 track. Both of these tracks offer clear dialogue and a wonderful usage of the surround sound speakers. X2 has great sound design and that comes through loud and clear on these tracks, as there is constant surround sound action and fantastic usage of the LFE channel. Of the two, the DTS track sounds better, as it is slightly louder and offers a crisper sound. The bass here is very deep and good...cat-scarin' good. The great audio and video on this DVD help to make a great home-theater experience.

Befitting a film of this caliber, the X2 2-disc DVD set is loaded with extras. Disc 1 contains two audio commentaries. The first features director Bryan Singer and director of photography Tom Sigel. This is an interesting commentary, as this pair (who have worked together for years) share a good amount of information about the film. But, the talk lacks any real spark or humor and I got the feeling that Singer was tired of talking about the film. The second commentary is much better. It features producers Lauren Shuler Donner & Ralph Winter, along with screenwriters David Hayter (yes, the same guy who plays Solid Snake in the "Metal Gear Solid" games), Dan Harris, and Michael Dougherty. This group works together to dispense a great deal of information about the film's production, the actors, and the locations and has a great time doing so. For me, a commentary is always better when the speaker actually sounds interested in what they are saying.

The remainder of the extras are contained on Disc 2, and are divided into different sections. We begin with "History of the X-Men". "The Secret Origin of X-Men" (15 minutes) gives an overview of "The X-Men" comic books with comments from Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee and long-time "X-Men" writer Chris Claremont. Marvel guru Avi Arad, Bryan Singer, and producer Lauren Shuler Donner talk about the process of turning the comic into a film. (It should be noted that this segment only focuses on the first X-Men film.) We next have "Nightcrawler Reborn" (8 minutes), in which comic author Chuck Austen discusses his take on the Nightcrawler character and how he incorporated that into a comic book prequel to X2 which centered on the blue mutant. However, this featurette won't give much new information to those who only know Nightcrawler from the movie.

The "Pre-production" section kicks off with "Nightcrawler Attack: Multi-angle Study", which offers X2's opening scene in both animatic form and in film form with unfinished special effects. The viewer can then switch back-and-forth (using the multi-angle feature) between these two formats and the finished film. Production designer Guy Dyas is profiled in "Evolution in the Details - Designing X2" (18 minutes). Here, Dyas takes us on a tour of the sets and explains how they were constructed. This tour is intercut with lots of production art. (The explanation of how the museum was created is quite interesting.) "United Colors of X" (9 minutes) proceeds in a similar "fashion", as costume designer Louise Mincebach explains how she clothed the many mutant characters.

"Production" ensues with the disappointing "Wolverine/Deathstrike Fight Rehearsal", which is simply a 90-second montage of the two stuntpeople preparing for the scene. "The Second Uncanny Issue of X-Men: Making of X2" (60 minutes) is a very in-depth behind-the-scenes featurette, which contains tons of on-location footage and comments from the various crew members. But, it never goes beyond the standard "making of" formula and reveals any deep secrets. With "Introducing the Incredible Nightcrawler" (10 minutes), we see how movement coach Terry Nolan and make-up FX artist Gordon Smith helped to create the look of Nightcrawler. Nightcrawler is featured again in "Nightcrawler Stunt Rehearsal" (3 minutes), which is extremely similar to the previous multi-angle feature. We get to witness the stress that Alan Cumming endured while becoming Nightcrawler through the magic of time-lapse photography, as the make-up application session is condensed to 4 minutes. And finally, visual effects supervisor Michael Fink breaks down the major FX sequences in the film and explains them in "FX2 -Visual Effects" (25 minutes).

Editor and composer John Ottman is highlighted in the "Post-production" section with "Requiem for Mutants: The Score of X2" (12 minutes). When X2 opened in theaters, Fox hosted a global webcast, and the highlights from that are offered here in a 17-minute segment, where most of the principal cast, along with director Singer answer questions from internet users worldwide.

The DVD contains 11 deleted scenes, but most of these are more like deleted shots, as they are actually seconds taken from existing scenes in the film. Of these, the most interesting is a scene from the X-mansion attack sequence in which we get to see Wolverine take his first victim in more detail. As far as actual deleted scenes, there are only three. One involves popular "X-Men" comic character Jubilee, and is taken from the museum sequence, and the other two offer more information on what happened to Xavier and Cyclops at the hands of Stryker. There at six still galleries on the DVD -- characters, locations and sets (which is broken down into 12 subsections), mutant x-rays, Nightcrawler circus posters (these are only glimpsed in the film and are quite cool), on-camera graphics, and the Unseen X-Men. This last section is the most interesting, as it offers concept art for Angel/Archangel, the Danger Room (which was apparently built, but not shot), and the Sentinels. But, there is no further explanation for what plans the filmmakers had for these elements and why they were kept out of the film. Finally, we have three trailers for X2, all of which are letterboxed at 1.85:1. The DVD comes packaged in a standard two-disc keepcase (slender style), whereas the original X-Men DVD was in a cardboard digipak. This may make for awkward displaying on your DVD shelf, but who cares? It's X2!

X2 is a fantastic movie and this DVD set certainly does it justice. Now you X-Men fanatics can spend hours scanning the mutant list on Stryker's computer and have endless debates about why Colossus doesn't have a Russian accent.

9 out of 10 Jackasses

blog comments powered by Disqus