X-Men 2 Review
The first X-Men film can largely be held responsible for the resurgence of comic book movies filling multiplexes, it’s doubtful we’d be seeing the likes of Daredevil, Hellboy or Constantine if it had been a failure, and surely its success spurred studios on to breathe new life into the Superman and Batman franchises. Director Bryan Singer took a relatively small budget and managed to create a compelling blockbuster that managed to pluck a story from 40 years of X-Men history into a film that didn’t confuse the uninitiated, whilst pleasing the long time fans. But no matter how dense the plotlines of the first film were, 40 years of storylines leaves an awful lot leftover, and here with the second – though doubtlessly not the last – film Singer gets the chance to let the X-Men universe sprawl a little more.
Doubtlessly the biggest success story of the first film was Hugh Jackman, brought in at the last minute when Dougray Scott was tied up on the set of M:I-2, as Wolverine he stole the first film, and launched himself onto the A-List. Wolverine, however, finished the first film no more informed about his adamantium endoskeleton or his memory loss than he started, and it is that story that has become the focus of the second film.
After a mutant with teleportation powers attempts to take the life of the President, the United States government becomes a little more pro-active in their efforts to solve the mutant problem. The Services of General William Stryker (Brian Cox) are employed, he has spent his career trying to bring an end to the mutant ‘menace’ but has always been held back by politically correct politicians, or at least ones worried about looking bad in the press, but now he has been given the green light to begin, in essence, hunting mutants. After spending some time in the company of Magneto (Ian McKellen), still in custody in his plastic prison after the Liberty Island incident, Stryker’s persuasive methods have managed to extract the location of a huge collective of mutants, commonly known as Professor Xavier’s School for the Gifted. Though this isn’t the first time Stryker has crossed paths with Xavier (Patrick Stewart) or Wolverine for that matter, not that Wolverine knows that, yet.
There are two kinds of sequels, those that try to tell a different story, and those that try to continue the story begun by the original. The former rarely matches the quality of the original as the characters story has already been told, and is usually just rehashed for a quick buck. The latter however has the opportunity to be as good, or even better, as they give you the chance to explore more deeply into the characters and the world experienced in the first film. It’s obvious that there is more than enough material in the X-Men archives to produce many, many films, and Singer wisely left himself an obvious avenue to travel down with this one. The exploration of Wolverine’s past makes for a great story, and more than satisfies the comic book fans – as he is clearly one of the most popular characters – but unfortunately Singer doesn’t really allow enough time to tell it. Much like the first film there are many plot threads to follow, as the X-Men split off into smaller groups and take their own paths, exploring their individual histories, but to tell Wolverine’s story properly – or that of many of the X-Men - Singer needed to narrow the focus of the film, but here he has widened it as the sheer number of characters in the film means that none of their stories are explored fully, and many are almost ignored.
The majority have returned from the first film, and they have been joined by new mutants Lady Deathstrike (Kelly Hu) Pyro (Aaron Stanford) and Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) and their involvement steals further screen time from the established characters. While it’s clear that Nightcrawler instantly became a favourite with audiences, as his teleportation is not only the most exciting skill but also an excellent looking effect, making his attack on the Presidents office by far the best scene of the film, he’s another character with a complicated past, and relations to other mutants which are only hinted at here . Whilst the new additions are excellent, and probably expected in a sequel, it leaves the roster overflowing, with characters less important to this story disappearing for long periods, with poor Cyclops (James Marsden) getting hardly any screen time at all, and even Magneto disappearing, only to show up again in an unlikely fashion to hurry the story forward.
This isn’t to say that X-Men 2 is a bad film though, it’s a very entertaining 2 hours, with a packed storyline and action that actually services the plot rather than being simply wedged into it. The attack on Xavier’s school is excellent, and Singer does a fantastic job of showing the brutality of Wolverine when he goes berserk – and managing to keep the film within a box office friendly rating. But you feel like in the comics Wolverine’s story would have been told through its own 4 part spin off miniseries, rather than in the main X-Men comic, and it’s the breadth of characters on show here that ultimately stops the film from being great. Much like the first you’re left wondering too much, and at this rate the series will be well into double figures before all your questions are answered. It’s a franchise with fantastic potential, but the story of the X-Men is one that is quickly sprawling out of control, and Singer will need to tighten the reigns on the third film if he ever hopes to bring any closure to the plot.
This is the type of release which, if it didn’t arrive in pristine condition, would cause an outcry. Luckily there will be none here as the transfer is flawless, I noticed not a speck of dirt nor a compression artefact throughout the film, I expected no less from Fox and they have delivered once again.
Presented in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 (at half rate) X-Men 2 sounds great. The soundtrack comes with all the bells and whistles you’d expect from an action movie, and every opportunity is grasped to bring the soundstage to life. When Cerebro is started up for the first time your sub will be working overtime, and scenes like the X-Jet dogfight will give your rear speakers a run for their money, though if you can tell the difference between the Dolby Digital and DTS tracks you have better ears than me.
Commentary from Director Bryan Singer with optional subtitles
Although the packaging and menu claim this track is simply by Bryan Singer he is actually joined by cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel for his commentary. Whilst Singer is clearly very enthusiastic about the film (well he is planning the third instalment already) and manages to convey huge amounts of trivia about it, his commentary style is rather heavy going and very thin on laughs. Whilst discussions of CGI techniques may be informative they don’t make for an easy listening experience, he never stops talking, but sitting through this is more an act of dedication than enjoyment.
Commentary from Producer Lauren Shuler Donner with optional subtitles
Once again contrary to both the menus and packaging, this is not a lone commentary, here Lauren Shuler Donner is joined by her co producer Ralph Winter along with writers David Hayter, Dan Harris, Mike Dougherty, and thankfully they are all in the same room to record this track. Whilst Lauren Shuler Donner talks a lot, and mostly informatively, it’s the writers that make this track interesting, they’ve clearly spent a lot of time together and are having a lot of fun being reunited here. Apart from their stories of all night drinking effecting their work rate they reveal a lot about directions the script could have gone in – though things like Professor Xavier having an eye removed so Stryker could break into Cerebro don’t sound like they would have ever reached the screen – along with talking about scenes that were shot but didn’t make the cut, such as the infamous Danger Room, all of which makes this not only the most fun, but most interesting commentary on the disc.
History of the X Men
The Secret Origin of X-Men
This Featurette was produced for the first film and contains interviews with the likes of Stan Lee, Bryan Singer and producers Laura Shuler Donner and Avi Arad as well as being packed full of X-Men comic book artwork. It is really an introduction to the X-Men for beginners, so why it wasn’t featured on either the original disc or the 1.5 re-release is somewhat of a mystery but it is interesting enough to warrant its inclusion here.
Here Chuck Austen, writer for the Uncanny X-Men and Nightcrawler comics talks about the background of the second film’s most memorable addition to Xavier’s X-Men. It seems Marvel commissioned a series of books to tell the characters stories leading up to the movie, and here Austen walks us through Nightcrawler’s book which explains just why he ended up at the White House at the opening of X2, along with revealing something about Nightcrawler that would probably interest Mallrats’ Brodie, and possibly make Nightcrawler blush. This is a good feature but it is slightly disappointing that we don’t get to hear about the other books in the series, or even who else had issues at all.
Nightcrawler Attack – Multi Angle Study
Making use of the little used multi angle feature of DVD this extra features Nightcrawler’s attack on the White House in full from 4 different angles; the initial animatic, with unfinished effects, a split screen comparison of the animatic and the final film and another comparison of the unfinished effects and the final film – all with the finished production sound. The animatic is interesting to watch but the best part is watching multiple Nightcrawlers swing around the Oval Office on wires.
Evolution in the Details – Designing X2
Production Designer Guy Dyas walks us through a number of sets from the film, including the plastic prison, Xavier’s mansion, the science museum, the White House and Stryker’s mammoth underground base. He’s happy to talk in depth about his job, and as you’d expect – and hope – for a man in charge of such a huge job he’s very particular about the details.
United Colours of X
This featurette sees Costume Designer Louise Mingebach talk us through the wardrobes of the lead characters and gives her a chance to point out all the details that either aren’t noticed or don’t even make it onto the screen, like all the hidden x’s that have been snuck into the designs.
Wolverine/Deathstrike Fight Rehearsal
This odd little feature consists of the stunt team that choreographed the final confrontation between Wolverine and Lady Deathstrike running through the scene, complete with fast cuts and the final production soundtrack. Imagine the fight as you see it in the film, played by two stunt people in their sweatpants filmed on a camcorder and you’re pretty close.
The Second Uncanny Issue of X-Men: Making of X2
As if the features list wasn’t long enough on this release it also seems the filmmakers are determined to go as in depth as possible as this hour long documentary shows. Taking the same form as the usual studio promotional featurettes it manages to show how talking heads and behind the scenes footage can make up more than an advert for the film, actually managing to be informative. All the major players are interviewed and hardly anyone calls anyone else a genius, there’s plenty of insight into the stunt work on the film, and the whole thing is tied up with some teasing talk about the possibility of an X3, this documentary alone is better than most blockbusters manage on an entire disc.
Introducing the Incredible Nightcrawler
Nightcrawler seems to be getting a lot of attention on this disc, here we get to watch Alan Cumming sit through the torturous make up application process, which took anything from 3 to 10 hours to apply, as well as getting an insight into the techniques used as well. Judging by his reactions to the process I’d say it’ll take a hefty pay rise to tempt him back for the third film, as the term ‘Chinese Torture’ is used quite often.
Nightcrawler Stunt Rehearsal
The camcorder makes a comeback as the stunt team rehearse the White House attack, cut together with the animatic footage from the multi angle sequence.
Nightcrawler Time Lapse
Yet more Nightcrawler as Alan Cumming’s make up ordeal is distilled down to 4 minutes of time lapse photography. Though many may have preferred to see Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos)get her full body makeup applied they’ll have to settle for Alan staring into the camera, though his ordeal could have been lessened if he didn’t spend so much time drinking coffee or talking on his phone, you still feel for him sitting through all this every day.
FX2 Visual Effects
A handful of the films 800+ digital effects are examined including Nightcrawler’s ‘bamfing’ (teleportation) and the X-Jet tornado sequence. We’re guided through a lot of techno talk by Michael Fink, the visual effects supervisor, and it’s clear there is a hell of a lot of work that goes into the effects but all the talk of particle simulations begins to blur together after a while.
Requiem for Mutants: The Score of X2
Composer John Ottman talks about his scoring of the film as well as the challenges raised by also being the films editor. He’s very much influenced by the scores of John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith, so he spends some time talking about the benefits of a traditional orchestra over more modern electronic driven scores.
X2 Global Webcast Highlights
It appears the cast, director and producers were involved in a webcast shortly after the first press screening of the film, and here some of the best questions are cut together. The best moments come from Hugh Jackman – sporting his Van Helsing haircut – who has a rather funny story to tell about his big nude scene.
Eleven deleted of extended scenes are included here, Extended Wolverine/Deathstrike Fight, Wolverine Kills the Intruder, Mystique in Stryker’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 scene extensions offer little more, and it would have been nice to have a commentary from Singer explaining the reasons behind minor changes – as these are so often much harder to understand than huge ones – but there are a few scenes here that are talked about in the commentaries so it is nice to see them on the disc. The Professor X and Cyclops Escape scene is one of those, as Jason uses his mind control to try and trick the professor into thinking he has escaped Stryker’s grasp, and although it’s far shorter and more straightforward than the commentary makes it out to be, it would have been one of the things that would have left a nagging feeling had it not been present.
As you’d expect for such a huge production, let alone one based on a comic, there are a huge amount of production art and photographs separated into many categories and sub categories, Characters, Locations and Sets, Mutant X-Rays (my favourite), Nightcrawler Circus Posters, On-Camera Graphics and The Unseen X2 which contains storyboards and production photos of the famous danger room, which never made it into the finished film.
Trailer A, B, C
The first disc also features trailers for Master and Commander, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Alien Quadrilogy and Runaway Jury, all of which play when the disc is inserted and aren’t selectable through the menus. Also the extra features carry subtitles in English, Dutch, French, German, Italian and Spanish.
It’s clear that 20th Century Fox want the X-Men franchise to be a long running one, and as such answers and resolutions are not easily reached within the X-Men movies, leaving you with just as many questions as the last film did – only this time about more characters – it leaves you slightly disappointed rather than leaving you anticipating the third instalment. The DVD however leaves you wanting for nothing as almost every aspect of the production is touched on and many explored in real depth, it’ll take many hours to wade through, and leaves me almost sure we won’t be receiving an X-Men 2.5 release.