X-Men Trilogy Review
Although unquestionably one of the classiest comic book to film transitions to date, the recurring problem the X-Men films have suffered from is a failure to quite realise their true potential. Like a mutant who senses his latent abilities but can’t quite work out what they are or how best to use them, the films constantly flirt with excellence without never quite managing to achieve it, coming oh-so-close time and again but seemingly unable to push just little bit more needed to overcome the final hurdle. Even disregarding for a moment Brett Ratner’s inept third film, the two films directed by Bryan Singer suffer from some innate problems that they never manage to overcome, meaning that no matter how much good work is done in them one comes away with a niggling sense that had a few different decisions been made they could have been far greater than they were.
The first film suffers from a slight narrative which ultimately – as has been observed many times before, not least by Singer himself – feels like little more than a foundation-laying exercise for future, more fuller sequels than a complete piece of work in its own right. Because the film managed to get so much right in terms of translating Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s creation to the screen, and because the film’s box office success meant that a sequel was inevitable from a very early stage, its audience forgave the thin story and looked forward to the next. When X2 dutifully arrived it was indeed hailed as the fulfilment of its predecessor’s potential, but it also greatly simplifies what in the first film was a commendably rounded and mature examination of the forces and motivations behind discrimination, to a degree that I remember finding very galling when first watching it at the cinema. Most crucially, however, from the point of view of the trilogy as a whole, it resolved nothing, leaving numerous dangling threads which really needed the third film to work through. But then Singer, in quite the worst career move he’s ever made, chose to defect from Marvel to DC and we got instead Brett Ratner and X-Men: The Last Stand, which compares to the two Singer films in much the same way the TV Batman from the 1960’s compares to the Nolan revival.
However, having said all that the trilogy – or at least the first two films – still stands as one of the finest comic book to screen translations to date, as well as arguably one of the most important. It’s been observed many times, but still bears repeating: for a time in the late Nineties it seemed as though Batman and Robin had single-handedly killed stone dead the superhero movie, its gaudy excesses and cynically exploitative concentration on merchandising turning the public completely off from the world of men in strange costumes and funny names. Behind-the-scenes there were people in the industry, including those who had worked on developing X-Men for the screen on-and-off for nearly a decade, who knew that things could be different and wanted desperately to restore some credibility to the sullied genre, but it was only when Bryan Singer, still riding high from the success a few years earlier of his breakout hit The Usual Suspects, signed on the dotted line that the concept of making proper, intelligent movies starring the characters of DC and Marvel began to gain credibility.
Not being much of a comic book fan himself, Singer was initially reluctant to become involved, only being won round when the title principal themes of minority discrimination chimed with the director. Although the film he, Tom DeSanto and David Hayter ended up writing had a fairly simple story their script eloquently painted a picture of both the pain and perils irrational prejudice can produce. In the near future, the world is gripped by the debate about what to do about so-called mutants, people who have been born with superpowers, whom some see as a grave threat to the rest of humanity. The mutants themselves are divided into two groups; the so-called X-Men, led by the telepathic Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) just want to be accepted like everyone else, while the Brotherhood of Mutants, led by the metal-wielding Magneto (Ian McKellen), believe that unless they strike first their very existence is under threat. To this end he plans to unleash a weapon capable of changing normal humans into mutants onto a gathering of world leaders, thus tipping the balance decisively the mutants' way. Xavier, who together with fellow mutants Cyclops (James Marsden), Storm (Halle Berry) and Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) run a school for young mutants to help guide them in how to use their powers, sets out to stop him, accompanied by the loner Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), who himself is searching for answers having woken up one day several years back with no memory of who he was and a complete metallic skeleton, complete with claws that extend out of his knuckles, grafted onto his body.
Harking back to the early days of the comic book, the film draws clear parallels with the racial debates of the Sixties, Professor X and Magneto the superhero versions of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X respectively. The film’s intelligent extrapolation of those days presents the debate in all its complexity, refusing to condemn any of the parties involved no matter how extreme their views. Magneto, who as a child in a Nazi concentration camp has experienced firsthand the evil unrestrained racial hatred can inflict, has a jaundiced view of man’s inability to change his perceptions, while the McCarthy-like Senator Kelly, who is trying to pass a Mutant Registration Act through the Senate, likewise is not wrong when he says that the threat Magneto poses is real, illustrated best by the splendid irony of his being replaced by an imposter who changes the political agenda, exactly the fate that sixty years ago the real McCarthy was fighting to prevent. Only Stewart’s Professor X (surely one of the most perfect pieces of casting the genre has ever seen) believes that mutants and non-mutants can live together – the one regret of the film is that we don’t see his ideal in action, thus proving the point once and for all.
Unfortunately that degree of subtly didn’t translate to the sequel which, despite its bigger budget and more elaborate action scenes, draws things in far more simplistic terms. The story opens with Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming), a mutant with the ability to transport himself through the air at will, attempting to assassinate the President of the United States. Using this as an excuse, Colonel Stryker (Brian Cox) determines to wipe out the threat once and for all, and lays a complicated trap to capture Xavier and use his vast telepathic abilities to kill every single mutant on the planet. Unlike the first film’s willingness to play in grey areas, here we are presented, in Stryker, with a one-dimensional baddy, a Fascistic villain so evil he even exploits his own son to achieve his ends so we know that there is no question our siding with his side of the argument. Here, mutants are good, full stop – literally, with the Brotherhood and Magneto putting aside their differences to fight their common enemy – and while Magneto still goes on about the coming war at least he is an honest villain about his aims, unlike Stryker who condemns the mutants on the one hand while exploiting them, via Nightcrawler’s attack on the White House, to create an artificial threat. It’s a far less interesting approach to the material, and a far less challenging one for the audience.
But then, admittedly Singer’s attention had turned a little. Having proven his fidelity to the material in the first and earned the approval of the fanboys, he felt able to make a far more personal second movie. This is a film not so much about the destructive effects widespread bigotry and intolerance can have on society at large, but rather the way it can affect people far closer to home, and the destructive affect discrimination can have on the family. The scene in which the teenage Iceman “comes out” to his parents about being a mutant, capped off by his mother’s uncomprehending and very familiar question “Have you ever tried not being a mutant” and subsequent rejection, is at the centre of the film, both literally and figuratively. Stryker’s inability to cope with his son’s mutant abilities have driven him to pursue his genocidal course while in Wolverine we see the confused result of a man who is searching for his own parents – or at least, the men who gave him the adamantium skeleton and made him the man he is today. Together with the teenage Pyro’s rejection of his own father figure Professor Xavier in favour of the wicked uncle Magneto, and mother hen Jean Grey’s sacrifice for her family, the film’s subtly different viewpoint is one that, from what he has said, chimed with Singer far more.
X2 had a far bigger budget than the first, which can be best seen in the big set pieces. Personally I think the first film’s action sequences are just as imaginative as the sequel, the attack on the train station and subsequent stand-off, and the assault on the Statue of Liberty just as conceptually exciting as X2’s raid on Xavier’s mansion and long series of showdowns under Alkali Lake, but there’s no denying that the execution of the first film’s stunts was a little underwhelming at times, illustrating the film’s lower budget. X2’s opening sequence, Nightcrawler’s assault on the White House, is arguably the finest sequence in the entire film, while what the lengthy battles in the film’s climax lack in striking imagery they more than make up for in toughness. Structurally, though, the second film is clumsy, with our heroes arriving at the scene of the climactic showdown just over half way through the film, meaning that the end, stuffed full of various mutant showdowns, feels long and protracted, whereas the first film’s narrative is paced far better and fits more in thematically with a greater economy than the sequel’s slightly bloated running time.
Both films have their strengths and weaknesses, then, but coming out of the theatre one couldn’t help but feel that there was every likelihood that all would be resolved in a superb closing chapter. Quite why Singer went off to make Superman Returns, which from its completely misguided approach demonstrated he had far less affinity with that hero than he did with the X-Men, is a mystery. He left dangling a series of questions that will now never be satisfactorily answered and without the resolution, in which mutants finally achieve worldwide acceptance, that the trilogy really, really needed. It’s even more galling when one considers that in his hands one of the main story elements of what ended up in X-Men: The Last Stand, the mutant cure, would have served his purposes admirably. Instead, new director Brett Ratner, barging into the franchise with the same degree of delicacy and wit as Vinnie Jones’s Juggernaut does in the film, espoused the cure’s metaphorical elements and turns it into a simple weapon to be used in the movie’s smackdown, a perfect example of the utter dumbing down the franchise was forced to go through in this final chapter. Spectacle replaced subtly in a script which threw out narrative coherency – just how does Jean come back to life? – in favour of bombast, but can’t even get that right. To give Ratner his due, the set pieces are nicely done, with both the sequence in Jean’s house and final, Alcatraz showdown, not without moments of fun, but to have Dark Phoenix, one of Marvel’s most interesting antagonists, spend the entire film just standing round and staring moodily rather than, actually, you know, being a threat, is, simply bizarre (goodness only knows what audiences unfamiliar with the Dark Phoenix storyline from the comic books made of it.) As a brainless popcorn movie it might - might - just pass muster, but as the third part of the trilogy it’s a dead loss, with the closing scenes with Magneto and Xavier showing its complete lack of interest in narrative credibility.
X-Men: The Last Stand
That film’s frustrations are manifest, but as I said at the start of this review, even the Singer films aren’t entirely without problems. In terms of casting, for every Patrick Stewart in the cast there’s a James Marsden letting the side down. The fact that Marsden’s Cyclops has zero charisma ensures that the Cyclops-Jean-Wolverine love triangle, which is underwritten anyway, never has the frisson it should – it’s very difficult to care one way or the other, a problem compounded by the fact that there’s no natural development of the relationship in the first film – we’re just presented with the conflict almost as a fait accompli and expected to be bothered. Interest also drops precipitously every time the movies’ attention turns to one of the younger X-Men: although the idea of teenage alienation is arguably just as important as the racial or sexual connotations, the travails of Rogue’s relationship with Iceman come across as little more than X-Men 90210. The sheer number of characters means that inevitably some come off worse than others – Storm in particular is never anything more than a function – and one can't help wondering whether in a desire to satisfy as many of the hardcore fans as possible Singer didn't stretch himself out a little thin with the number of characters he tried to accommodate.
One thing he did get spot on, against all the odds, was Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. After losing his first choice Dougray Scott due to the latter’s commitments to Mission: Impossible 2’s lengthy shoot (there’s a career choice I bet he’s rued ever since) the director only had a number of days to cast what is unarguably the most important character in the entire franchise, and the one who would get the most attention from the ravenous fanboys eager to pounce on any little mistake. The choice of Jackman initially sounds completely absurd – a six foot plus song-and-dance man playing a five foot nothing ball of compressed alpha male fury – but Jackman made the part his own, creating a charismatic portrayal which, frankly, blows away the likes of Marsden every time they’re on screen together. Jackman’s performance is fully rounded, convincing both as the tough, aggressive man happy to wield his claws at the slightest provocation but also in the softer scenes with Rogue, especially in the first film. That Singer was confident to cast so counter-intuitively and get it so right shows how much, in the end, he was in tune with the material, and how frustrating it is that in the end his story was only two thirds complete when it ended. Had he finished it off, it's possible that the flaws in the first two films would not be nearly as important when viewed as a whole - as it is, it's the little niggles that prevent the trilogy from being the completely satisfying experience it came so close to being.
X-Men: The Last Stand
Presentation and Extras
The trilogy arrives on high-definition in an outstanding six-disc set. The three films are presented in 1080p with their original 2.35:1 cinematic ratios using the AVC code and the results are stunning. Surprisingly (if somewhat aptly) the weakest transfer of the three (although weakest here is a comparative term) is that of The Last Stand, with a level of grain that in some scenes feels somewhat excessive, and some slight lack of definition in black levels in the climactic battle on Alcatraz. Other than those quibbles, though, the look of the film are a dream. The transfer handles the change in environments exceedingly well - the chilled atmosphere of Alkali Lake in all three films is enough to make you wonder why your breath is clouding over, while the large number of night scenes in both 1 and 2 show perfect. The films' subtle colour palates are replicated beautifully, going from the warmth of the scenes in the Mansion through to the stark metallic harshness of Stryker's base, and I couldn't spot any encoding issues of significance. Very nice indeed.
The first two films come with an option of either English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio or 5.1 Dolby Digital, the last English 6.1 DTS-HD Master Audio & 5.1 EX Dolby Digital. After a week of listening to the music on the menus I'm pretty sick of the film's soundtrack, but there's no disputing that aurally too the set comes up trumps. In contrast to the video transfer, here it's arguable that The Last Stand has the most exciting track (although given the movie's frenetic nature perhaps that's not surprising.) From simple moments like Wolverine's backwards flight through the forest, through to the intense assault on Jean's house and the sound and fury of the finale, one is surrounded and immersed in the film's action, the channels all working hard to make sure you don't miss a single bump or scrape. That's not to say the other two films lack in this department - the first film admittedly has less scope for aural excitement but the atmosphere of the bar in which we first meet Wolverine is suitably raucous, while the cavern in which Magneto gives Senator Kelly his own powers has a surprisingly effective timbre about it. Nightcrawler's attack on the White House in X2 is arguably the highlight from that film (complete with trademark bamph!) but there are other sequences nearly as good. The storm whipped up while our heroes on their jet is a sequence that never interests me but the audio, completely with whirling tornados and Rogue's sudden exit, certainly work hard to imbue it with extra peril.
The vast majority of extras on the set have simply been brought over from the original SD releases of the films (the extras I've asterisked are new.) As a consequence, most are in SD, and again, I've indicated those which aren't. The only difference between the UK and US release is the former's lack of Digital Copies for the film and D-Box support (there's also no BD-Live feature for a Wolverine exclusive, although I'm not sure if that's any different from the scene which makes for an Easter Egg on the UK set.) Menu design is uniform across the six discs, a small section down front accompanied by a stylised montage of film clips from the movie in question, complete with bombastic film score. The menus seem slightly crowded, but are perfectly functional.
The movie disc for all three films comes with at least two In-Movie Features. The Bonus View offers about forty minutes per film of interviews and on-set footage overlaid onto the film which works pretty well and has some stuff not found elsewhere on these discs. The other is an In-Feature Photo Gallery which does exactly what it says on the tin. These can be turned on and off at will. All three also come with the same five Marvel Universe Trailers, one each for the three films plus those for Fantastic Four and Daredevil, and Weblinks.
The film and all extras, including the commentaries, are subtitled.
The two discs covering the first film are essentially the same as the special edition X 1.5 which was released just before X2, right down to the numerous branching segments scattered liberally through the documentaries. On Disc One the Commentary with Bryan Singer and pal Brian Peck is decent, with the apparently reluctant Singer offering much in the way of information on the production and his own creative process. The two drift occasionally, but it’s still worth a listen. There’s also an optional commentary over the Six Deleted Scenes which you can either watch separately or branched into the film. I wouldn’t bother doing the latter, as they don’t blend seamlessly, being in SD and reusing some of the same material that ended up in the final cut. Small character bits, none of the excised stuff is essential.
Fox Special: “The Mutant Watch” (21:58) was a puff piece released just before the film was released, with interviews and clips intermingled with a framing device in which Senator Kelly presents his anti-mutant case to the US Senate. All the interviews also crop up elsewhere, and aside from a little snippet of the comicbook history, there’s nothing to get excited about, although at least it's included; after appearing on the first DVD of the film, it disappeared for the Special Edition X1.5 as did the Bryan Singer Interview with Charlie Rose (6:16) which also makes a return here. Admittedly it's no great shakes, with the director not saying anything he doesn't at greater length elsewhere, but at least it's back. Also bunged on the disc are two Animatics* of Wolverine’s battle with Sabretooth on the Statue of Liberty (1:04) and the train station attack (0:53). There are three TV Spots (1:36) which don’t seem to be any different from the longer collection on Disc Two, as well as an advert for the film’s soundtrack on CD. (0:32)
Disc Two opens with a brief introduction from Bryan Singer filmed on the set of X-Men 2, followed by the Fox anthem played by a full orchestra. The rest of the features on the disc can be watched as one continuing (if lengthy) piece, but taken individually, they break down as follows.
The Uncanny Suspects (24:16) works as a good introduction and sees many of the cast and crew talk about the film and their characters. Unsurprisingly, Singer, Stewart, McKellen and others are very insightful about both their characters and the movie as a whole, and while there’s a bit of blather from some of the younger cast members this is still several cuts above similar documentaries on other mainstream releases. There are two branching segments in this part: Hugh Jackman’s First Reading (11:00) is footage of one of the actor’s auditions with Singer with the pair reading through certain scenes and exploring the character – it’s interesting to note at this point how un-Wolverine-like Jackman is, displaying none of the toughness that later ended up on screen, unlike in Hugh Jackman’s Screen Test* (1:57) in which, playing with Paquin, he has far more of the gruffness about him. I must have missed the moment to trigger the last branching moment, which gives an option to segue into a 69-image Character Still Gallery of design artwork for the characters.
The latter might have been better off fitting into the next feature. X-Factor (23:00) features chief make-up guy Gordon Smith going through his designs for each character’s look in somewhat exhausting detail, with the three branching segments - Storm Costume Test* (1:26), Creating Toad* (3:27) and Cyclops Costume Test* (1:16) – all looking at early attempts to get the looks of the characters right (the Storm is awful). X-Men Production Scrapbook (63:27) is an enjoyable fly-on-the-wall piece of the entire production, some chap following Singer around with a mini-DV camera from early pre-production meetings and location scouting all the way through to the last day of production. Along the way there are some interesting snippets – Singer at one point admits that the look of the uniforms is “safe” rather than exciting, while Ian McKellen says that the director is not the most “articulate” director he’s ever worked with but perhaps the one with the best taste – and it gives a reasonably good feeling of what it was like to work on the film. There are two multi-angle branching segments, one of Jackman rehearsing a fight sequence with Sabretooth actor Tyler Mane (1:05) and the other of the dramatic moment on set when the train set was torn apart, while there’s a further, single-angle branching segment showing the Prime Minister of Canada walking past a camera (0:20) which I'd say was worth the price of admission on its own.
A documentary of real substance is The Special Effects of X-Men. (17:29) Visual Effects Supervisor Michael Fink is our guide to some of the challenges he and his crew faced in bringing the superpower of the comic book to life. Full of insight into the technical processes involved, this is very good, and once again is complemented by a series of branching segments*. Four of these are multi-angle comparisons between original CGI pre-visualisations of fight sequences and the final film version, all of which run for under a minute, while one, Making of Senator Kelly’s Death*(5:00), is a silent collection of the different elements that went into the moment the unfortunate senator dissolved into a pool of water. Reflections of The X-Men, (8:39) filmed during the making of X2 has cast and crew reflecting on the first film’s success in a lightweight “Gee, that was great!” fashion. The two branching segments, footage from the world premiere on Ellis Island (4:22) and other premieres around the world (18:52) consist mainly of crowds screaming “Woo! X-Men!” and is thus extremely tedious.
For completeness sake, three trailers (5:26 in total) and lots more TV Spots (4:46 in total) are included, as are the Internet Interstitials (11:01) the short promo pieces featured on the film’s website prior to the film’s release and which mainly consist of very short profiles of the characters. There are also three Easter Eggs. The first is a clip from X:Men Origins: Wolverine (2:48), the second is the moment Spider-man dropped by the set (0:37). Finally, Stills (0:28) are a few early sketches for character designs which date from the late Nineties. If you want to know where they are, highlight below:
Wolverine clip: to the right of Sabre vs Wolvie in Enhanced Viewing Mode. Spider-man cameo: to the right of "Xavier and Jean in office" in the Deleted Scenes. Sketches: to the right of the third "TV Spot"
The contents of the two X2 discs are identical, bar the different trailers and addition of the "Bonus View" features, to those of the DVD release a few years back. Disc One this time comes with two Commentaries. The first has Singer and his Director of Photography Tom Sigel talking almost exclusively about production tidbits of the “And in this scene we had terrible trouble getting NIghtcrawler’s tail to flick in the right way” variety. These anecdotes are simultaneously very informative and rather monotonous, making for one of those tracks that is full of detail but rather boring at the same time. The second is more of a group affair, with producers Ralph Winter and Lauren Shuler Donner joined by writers David Hayter, Dan Harris and Mike Dougherty. In substance the track is fairly similar to the Singer one – lots of on-set anecdotes, as well as some general discussion about the film and characters – but the group dynamic and relaxed attitude makes for a much livelier, and thus more enjoyable, track. There's also one Easter Egg - the same clip from X-Men Origins: Wolverine, just in case you hadn't enjoyed it enough the first time. Should for some reason you wish to find it, highlight ->it's in the Trailers section, to the right of X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
The main difference between X2’s Disc Two and that of the first film’s is that none of the documentaries this time have branching segments, although frankly, though, they don’t need them. History of the X-Men (15:27) briefly covers the history of the comic book and its (eventual) adaptation for the cinema – it doesn’t go into much detail but works as a reasonable introduction to the disc. Its companion piece in the menus, Nightcrawler Reborn (7:38), has comic book writer Chuck Austen talking about his love of the blue shapeshifter and promoting the comic prequel to X2 he scripted which focused on how Nightcrawler ended up trying to assassinate the President at the film’s beginning.
The section headed Preproduction begins with Nightcrawler attack (2:26), a multi-angle comparison of the attack on the White House, the four angles ranging from the initial CGI previsualisation through to the raw footage and then the final version. In Evolution in the Details: Designing X2 (18:02) Production Designer Guy Dyas walks us round some of the major sets of the film, discussing the thought that went into their design. It’s a substantive piece, as is the vaguely similar United Colors of X (6:57) which features costume designer Louise Mingebach talks about how her creations for the film and showing great pride while she does so (as well as a hint of frustration that more of it isn’t visible on screen!)
The major feature of the Production section is The Second Uncanny Issue of X-Men: Making X2 (59:28). A few years ago this on its own would have enough to merit a high mark in the Extras column. In the first twenty minutes there’s slightly too many people saying fundamentally the same things about the film, but once it gets onto production this is another enjoyable, if somewhat unfocused, overview of the movie. Wolverine/Deathstryke Fight Rehearsal(1:25) and Nightcrawler Stunt Rehearsal (2:28) both consist of a mixture of CGI and live action previzs, the latter featuring the fight coordinators, overlaid with the soundtrack of the final version from the film. Introducing the Incredible Nightcrawler (9:50) unsurprisingly focuses on the practicalities of the creation of the character, and sees amongst other things Cumming working out the mutant’s movements with a coach and Singer explaining exactly what facial tattoos he wanted. Not quite simple filler but there’s less of interest here. As a supplement to this piece, there’s also Nightcrawler Time Lapse (3:41) in which we get an idea of the arduous process Cumming went through in the make-up chair each day. Finally for this section, FX2 – Visual Effects (24:58) is another documentary of quality, with Visual Effects Supervisor Michael Fink and others going into detail as to how they created some of the film’s most complicated effects sequences such as Nightcrawler’s attack in the White House and Magneto’s escape from prison. It’s far more informative than most similar documentaries on other releases.
The section on Post Production is the least interesting. Requiem for Mutants: The Score for X2 (11:40) features composer John Ottman discussing his themes for some of the major characters, before we see footage of the score being recorded on a day Patrick Stewart dropped by the set. X2 Global Webcast Highlights (17:02) is exactly what it says: just before the film’s release many of the main actors and producers were dragged into a small black studio where a man with a laptop asked the less nerdy questions asked by fans around the world. More interesting to see Jackman’s long hair (which he had for the Van Helsing shoot) than to hear anything which was said.
Most of the Deleted Scenes (11:58) are little more than extra moments pruned from scenes that still remain in the film – there’s a slightly extended version of the Wolverine/Lady Deathstryke tussle, for example, and more of Mystique’s hacking into Stryker’s file – or minor alternative versions . Unlike for the first film these do not come with an optional commentary, and none are essential. There are now less than six categories in the Galleries - Characters, Locations and Sets, Mutant X-Rays, Nightcrawler Circus Posters, On-Camera Graphics and The Unseen X2 (which contains designs for features like the Danger Room and Angel which ended up being cut out at script stage).Finally, three Trailers (4:37) are included.
X-Men: The Last Stand Extras
The X3 discs have a handful of new extras, one of which is one of the best things on the entire disc, and a number of the existing extras have reappeared in HD format. On Disc One there are two Commentaries. The first features Brett Ratner and writers Simon Kinberg and Zack Penn. It’s an absolutely typical type of track for a mainstream release, half informative half blather as everyone tries to be funny, but when not being irritating they’re fairly easy to listen to. Far easier, in fact, than the second, which features three of the film’s producers, Avi Arad, Lauren Schuler Donner and Ralph Winter, which is a very dry, slow affair, admittedly informative in places but very turgid to sit through.
Ratner, Kinberg and Penn also offer an optional commentary over the Deleted Scenes (19:35) which include lots of alternate versions, including an extended battle between the mutants at Jean’s house which is pretty good, and three different endings. There are also three Easter Eggs listed – Beast Recites Shakespeare (1:09), X-Jet Lands in DC and X-Man Mutant Gene (probably the Wolverine clip) but I could only find the first, a deleted scene in which Beast persuades Iceman to join in by quoting Henry V's St Crispin's Day speech. To find it, highlight -> press up above Play on the main menu..
X-Men: The Last Stand
Moving onto Disc Two, Brett Ratner’s Production Diary (41:21) is a rather haphazard fly-on-the-wall look at the movie’s shoot. One presumes we’re seeing events in their chronological order but there’s no indication that that is the case, while much of the running time is taken up with Ratner’s awareness that he is being filmed, and subsequent playing up to it. The title also doesn’t give the full story, with the last ten minutes devoted to the cast’s arrival in Cannes for the world premiere – it’s difficult to think of a less appropriate event to have held it, but there you go. The first half of X-Men: Evolution of a Trilogy (44:58) goes over the events of the first two films and is pretty good (albeit, given the nature of this release, rather redundant), before it segues into a bit of an EPK job of interviews and clips previewing the new film. X3: The Excitement Continues, (21:16) (an inappropriately named extra if ever there was one) is likewise another piece of EPK blather in which all extol how great the film is, although this time in HD.
X-Men Up Close is a mildly clumsy interactive gallery profiling the main characters. You are taken to a submenu with the different heroes and villains listed – selecting one takes you to a directory of brief information about them, photo galleries and a page full of snippets (usually 10-20 seconds) of interviews of the people playing them. It’s a reasonable try to do something different but doesn’t work and ends up being far too much effort to be worth bothering with. Anatomy of a Scene: Golden Gate Bridge (12:03) is your standard documentary about some big effects shot – not uninformative at all, but full of people saying gleefully “I’m not sure we’ll pull it off but it’ll be amazing if we do!” followed by much whooping and hollering when said effect does indeed come off.
X-Men: The Last Stand
Just when it looks like the X3 extras are a total loss, along comes Generation X: Comic Book History* (68:33) which is a superb documentary following the history of the comic book. For once the subject is given sufficient time, with artists from all eras assembled to talk about the development of the title and the major storylines. This is possibly the best feature on all six discs. Not so good is Fox Movie Channel Presents: Life After Film School* (26:15), a lengthy advert for the film masquerading as an interview with producer Ralph Winter. Three film students throw questions at him, which he answers with illustrations from the new film. It’s reasonably informative but one can’t past the fact it’s just there not for the edification of movie students everywhere but to get bums on seats. Fox Movie Channel Presents: Casting Session* (10:05) is a bit tiresome in which, after we are told time and again how important casting is (no, really?) most of the main actors talk about how they prepared for their roles. It’s only Patrick Stewart’s explanation of what he did, gently taking the michael, that raises a smile.
Vignettes (27:06) (in HD) is a fairly random collection of short pieces focusing on different aspects of the film, including how Dark Phoenix’s presence was hinted at in the earlier movies and a featurette on effects. Some good stuff actually here. The Blogs (14:17) (in HD) are a series of four short featurettes posted on thedangerroom.net to publicise the film. Stan Lee pops up in one to enliven what are fairly routine pieces. There are no less than twenty Previz Animatics, (25:45) which are (as all the others on these discs are) CGI and are accompanied by the final version’s soundtrack. Without the option to swap between these and the finished product they’re wearisome to look through, although the visualisation of some of the characters is so far from the actual actors to be somewhat amusing. The Galleries this time have two sections - Character Stills and Concept Art, Storyboards & Models - and hundreds of images in them to flick through at your leisure, with some attractive artwork to uncover among all the production stills. Finally there are two normal Trailers (4:01) and an Extended Trailer (7:11) (n HD) which consists of film highlights that is actually more entertaining than the full version.
There’s one Easter Egg on this disc which sees Colossus accidentally throwing Logan, on wires, straight into the camera (0:10). To find it, highlight -> hit left on the menu by X-Men Up Close .
Phew. With superb picture and audio transfers and a massive amount of extras of generally very good quality, it's difficult to see how this set could be better. X-cellent indeed.
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