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MOVIE INFO

Director:
Bryan Singer
Cast:
Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Anna Paquin, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Brian Cox, Alan Cumming, Bruce Davison
Writing Credits:
Zak Penn, David Hayter, Bryan Singer, Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris

Tagline:
The time has come for those who are different to stand united.

Synopsis:
The evolution continues in X2: X-Men United, featuring the extraordinary original X-Men - along with amazing new mutants possessing fantastic powers that have to be seen to be believed.

In the wake of a shocking attack on the President, the X-Men face their most dangerous mission ever. They must stand united with their deadliest enemies to combat a menace that threatens every mutant on the planet. But could this new alliance backfire and annihilate the human race?

Box Office:
Budget
$110 million.
Opening Weekend
$85.558 million on 3741 screens.
Domestic Gross
$214.948 million.

MPAA:
Rated PG-13

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 2.40:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
Spanish Dolby 2.0
French Dolby 2.0
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 134 min.
Price: $29.98
Release Date: 11/25/2003

Bonus:
Disc One
• Audio Commentary with Director Bryan Singer and Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel
• Audio Commentary with Producers Lauren Shuler Donner and Ralph Winter and Screenwriters Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris, and David Hayter
Disc Two
• “The Second Uncanny Issue of X-Men” Documentary
• 11 Featurettes
• “Nightcrawler Attack” Interactive Multi-Angle Scene Study
X2 Global Webcast Highlights
• 11 Deleted/Extended Scenes
• 26 Still Galleries
• Three Trailers
• DVD-ROM Materials


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X2: X-Men United (2003)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 6, 2003)

If movies based on comic books produce sequels, it seems that the second flicks in the series often represent the best. One can argue that both Superman II and Batman Returns surpass their predecessors, and many will argue that 2003’s X2: X-Men United betters the original from 2000.

X2 opens up sort of where the first one finished. At that flick’s end, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) goes to try to learn about how he became a mutant, and X2 follows his quest. After a slam-bang action sequence in which a new-to-us teleporting mutant named Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) almost assassinates the president (Cotter Smith), we join Wolverine in the frozen north as he comes to the Alkali Lake Industrial Complex, the site of experiments that made him the mutant he is today. Back in the lower 48, we re-encounter the rest of the X-Men. We learn that telepathic Jean Grey’s (Famke Janssen) powers have recently increased substantially and seem to be getting out of control.

When Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) learns of Nightcrawler’s attack, he meets with his main allies to plot how to work on the issue. He works with Jean as well as weather-manipulating Storm (Halle Berry) and laser-eyed Cyclops (James Marsden). Others have their own ideas how to deal with the mutant issue: the president confers with Colonel William Stryker (Brian Cox), who wants to use force. Former anti-mutant hawk Senator Daniel Kelly (Bruce Davison) has turned dove since the last film; that’s because Kelly actually died and has been duplicated by shape-shifting Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) ever since then. It turns out Stryker’s been in touch with powerful mutant leader Magneto (Ian McKellen), and because he used to be Mystique’s boss, Kelly tries to get to visit him.

We also get to know some younger mutants: the edgy fire-controlling Pyro (Aaron Stanford), nice guy coldster Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), and touch-of-death Rogue (Anna Paquin). Wolverine returns back to Xavier’s school and briefly encounters his old friends before they head out to investigate the assassination attempt. This reignites tensions between Cyclops and Wolverine, as both vie for the affection of Jean.

From there we discover that the cruel Stryker got information out of Magneto through the use of drugs. Stryker gets to Magneto one more time to get more details about Xavier’s school and his telepathy-amplifying device Cerebro. Xavier can use the tool to access virtually every person – and mutant – on Earth. This lets him locate Nightcrawler. Storm and Jean go to retrieve him, and they find out why he acted as he did at the White House. Cyclops and Xavier visit Magneto, where the Professor grills his old nemesis about the attack and other issues. We get a hint of why Stryker hates mutants so much, since we learn that his son is one and Xavier couldn’t help him. They also discuss Wolverine. Apparently Xavier knows more about Logan’s murky past than he’s revealed, and we’ll eventually discover a connection to current events there as well.

As all this occurs, Mystique infiltrates Stryker’s computer files and heads to rescue her buddy Magneto. Wolverine remains at home with Xavier’s students, which leaves him the sole leader as something terrible happens: Stryker stages an all-out assault on the school. First his forces capture Cyclops and Xavier before all something breaks loose at the academy. Wolverine flees with Rogue, Iceman and Pyro, but not before a brief – and tantalizing for him – meeting with his maker.

From his assault, Stryker captures a few mutants, though most remain at large. He attempts to use Xavier to find and exterminate all the mutants. Wolverine and the kids head out to hook up with Storm and Jean and regroup. Mystique uses a clever method to bust Magneto out of jail, and he then attempts to take the war with Stryker to another level. This results in a union between unlikely allies as our heroes try to rescue Xavier and stop the mutant Armageddon.

Earlier I posited that many prefer X2 to the original flick, and I find myself in that camp, though not to an extreme degree. As with the comparison between Batman and Returns, both seem very solid. In both cases, the sequels win just because they seem a little more self-assured and assertive.

X-Men was director Bryan Singer’s first action flick, and to his credit, he handled the movie’s set pieces quite well. The tight little picture didn’t include a ton of them, but what we got was fairly exciting, and he ramped up the action nicely.

In some ways, X2 blows its action wad a little early. The opening sequence in which Nightcrawler attacks the president flies by quickly and packs a great punch to launch the flick. For a more extended piece, the assault on the school brings out the director’s best. It’s a dark piece that finally allows Wolverine to cut loose. The sequence doesn’t last as long as I’d like, but Singer sets up the battle in a tense manner, and while it occurs, he gives it a sense of heart-pounding action.

None of the film’s subsequent action pieces work quite so well, though plenty of fine sequences appear. The jet chase seems terrific, and the police standoff at Iceman’s house also presents nice involvement. The climax might be a little less climactic than I’d like, but it concludes the film on a reasonably satisfying note.

One consistent minor weakness of both X-flicks relates to character development. The first movie flew by at a relatively brisk 104 minutes, so we barely got to know the names of the participants, much less learn much about them. X2 fills almost 40 minutes more, and since it repeats many of the same characters, we probably should feel like we know them better. However, it packs in so damned many roles that development remains basic at best. If anything, the characters seem less dynamic just because Singer may feel he doesn’t need to tell us much; since we already know many of them, the director might not think they require much additional examination.

Not that the film really suffers for the absence of character exposition. After all, comic book flicks don’t really rely on that kind of thing. Character depth sure adds to movies when appropriate – such as in the Batman movies and in Spider-Man - but it’s not crucial. We want a decent story and some good action and we’re generally happy.

To be sure, X2 does attempt some character depth, mainly via Wolverine. However, without much time to devote solely to that role, those elements never add up to much. Granted, the movie connects Wolverine’s past to the current situation well, but these pieces remain minor.

Even if the various characters do get lost a bit along the way, I still really enjoyed X2. When compared to the first flick, it simply seemed tighter and more self-assured. I didn’t find much fault with X-Men, but there’s an intangible feeling of confidence that more fully pervades X2. It comes across as richer and better developed. Everything that worked in X-Men also succeeds in X2, just at a higher level. It’s a very good sequel that makes one look forward to X3.


The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio A (DTS) A- (Dolby Digital)/ Bonus A+

X2: X-Men United appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. I figured X2 would look great, and the DVD didn’t disappoint me.

Sharpness appeared crisp and well defined. At no time did I discern any examples of soft or hazy images; the movie always seemed very accurate and clear. Moiré effects and jagged edges caused no noticeable concerns, but I noticed some light edge enhancement at times. I saw no signs of print defects; the film appeared free of grain, scratches, speckles, grit, hair or other flaws.

Colors appeared nicely clean and bright throughout the movie. They presented solid depth and were appropriately bold and rich. The flick didn’t present a tremendously broad palette, but the hues were consistently accurate and dynamic nonetheless. Since much of X2 took place at night or in low-light situations, elements related to black levels became exceedingly important, and the DVD transmitted them in a deep and dark manner. Contrast appeared strong, and shadow detail was quite clear and appropriately opaque without any excessive heaviness. Overall, X2 provided a very distinctive picture that was always a pleasure to watch.

Even better were the film’s soundtracks. The DVD included both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 mixes. While both worked well, the DTS track seemed stronger. I’ll cover my feelings about it first and then relate why I felt it outdid the Dolby edition.

The soundfield appeared very broad and engaging throughout the movie. All five speakers got a strong workout as they displayed a lot of discrete audio. This made for a convincing environment as we heard plenty of atmosphere and objects swirl actively and appropriately about us. This started with the excellent “bamf” effects of the opening sequence and continued through the spooky Cerebro bits and the flick’s many action sequences. Of particular note were the segments related to the destruction of the dam; from Cyclop’s blasts around to the structure’s final collapse, those parts really filled the room well. All these elements created great feelings of place and brought the material to life well.

Sound quality also appeared very good. Dialogue was crisp and distinct. Speech showed no signs of edginess or any problems related to intelligibility. Effects were always clear and dynamic, plus they displayed virtually no signs of distortion even when the volume level jumped fairly high; throughout explosions, crashes, and various elements, the track stayed clean. Music sounded appropriately bright and accurate and portrayed the score appropriately. The mixes featured some pretty solid bass at times as the entire affair seemed nicely deep.

So how did the DTS mix outdo the Dolby one? It seemed like a more involving effort. While the Dolby track was consistently smooth and engaging, the DTS version took those factors to a higher level to make the material better connected and integrated. As often occurs with DTS tracks, bass response also seemed a little tighter and more forceful. The Dolby mix remained quite good and earned a solid “A-“, but the DTS track ratcheted things up a notch for its straight “A”; if you have the capability to play it, the DTS version is definitely the way to go.

This two-disc release of X2 packs a very solid roster of supplements. On DVD One, we find two separate audio commentaries. The first pairs director Bryan Singer and director of photography Newton Thomas Sigel. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific track. Though it starts a little slowly and presents the occasional gap, overall the commentary seems quite positive.

Singer dominates the piece and offers a great deal of useful information. He gets into expected topics like locations, effects, and various challenges, but he also delves into areas like staying true to the comics, story and character developments, and bits of trivia about the production. Sigel mostly acts as Singer’s foil, and he also tosses out some notes about visual elements at times. In general, this seems like a lively and educational examination of the film.

The second commentary includes remarks from producers Lauren Shuler Donner and Ralph Winter and screenwriters Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris, and David Hayter. Donner, Dougherty and Harris sat together for their running, screen-specific discussion, whereas the other two were recorded separately and their remarks were edited into the piece. Though not as strong as the prior track, this one includes a decent look at the movie. The participants cover topics such as locations and sets, various production challenges, the script and changes made along the way, and anecdotes from the film’s creation. The writers prove to be the most entertaining, especially when they tell stories of mild excess on the set. We also get some funny remarks about some of Singer’s actions during the shoot, such as when a statement from his mother almost provoked him to make a big change. A few too many empty spaces appear, and we inevitably find some material repeated from the prior track. Nonetheless, this one adds a reasonable amount of useful information and works nicely due to the light and lively tone.

When we shift to DVD Two, we find a surfeit on features split into various domains. We start with the materials in History of the X-Men. This area opens with The Secret Origin of X-Men, a 15-minute and 25-second featurette. It shows images from original X-Men comics along with remarks from creator Stan Lee, comics writer/editor Chris Claremont, executive producer Ari Arad, producer Lauren Shuler Donner, story/executive producer Tom DeSanto, and director Bryan Singer. They go through the start of the comic, its evolution, and the development of an X-Men movie. Obviously, it moves through the history of X-Men very quickly so it doesn’t offer a lot of depth, but it presents a tight little examination of the backstory behind the comics and the film.

The other component of the “History” domain comes from Nightcrawler Reborn, another featurette. It runs seven minutes and 35 seconds as it looks at X2’s main new hero. We see comic bits and pieces and hear from writer/artist Chuck Austen. He discusses his entrance into comics and his take on the character as well as some of Nightcrawler’s history.

In the next area, we go through Pre-Production. This section begins with Nightcrawler Attack: Multi-Angle Study. Via the “Angle” button on your remote, you can examine the scene in question through these stages: animatics, unfinished effects, animatic/final film comparison, and unfinished effects/final film comparison. The various options allow us a nice look at the creation of the movie’s opening.

Up next we find a featurette called Evolution In the Details – Designing X2 that lasts 17 minutes and 58 seconds. Production designer Guy Dyas leads us through some sets and we also check out images from the shoot and some film clips. We learn details about the sets and what Dyas wanted to achieve with his designs. White House technical advisor Bob Snow also gives us some information about the film’s replication of that building. At times, the program becomes a little dry, but it generally gives us a solid examination of the movie’s physical design.

For the final component of “Pre-Production”, we discover another featurette entitled United Colors of X. In this eight-minute and 55-second piece, costume designer Louise Mingebach takes us on a tour of the film’s wardrobe. She shows us many of the costumes and discusses how she came up with them. It’s a reasonably informative and engaging look at this side of the production.

After this we move through the film’s Production. The most extensive domain, it begins with Wolverine/Deathstrike Fight Rehearsal. This shows stunt performers as they work through a videotaped demo of the sequence. It’s cool to examine this rough draft.

From here we move to an extensive documentary called The Second Uncanny Issue of X-Men. This 59-minute and 15-second show presents the usual mix of movie shots, images from the set, and interviews. We get notes from Bryan Singer, screenwriters David Hayter, Dan Harris and Michael Dougherty, producers Lauren Shuler Donner and Ralph Winter, executive producer Tom DeSanto, special makeup designer Gordon Smith, stunt coordinator Gary Jensen, and actors Hugh Jackman, James Marsden, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Brian Cox, Shawn Ashmore, Aaron Stanford, Kelly Hu and Alan Cumming.

”Uncanny” presents a fairly general overview of the production. We get some notes on expanding the original film’s parameters and stretching the characters as well as what it’s like for the actors to return to the scene. We find out about different issues that affected them and also get information about the development of some new characters. We hear additional elements related to stunts and effects, virtually all of which come from the point of view of the actors.

That factor is the main emphasis of “Uncanny”. Whereas the DVD’s slew of featurettes get into more technical issues, this one’s dedicated to the performers. That becomes a strength and a weakness. It’s an interesting perspective, and we get some nice notes from the set and in regard to their work. However, actors often tend toward bland and general statements; that’s one reason most audio commentaries that only feature actors come across as dull. To be sure, “Uncanny” never turns boring, and it offers a generally interesting and informative examination of the movie. However, it also never becomes anything terribly fascinating, though we do get a fair amount of cool footage from the set. By the way, stick around to the end of the program to see a funny outtake.

Another featurette comes next via Introducing the Incredible Nightcrawler! that goes for nine minutes and 50 seconds. This uses the standard format and we hear from Alan Cumming, movement coach Terry Notary, and makeup supervisor Gordon Smith. We learn how Cumming got the role and then find out about the development of the character’s movements as well as the intricacies of the makeup. All of these areas seem very interesting, though the makeup is the most compelling. We see makeup tests shown to Singer and watch Cumming’s displeasure with the process. It’s a good little featurette.

For more of the character, we check out Nightcrawler Stunt Rehearsal. This works the same as the Wolverine/Deathstrike sequence seen earlier, though it also incorporates some of the animatics we saw in the multi-angle piece elsewhere on the DVD. The reliance on lots of animatics makes it less interesting that its predecessor, but it’s still fun to get a look at this conceptual material.

We continue with our favorite blue-skinned mutant in Nightcrawler Timelapse. This takes us through the makeup process from start to finish. We watch as Alan Cumming gets done up into character, and it’s quite an impressive sight.

Lastly, we watch a featurette called FX2 – Visual Effects. It runs 24 minutes and 55 seconds as it mixes movie shots, effects images, and interviews with visual effects supervisor Michael Fink, Singer, actors James Marsden, Alan Cumming, visual effects supervisor Richard Hollander, tornado effects lead Doug Bloom, digital supervisor Serge Stretschinsky, computer graphics supervisor Greg Anderson, visual effects supervisor Stephen Rosenbaum, and Cerebro effects supervisor David Satchwell. They discuss some general issues and provide specifics about the film’s tornadoes, the “bamf” effect, the escape from the plastic prison, Cerebro, and the dam breaking, As one might expect, this discussion becomes a little dry at times, but it educates us cleanly and efficiently about how they created these elements.

With that we go to Post-Production and all its materials. Requiem for the Mutants: The Score of X2 covers the film’s music. The 11-minute and 35-second show features information from editor/composer John Ottman. He discusses what he wanted to do with the score, how he works, and different elements of his X2 music. It’s a nice glimpse of Ottman’s work and his motivations.

In X2 Global Webcast Highlights, Michael Broidy of Fox Publicity sits with Bryan Singer, producers Ralph Winter and Lauren Shuler Donner, and actors Hugh Jackman, James Marsden, Anna Paquin, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Alan Cumming, Famke Janssen, Shawn Ashmore, Aaron Stanford, and Kelly Hu for an Internet-based chat. Each participant appears solo in this set of excerpts. They take queries from various international chatrooms and discuss a number of topics in this reasonably informative and interesting discussion. Overall, the compilation fills 17 minutes.

The next domain contains 11 Deleted Scenes. Each of these lasts between 13 seconds and two minutes, 52 seconds for a total of 11 minutes, 52 seconds of footage. Presented anamorphic 2.40:1 with Dolby Surround 2.0 audio, don’t expect any hidden gold here. Most of them provide short additions to already existing scenes. For example, “Mystique in Stryker’s Files” only adds a few seconds to the sequence from the finished movie. Some others contribute a little more violence. Even though none of the bits seems consequential, I’m still glad to get them; uneventful deleted scenes are better than none at all.

In the Galleries area we split into six different subtopics: “Characters” (42 stills), “Locations and Sets” (312 shots spread through 12 sections), “Mutant X-Rays” (47), “Nightcrawler Circus Posters” (8), “On-Camera Graphics” (190 across six sections), and “The Unseen X2” (56 across five sections). These mix production photos, planning materials, obscure items and more. It’s a good collection, especially via the stuff that either didn’t make the movie or was hard to see.

Finally, Trailers presents a few ads. In addition to the three theatrical promos for X2, we find a public service announcement against marijuana smoking that has nothing to do with the movie. “3 Free Comics” requires a DVD-ROM drive. If you access this, you can get a short sample subscription to any of three different series for $3 shipping. DVD-ROM users can also find a few links, but no other DVD-ROM features appear.

A consistently solid comic book flick, X2: X-Men United mostly improves on its predecessor. The movie packs lively action with an intriguing story to create a vivid and involving experience. The DVD offers excellent picture and sound plus a seriously terrific roster of extras. Definitely one of the year’s top DVDs, I strongly recommend X2 as a “must have” release.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.3372 Stars Number of Votes: 86
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