Wolverine and the X-Men: Complete Series (US - BD RA)
Gabe catches up with the complete Marvel series on its HD debut...
One year after a catastrophic event destroys Xavier’s School for the Gifted, the Mutant Registration Act has passed and Senator Kelly is poised to be elected president. The MRD (Mutant Recovery Department) is free to violently round up unregistered mutants, and bigotry concerning mutants is generally rampant. After one too many run-ins with the authorities, natural loner Wolverine decides to get the X-Men back together to quell the threat. That’s easier said than done when Jean Grey and Charles Xavier are missing (and presumed dead), Cyclops is stuck in a rut of depression, and the only member in the ruins of the mansion is Henry McCoy (aka: the Beast).
The X-Men are now in their fourth animated iteration, assuming that failed pilot episode entitled Pryde of the X-Men counts. Surprisingly every version of the series is pretty good on its own merits. The animation has slowly gotten better, and the tone has slowly grown darker, which brings us to Wolverine and the X-Men, which sounded bad on paper, and is brought to us by the less than capable people that produced all the new Lionsgate Marvel Animated movies. Tonally, the show is about as adult as most modern Marvel comics (the Archangel arch is thematically darker than anything I’ve seen in a kid’s series in a long time), though the storyline and dialogue are still stuck in the angsty ‘90s children’s entertainment ghetto. What was left slightly more to subtext in the earlier television iterations is much more overt, and the more cartoony visual elements are largely avoided. Still missing is the real threat of death and violence that the plot should entail. The action is pretty intense for a kid’s show, but considering the lead character’s bladed hands I can’t really be blamed for expecting a little more cutting. I’ve personally enjoyed the show most for its references to Grant Morrison’s run on the X-Men comics (titled in trade paperback as ‘New X-Men’).
Unfortunately, the season ends with a sputter after the promise of epic confrontation, and develops a series of dropped threads and plot holes (Future Wolverine just sorta shows up to help). The whole of the future plot doesn’t connect correctly with the present time plot, and grows stale and dull. It becomes a disappointment to realize certain episodes are going to take place entirely in the future timeline because the characters and story is simply less interesting. I was personally disappointed with the finale, which leads the series to an all too familiar climax, after setting up a pretty intense end of the world scenario. The Night Crawler-centric episodes, on the other hand, are the complete opposite, and the series’ one consistently good collection of stories. I’m assuming the series cancelation (perhaps because Disney, not Nickelodeon, owns the character rights these days) may have hurt the later half of the series from a writing standpoint. I would have liked to see where this team would take the characters after a speed bump first season. Alas, we’re likely looking at another reboot sometime soon.
I have to admit that there isn’t a massive difference between these HD releases and old SD, three episode discs because of the show’s darker nature, but when colour comes into play it is an improvement, so brighter scenes do look pretty sharp. There aren’t any notable problems with the 1080p transfer – blacks are deep, and blend well with the background paintings, which usually run along the darker end of the spectrum. The cell animation sticks out a little more than it did on DVD, thanks to the sharpness of both lines and hues. I caught no major haloing effects, low level noise, blocking, and only the tiniest hint of jaggies in a few choice places.
This DTS-HD Master Audio upgrade is the big news. It smashes the compressed DVD soundtracks with bigger explosions, louder flashback cues, more boisterous soundtrack music, and more accurate directional events. The LFE track is just about perfect – adding a solid punch without throbbing or overpowering the rest of the track. Magneto’s attacks are the coolest, strongest directional element, and the scene where the team fails to take his castle. The ‘Wolverine Vs. The Hulk’ episode also has some intense moments.
The extras begin with commentary tracks, one for every single episode in the collection. The commentaries feature writers and producers Craig Kyle, Greg Johnson and Chris Yost, all of whom start the collection well put together and excited to share, only to devolve into hysterics by the end of the series. The self-effacing and jokier of the commentaries are the best, though there is a lack of content the sillier the commentators get (they even get a few jabs in on the live action movies while they’re at it). Watching all of them is pretty exhausting (full disclosure: I skipped around myself), but fans should be in hog heaven (I know I’d kill for more than a handful of commentaries on the DC animated series releases), and the less interested might want to catch at least the last 3 episodes, which are quite punchy.
Featurettes begin with ‘The Inner Circle: Reflections on Wolverine and the X-Men’ (18:50, HD). This includes interviews with Kyle, Johnson and Yost, along with some members of the voice cast, who discuss the construction of the series, including the inspiration they took from the original comics over the years, including the more recent runs by Grant Morrison and Joss Whedon. This is a much more substantial look behind the scenes than those offered with the previous DVDs. ‘Making Wolverine and the X-Men’ (5:10, SD) is a fluffy EPK that was included on the first DVD release. Following the previous featurette it’s pretty pointless, and covers the same bases, minus spoilers. Things are wrapped up with Lionsgate trailers.
Wolverine and the X-Men isn’t as good as its DC comics animation counterparts, and doesn’t really live up to some of its more recent comic inspirations, but it’s certainly entertaining, and certainly not dumb. Now that it has been cancelled it should be interesting to revisit the first and only season in a few years and reassess how well it holds together, which is the advantage of having the whole thing in one collection. The high definition transfer is much better looking than the interlaced DVD releases, the DTS-HD audio is more impressive than anticipated, and the commentary tracks are all pretty solid and entertaining. The set is priced to sell, so animation and X-Men fans might want to take a chance.
*Note: The images on this page do not represent the Blu-ray image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 12th October 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH
Extras: Audio Commentaries, The Making of Wolverine and the X-Men, The Inner Circle: Reflections on Wolverine and the X-Men, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Cast: Steven Blum, Kieren van den Blink, Susan Dalian, Jennifer Hale
Genre: Action, Adventure and Animation
Length: 298 minutes
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