Wolverine and the X-Men: Volume 1 (US - DVD R1)
Gabe gears up for the impending Wolverine movie with new animation
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 failed pilot was well animated and lovingly old school, the ‘90s series was true to the serialized nature of the comic, and X-Men Evolution found interesting ways to start from scratch. 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.
X-Men fans know that Wolverine can’t possibly lead the team without drastically re-writing the character, so the idea of his leadership role being displayed in the title was a point of contention. It’s quite likely that the Marvel bigwigs demanded the series be more Wolverine-centric considering the impending release of their multi-million dollar Wolverine-centric live action movie, but the series writers find a pretty good way to make the unlikely events work. It’s a little convoluted, but it doesn’t dumb things down too much for children either.
Tonally the show is pretty adult, 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.
The ‘realism’ probably comes out of the Bryan Singer live action treatment, which seems to be the general theme for all the post- Ultimate Avengers Marvel Animated stuff, but the movies aren’t the only, or even the biggest influence. I’ve been enjoying the show even beyond these three episodes for the elements it takes from Grant Morrison’s run on the X-Men comics (titled in trade paperback as ‘New X-Men’). In my rather uneducated opinion on the matter, Morrison’s run was the best thing to happen to the X-Men since the original ‘Dark Phoenix Saga’, so any similarities on film are a plus in my book.
On television Wolverine and the X-Men is presented in standard framing, but this disc is anamorphically enhanced 16x9. There is no noticeable image loss on the tops and bottoms of the frame, so I suppose it was trimmed vertically for television (I can’t compare because I don’t get Nicktoons Network anymore). The image is clean enough, but can’t be confused with a high definition transfer due to minor edge enhancement, slightly fuzzy details, some overall compression noise throughout, and a whole lot of interlacing effects (I couldn't even get more than a few clean screen caps). Backgrounds are usually cleaner than the characters, but the two still blend pretty effortlessly. Colours don’t bleed, but also aren’t one hundred percent solid, and blacks could be a tad deeper. All things considered, however, this is one of the better television animation transfers I’ve ever seen. It’s cleaner than the Avatar transfers, and the colours are a bit brighter than the Justice League transfers.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is an upgrade from the Dolby surround television tracks, but not a gigantic one. The overall track is lively, but still largely stereo based. The rear channels have very few discreet moments, but are a bit more aggressive than the usual ghost rear channel that comes out of Dolby surround. The dialogue is certainly discreetly centred, which is nice, and the added LFE channel allows some bump for Steve Blum’s baritone voice, the occasional explosion, and the musical score’s more lively moments. The score is pretty theatrical, and takes a few subtle cues from John Ottman and Michael Kamen’s live action X-Men themes.
The disc is graced with two full length commentary tracks. Producer/writers Craig Kyle and Greg Johnson are all business, running down the basic goals of the new series, and thanking all the people they hired to help them make it happen. The other commentary features directors Boyd Kirkland and Steven Gordon, who talk much less than the producers, and tend to deal with the onscreen action more than production or over-arching themes.
‘Nicktoons Network Going In Scene’ (02:30) is a brief EPK that played between commercials on the Nicktoons Network. It’s a sales pitch, as are the eight, thirty second character profiles. ‘Making of Wolverine and the X-Men’ (05:00) is a more substantial extra created for the DVD release. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate, it was actually created as a teaser featurette for the Hulk Vs. DVD. The producers run down their goals for the series while we get to see character designs and footage from various episodes this season. Things are completed with a trailer gallery.
Wolverine and the X-Men is a solid series, more solid than any of the Lionsgate released Marvel Animated movies, and generally better than X-Men Evolution. Everything is still a tad dumbed down, but things are still more sophisticated than I originally assumed they would be. I don’t see much reason to buy this disc, as I assume Lionsgate plans a full season release somewhere down the line, but I also have no proof, and the price is pretty good.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 21st April 2009
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Extras: Producer/Writer Commentary, Director Commentary, Nick Toons Network Going In Scene, Character Profiles, Making-of, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Cast: Steven Blum, Kieren van den Blink, Susan Dalian, Jennifer Hale
Genre: Action, Adventure and Animation
Length: 68 minutes
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