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The original X-Men film re-ignited Hollywood’s liking of comic book adaptations, shooting straight to the top of the tree among such esteemed company as Superman and Batman’s first two outings, if not arguably surpassing them for sheer entertainment value alone. And in true Hollywood style, those in charge made sure they paved the way for a sequel. But even they didn’t know that the first film would have such a marked impact on the mainstream resurgence of our good old comic book adaptation. The expectation was high for the second installment, with Wolverine and his buddies needing something special to raise the bar, so to speak. And it’s pleasing to say for the most part they succeeded.

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Movie
We pick up basically where we left off from the first film, with the mutants still struggling to become accepted members of society. The opening sequence is brilliant, with an assassination attempt on the US President by a mutant named Nightcrawler (played by Alan Cumming brilliantly). The way Nightcrawler is rendered as he pops up here and there (called a BAMF by those on the film) is priceless, but more on that later. The failed assassination leads to a public outcry, where those in power propose what would be known as the mutant registration act. One man with such power is mutant specialist, William Stryker (Brian Cox) who doesn’t hide the fact that he has plans for these mutants than merely signing them up to a register. Stryker, devious as he is, plans to use mutants as a military power, which naturally becomes one of the major plot points of the story.

But where would we be without any of the old folk from the first film. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Cyclops (James Marsden) and Storm (Halle Berry) are stationed in a mutant school with Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) still at the helm. Still learning the mutant ropes is young Rogue (Anna Paquin) and her boyfriend Bobby, or Iceman as he is known to the X-Men. Main man Wolverine (Australia’s own Hugh Jackman) had gone off to find out about his past in between films but when the big screen beckons once more he returns in a timely fashion. Little does he know that his past will be revealed very shortly, and the dastardly William Stryker could well be behind it all.

Magneto (Ian McKellan), has been kept in a plastic prison, free from any metal so he can’t escape. As if that was ever going to work. Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) returns in a slightly meatier role to help out her villainous buddy, but soon it turns out the villains and heroes must unite to fight for their freedom. The question is, how can Magneto join forces with Xavier and the others without causing any trouble? Interesting indeed.

There are enough new characters to combine with the old so that things don’t merely become a re-hash of the first film. Nightcrawler continues on the “human” focus on the story, with Alan Cumming’s mutant a bit of a menace on the surface but a shy, compassionate person underneath. We also see a bit more of Pyro, who has quite a role to play in this film and will most likely be a key player in the next one. But it is Kelly Hu’s Lady Deathstrike who is the most exciting to watch. Despite saying nothing for the entire film, Deathstrike’s battle with Wolverine is very entertaining, largely due to the fact that Wolverine isn’t the only one with adamantium (it’s a metal) weapons on his person.

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In all, the story has a much more linear feel rather than the episodic elements to the original. The humanity-focused storyline helps us relate with the mutant “outsiders” and the way the characters are played suggests that much more thought has gone into the script than merely padding the film out until the next fight scene. With so many, characters, however, it comes as no surprise that a few of them would be left largely in the background. Cyclops does basically nothing for the whole film and ends up just looking like a bit of a sissy, while poor Rogue is still condemned to almost killing her boyfriend every time their skin touches rather than helping the others save the day. Hopefully Paquin’s role will be greater in the third installment, with the younger generation of X-Men turning up the heat on the veterans.

While it’s a simplistic and slightly contrived story, there is no doubting Singer has a definite knack for producing the best of the comic book adaptations. He captures the essence of the printed version whilst still using all the filmic conventions to churn out pure entertainment. The script is still mixed with an odd dose of humour and the effects sequences don’t seem overdone to the point of ridiculousness. Kudos to the creators of Nightcrawler’s entries and exits (the BAMF), which deserve to sit amongst the best special effects visuals of recent times.

Overall, any fan of the original film should be excited about this one, and probably already have their hands on the disc. For those of you still undecided you should definitely pick this one up as it surpasses the first film in every way. There was no need for lengthy character introductions for the sequel and the script benefits because of it. Jackman and co. give a very human element to their characters yet blend in well with the fictitious X-Men world. Let’s hope the series continues to improve as we go along because I’ll be extremely excited to see what the third film has to offer.

Video
Wow. Possibly one of the cleanest, sharpest presentations going around, thanks largely to the set design and cinematography lending themselves to a magnificent transfer. The print is in pristine condition and the image is incredibly sharp without causing any visual problems. Colours are great, with the flat tones of some of the sets rendered perfectly. You only have to look at Magneto’s plastic prison to see just how good this film looks on DVD.

Presented in 2.40:1, the transfer is free from any aliasing problems and the black levels are top notch when contrasted with the bright colours around them. Fox have come up with a great disc that will have you firmly focused on the action at hand.

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Audio
If you haven’t got a DTS capable receiver in your setup then now is the time to get one. Included on this disc is a DTS 5.1 mix, a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and a vanilla 2.0 mix as well. The DTS soundtrack is by far the best of the two major ones, due largely to its added clarity in the more effect-heavy moments. Surround use is great, and again the opening scene with Nightcrawler is the perfect example.

The issue of volume is always prevalent when talking about a DTS mix. Sometimes you’ll find the difference between the action-packed moments and the dialogue driven scenes is so disparate you’ll be using the remote at every scene change. Thankfully it’s not too bad on this release, though you will find a bit of a base volume difference between the action and the dialogue. Obviously the more intense scenes will be louder but the dialogue driven moments should still be very clear and loud enough to keep listening at that volume. Most audience members shouldn’t have a problem with it here.

The musical score by John Ottman probably doesn’t have that trademark main theme that a lot of other blockbusters seem to establish but the orchestral pieces certainly sound great on the DVD. Everything blends together with the music so well, with the subwoofer’s constant efforts topping it all off. Overall this is a great soundtrack that should shake the foundations of your house if you so desire.

Extras
For anyone wanting to see a bit more about the films and the X-Men in general you’re in for a treat with this release. Disc one contains a commentary track with Director Bryan Singer and cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel. Just like his efforts on The Usual Suspects DVD, Singer imparts a wealth of information on the film with Sigel chiming in every now and then with something amusing. The other commentary track is with the producing and writing team, five in all, which isn’t as entertaining but does offer its own unique value. There are some pauses in there which comes as a surprise but this is definitely not the worst track I’ve heard in recent times.

On disc two you’ll find a wealth of extra material. First up is the History of the X-Men section, which gives viewers a bit of background information on the comics and how they translated into the film. There are numerous interviews with the key players and a lengthy piece on the origin of Nightcrawler, complete with comic book comparisons for context.

The pre-production section includes a multi-angle look at the Nightcrawler sequence where you can choose between original footage with unfinished effects, animatics or storyboards. There is also an 18-minute featurette entitled Evolution in the Details: Designing X2 which takes us through the design of some of the major sets used in the film. Continuing the design theme the United Colours of X covers the costumes and the motivations behind their creation, which rounds out the pre-production section of the disc.

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The production section features a number of detailed featurettes and is the most meaty part of the extras. There’s a short look at the Wolverine vs Deathstrike rehearsal (running for one and a half minutes), which is interesting to watch but too brief to be really appealing. The best featurette is an hour-long making of documentary entitled The Second Uncanny Issue of X-Men. Here we are treated to a number of interviews, behind the scenes footage and some great insights into the production. There is a slight overlap with some of the information and a lot of it is repeated in the audio commentary but for sheer coverage alone this is well worth a look.

Still in the production section, the Introducing the Incredible Nightcrawler featurette shows what poor Alan Cumming had to go through with makeup in order to be transformed into his character. We also take a look at how the actual crawl was developed. The Nightcrawler fascination continues with a stunt rehearsal of the opening sequence and a time lapse showing how long it takes to do Nightcrawler’s makeup. The last featurette in the production stage is a look at the visual effects, entitled FX2 Visual Effects. Here we delve deeper into the effects shots used on the film, and there are many. Things such as the prison break and the water effects are the highlights.

Moving on to post-production, the Requiem for the Mutants: The Score of X2 piece is an interesting look at how an orchestra goes about recording the musical pieces. Bryan Singer drops in with Ian McKellan and everyone gets little flustered in their company. Not a bad little featurette. The X2 Global Webcast Highlights is an edited piece of footage captured during an online Q & A session with the stars. It is typical press conference fluff but is interesting to see how it was all set up.

Next up we have a collection of deleted scenes. Correction. We have some deleted scenes, some scenes which are already in the movie and don’t look like they’ve been changed at all and some scenes which are extended by a few seconds here and there. It’s not the best package around as many of the clips run for under a minute, but it was still interesting to see some of the clips that didn’t make the final cut.

Rounding out the extras package is a galleries section with a ton of photos on everything about the production as well as a trailers section, with three theatrical trailers for the film. In all this is a very impressive extras package slightly deceptive in that some of the pieces are very short and the deleted scenes are a lot less in depth than they look on the surface.

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Overall
X-Men 2 is easily the better film over the first thanks to a decent storyline, a good human element in the X-Men characters and some accomplished action sequences that are more subtle than over the top. There are very few down times in the story and the entertainment value is picked up during the second act and never lets up, ensuring this film is regarded as pure entertainment. Don’t miss it, because the DVD is a great package with enough to keep you happy until well after the film is over.


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