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The original X-Men focuses on two factions of powerful mutants: the Brotherhood and the X-Men. The Brotherhood, led by master of magnetism Magneto (Ian McKellen), believe that mutants can never co-exist peacefully with humans and are convinced that war is inevitable. As a precursor to a pre-emptive strike on humanity, they kidnap vocal anti-mutant campaigner Senator Robert Kelly and use him to test a device that alters human genetic code. The X-Men, led by wheelchair-bound telepath Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), seek to prevent Magneto and his followers from carrying out their nefarious plans with the aid of a feral mutant named Wolverine and a young runaway called Rogue.

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X2: X-Men United picks up shortly after the events of the first film and opens with an attack on the US President by an unknown mutant. This creates sympathy for the Mutant Registration Act, now championed by Colonel William Stryker, a cold and devious man who sees all mutants as a threat. Meanwhile, Wolverine returns to the X-Men after searching for clues to his past life at a disused military base at Alkali Lake and Professor Xavier continues to meet with an incarcerated Magneto. When it becomes clear that Stryker has more planned for mutantkind than simple registration, the X-Men and the Brotherhood must put aside their differences to stand against their common foe.

X-Men: The Last Stand once again picks up not too long after the preceding instalment, and this time the mutants face a different sort of threat. A company has developed a so-called 'cure' for mutants, which causes a rift in the X-Men's ranks and once again prompts Magneto and his Brotherhood to launch an all-out attack on humanity. On top of all of this, the X-Men must deal with the return of Jean-Grey (Famke Janssen), who has been resurrected as the incredibly powerful, incredibly unstable, Phoenix. How can the X-Men prevail against the armies of men, Magneto's hordes and the unstoppable power of the Phoenix when they aren't even sure if they're fighting for the right side?

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For me, the original X-Men was an enjoyable, if somewhat limited, exploration of some of my favourite comic book characters. At the time I can remember feeling somewhat frustrated by the lack of any full-on mutant-on-mutant battles, at least on the scale that I'd always imagined. Even so, I enjoyed the film and sensed that it was a set-up for a sequel that could deliver more thrills. X2 did that and more, with its significantly expanded roster of mutants and grander scale. For me, X2 is almost the perfect superhero film, up there with the original Superman: The Movie and Spider-Man 2. Unfortunately I’m less enthusiastic about The Last Stand, which did away with most of the subtleties (and three of the central characters), replacing them with a slew of unfamiliar new mutants (no, not the new mutants) and reducing the whole ‘Dark Phoenix’ saga to a sub-plot in a feature that scarcely runs for one hundred minutes. I thought it was a sad waste of two film's worth of careful construction.

Video


All three films arrive with 2.40:1 1080/24p AVC widescreen transfers (well actually the original X-Men is closer to 2.35:1)) and look better than ever. Rather than pick through each transfer individually I’ve opted to discuss them as a whole, pointing out pertinent information relating to the specific films when necessary.

 X-Men Trilogy
I could pretty much sum these transfers up in one word: incredible. There you go, job done, on to the next section. What, you want to know more? Oh, go on then. Basically, while the DVD presentations of the X-Men films were always very strong, these new Blu-ray transfers are superior in every conceivable way. Firstly, the level of detail is superb, revealing hitherto unseen information in every scene, allowing you to pick out individual pores, hairs, stitches in fabric and background elements that would previously have gone unnoticed.

Black levels are also outstanding, preserving plenty of detail without looking washed out (as far as the limitations of my LCD set will allow anyway), while whites are bright and crisp without blooming. In fact, contrast as a whole is exemplary. Colour is also top-notch, accurately reproducing the (admittedly somewhat muted) hues presented across the trilogy. I’m always astounded by how accurately BD renders colours when compared to DVD. A fine example of this is Toad’s sickly green skin, which admittedly always looked green, but now looks like several different shades of green and is more convincing for it. Likewise, Mystique and Nightcrawler’s subtly different blues look better than ever (and Rebecca Romijn looks especially gorgeous in HD). Everything from the cold, steely hues of the base at Alkali Lake to the vibrant reds of Dark Phoenix’s hair looks marvellous, with no evidence of bleeding in sight.

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The quality of the prints is also first-rate, with nary an artefact (film or digital) to be seen. The films have a subtle, consistent amount of grain that lends them a film-like quality, but it’s meant to be there and I’m thankful that it hasn’t been obliterated by the aggressive application of DNR. If I had to nitpick (which I do) I would say that there are a few scenes where grain is more prevalent than I might like and others where the image is little too soft for my liking, but these very minor issues appear to be inherent to the source rather than a problem with the transfers. It’s not really fair to criticise the Blu-rays for accurately reproducing the original material, is it? No, as far as I’m concerned these are among the most technically accomplished transfers I’ve seen on the format, which is no mean feat.

Audio


The primary soundtrack for the first two films is English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, but The Last Stand retains the DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 soundtrack found on the original release. As with the video, the audio is what most people would call ‘reference quality’. In fact, I’d have to say that it’s actually more impressive than the video. As with the video, I've chosen to discuss the overall quality, rather than the individual efforts.

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All three tracks are incredibly dynamic and lively, utilising the five (or six) channels to deliver numerous moments of genuine brilliance. Placement of effects within the soundstage is virtually flawless, with many memorable examples of faultless panning across and around the soundstage. Some of the most notable sequences include the Liberty Island battle, Magneto’s escape from his plastic prison, the dogfight (with its swirling tornadoes), the Danger Room trainign mission and the final battle on Alcatraz Island. Of course these are just a few of the scenes that immediately spring to mind, but there are literally dozens of exciting moments in each film.

However, it’s not just the action-packed moments that impress, as the subtleties are also well catered for. Aside from the usual ambient effects like crowd noise and so on, directional audio is used to illustrate Professor Xavier’s telepathic communication. Voices move all around the room in such a convincing manner that you could be forgiven for looking around to see who’s hiding behind you! The opening scenes of X2 also stick in the mind, as Nightcrawler quietly ‘bamfs’ his way around the Whitehouse, leaving you wondering where he’s going to pop up next.

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Bass is exceedingly powerful across all three tracks, lending incredible weight to the mutant battles—Cyclops’ optic blasts now sound like they really could drive a hole through a wall. You can feel every single explosion vibrate through your body, but it never once feels excessive. Dialogue is also worthy of praise, as it remains intelligible in even the most difficult of circumstances (such as the heat of battle). The respective scores also sound great and provide solid backbones for the rest of the elements to build upon. I’m trying to think of another recent soundtrack that’s left as much of an impression on me as these three tracks, but I’m having a hard time doing so. When it comes to audio, this is about as good as it gets.

Extras


There is so much content in this set that I'm not going to go into exhaustive detail about every little thing. Instead, I'll provide an overview of all of the major features and comment where appropriate. Hopefully this will provide you with enough information to appreciate the wealth of material in the set without giving me carpal tunnel.

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X-Men: Disc One

BonusView: This is the disc’s picture-in-picture mode, which allows you to watch the film with an accompanying secondary audio-visual stream that features plenty of interview footage and behind-the-scenes clips.

In-Feature Photo Gallery: If you want to watch the film with accompanying still images, this is for you.

Commentary by Bryan Singer and Brian Peck: I never did get around to buying the X-Men 1.5 DVD release, so I'd never heard Singer's thoughts on the movie, making this a welcome inclusion. The two discuss many aspects of the production, from the opening scenes through to
 
Enhanced Viewing Mode: This feature allows you to view the film with the deleted and extended scenes reinserted and also allows you to branch out to various making-of vignettes by clicking on an 'X' symbol that periodically appears on the screen. Each of the deleted scenes can also be accompanied by director's commentary should you so desire, but as they're still presented in standard definition you might want to forego this option in favour of watching them in isolation, as they look pretty terrible when shoehorned into the HD feature.

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Deleted/Extended Scenes (10:35 SD): The aforementioned deleted scenes can be viewed individually or via a 'play all' function, but to be brutally honest they don't really add that much to the film. There are six in total, and they can also be viewed with optional commentary from Bryan Singer and Brian Peck.

Fox Special: The Mutant Watch (21:57 SD): This is the faux documentary that originally appeared on the DVD release. It’s presented as a campaign video for Senator Robert Kelly, but there are interview clips peppered throughout.

Bryan Singer Interview (06:17 SD): The director talks to Charlie Rose about the his reasons for making X-Men, translating the comic to the big screen, directing actors and more.

Animatics (01:56 SD): There are two animatics on offer, Liberty Head and ‘Train Station’.

Art Gallery: Still image fun in the ‘Character Design’ and ‘Production Design’ galleries.

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TV Spots (01:36 SD): There are three TV spots in total.

Music Promo (00:31 SD): A short advertisement for the soundtrack album.

Marvel Universe Trailers: HD trailers for X-Men Origins: Wolverine (assuming there’s anyone left who hasn’t downloaded the leaked copy), X2: X-Men united, X-Men: The Last Stand, Daredevil and Fantastic Four.

X-Men: Disc Two

Disc Intro by Bryan Singer (01:09 SD): The director is on-hand to provide and introduction to the second disc of features. He also does a silly little stunt with an orchestra that’s fun to watch.

The Uncanny Suspects: This section includes The Uncanny Suspects (24:16 SD), ‘Hugh Jackman’s First Reading’ (11:00 SD), ‘Hugh Jackman’s Screen Test’ (01:56 SD) and a ‘Character Still Gallery ‘.

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X-Factor: This section includes ‘X-Factor!: The Look of X-Men (23:47 SD), ‘Cyclops Costume Test’ (01:17 SD), Storm Costume Test (01:25 SD), Toad Make-Up Test (03:27 SD), and an image gallery including 'Hardware', 'Locations', 'Magneto' and 'Xavier’s School'.

Production Documentary Scrapbook:  This section includes ‘Production Scrapbook’ (01:03:26 SD), ‘Multi-Angle Train Splitting’ (01:00 SD), ‘Multi-Angle Fight Scene’ (01:04 SD) and ‘The Prime Minister of Canada’ (00:19 SD). I was disappointed that he didn’t say ‘thanks for having me buddy’.

 The Special Effects of the X-Men: This section includes ‘The Visual Effects of X-Men’ (17:28 SD), ‘Sen. Kelly Effects Breakdown (05:00 SD)’, ‘Liberty Head’ (00:16 SD) Toad vs. Jean Grey’ (00:14 SD), Wolverine vs. Mystique’ (00:26 SD) and Wolverine vs. Sabretooth’ (00:57 SD).

 Reflection of the X-Men (SD): This section includes ‘Reflections of X-Men’ (08:38), ‘Ellis Island Premiere’ (04:21) and ‘Premieres Around the World’ (18:51).

 Marketing the X-Men (SD): Three trailers (05:25), nine TV spots (04:46) and eleven ‘Internet Interstitials’ (11:00).

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X2: X-Men United: Disc One

BonusView: Once again, this is the disc’s picture-in-picture mode, which allows you to watch the film with an accompanying secondary audio-visual stream that features plenty of interview footage and behind-the-scenes clips.

In-Feature Photo Gallery: Again, this is the option to watch the film with accompanying still images.

Commentary by Bryan Singer and Tom Sigel: This is the commentary that debuted on the standard definition release of the film and it focuses on many aspects of the production, including, the cast, concepts, locations and effects.

Commentary by Lauren Schuler Donner, Ralph Winter, Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris and David Hayter: Producer commentaries are not usually as entertaining as cast and crew commentaries, but there’s still some useful information to be gleaned from this chat track.

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Marvel Universe Trailers: HD trailers for X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men, X-Men: The Last Stand, Daredevil and Fantastic Four.

X2: X-Men United: Disc Two

History of the X-Men: This section includes the featurettes ‘The Secret Origin of X-Men’ (15:26 SD) and ‘Nightcrawler Reborn’ (07:37 SD).

Pre-Production: This section includes ‘Nightcrawler Attack: Multi-Angle Study’ (02:25 SD), ‘Evolution in the Details: Designing X2’ (18:01 SD) and ‘United Colours of X2’ (08:57 SD).

Production: This section includes ‘Wolverine/Deathstrike Fight Rehersal’ (01:24 SD), ‘The Second Uncanny Issue of X-Men: Making X2’ (59:27 SD), ‘Introducing the Incredible Nightcrawler’ (09:49 SD), ‘Nightcrawler Stunt Rehearsal’ (02:27 HD), ‘Nightcrawler Time Lapse’ (03:40 HD) and ‘FX2: Visual Effects’ (24:58 HD).

Post Production: This section includes ‘Requiem for Mutants: The Score of X2’ (11:39 HD) and ‘X2 Global Webcast Highlights’ (17:01 SD).

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Deleted Scenes (11:58 HD): There are a total of eleven deleted scenes, which can either be selected individually or via a ‘play all’ option. There is no optional commentary.

Galleries: There are multiple galleries, including ‘Characters’, ‘Locations and Sets’, Mutant X-Rays’, ‘Nightcrawler Circus Posters’, ‘On-Camera Graphics’ and ‘The Unseen X2’.

Trailers (04:47 SD): Finally on disc two are three trailers.

X-Men: The Last Stand: Disc One

BonusView: Once again, this is the disc’s picture-in-picture mode, which allows you to watch the film with an accompanying secondary audio-visual stream that features plenty of interview footage and behind-the-scenes clips.

In-Feature Photo Gallery: Again, this is the option to watch the film with accompanying still images.

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Director and Writer Commentary by Brett Ratner, Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn: The director and writers are on hand to offer an apology... sorry, a commentary track for the film.

Producer Commentary by Avi Arad, Lauren Schuler Donner and Ralph Winter: Not to be left out, the producers get together to discuss the picture. Oddly, this is actually more interesting than the first track.

Deleted Scenes (19:34 HD): There are twenty four deleted scenes on offer, which can be viewed independently or via a ‘play all’ option. They can also be viewed with optional commentary by Brett Ratner, Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn. It could be me, but I think the sheer number of deleted scenes probably goes some way towards explaining the disjointed nature of the completed film.

Marvel Universe Trailers: HD trailers for X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men, X2: X-Men: United, Daredevil and Fantastic Four.

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X-Men: The Last Stand: Disc Two

Brett Ratner’s Production Diary (41:21 HD): This is pretty self-explanatory really (the clue is in the title). It’s basically just the director’s personal account of the production process. The audio quality isn’t great and it’s forty minutes of looking at/listening to Brett Ratner...

X-Men: Evolution of a Trilogy (44:58 HD): This is a lengthy account of the process of bringing all three pictures to the screen, with plenty of behind-the-scenes and interview footage.

X3: The Excitement Continues (21:16 HD): This is your usual behind-the-scenes making of featurette that consists of plenty of interviews and on-set footage.

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X-Men Up Close: This feature provides information on a large number of mutants, detailing things like first comic book appearance, physical traits and powers. You can also view biographies, still galleries and short video clips relating to each character. This is a great little feature for those unfamiliar with the comic books.

Anatomy of a Scene: Golden Gate Bridge (12:03 HD): This featurette takes a look at the efforts that went into creating one of the film’s larger set-pieces.

Generation X: Comic Book History (01:08:32 HD): This lengthy documentary deals with the characters origins and includes interview footage with many of the writers and artists who have worked on the series throughout the years.

Fox Movie Channel Presents: Life After Film School (26:14 SD): This is a strange little featurette that sees producer Ralph Winter fielding questions about the business from three film students. I guess there’s an X-Men connection, but it does specifically relate to the film series.

Fox Movie Channel Presents: Casting Session (10:05 SD): In this featurette the actors discuss how they landed their roles and their approach to bringing the characters to life.

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Vignettes (27:05): This section includes seven vignettes that can be played individually or via a ‘play all’ option. The vignettes are titled ‘Prophecies’, ‘X-Men Politics’, ‘Clothing vs. Costume’, ‘Make-Up Chair Confessions’, ‘Weapons of Choice’, ‘On Set Effects’ and ‘learning to Fly’.

Blogs (14:17 HD): There are four blogs in total, namely ‘Production Teaser’, ‘Live from the Danger Room’, ‘MARVELous Cameos’ and ‘Editing Magic’. Once again, these can be viewed individually of via a ‘play all’ function.

Previz Animatics (25:45 HD):There are a total of twenty previz animatics for you to enjoy, if you’re into that sort of thing. I would list them all individually, but I’ve been writing this for what seems like hours and my fingers can’t take much more!
Galleries: There disc includes two still galleries, ‘Character Stills’ and ‘Concept Art, Storyboards & Models’.

Trailers (11:12 HD): Finally, the disc includes three trailers. One of them is an extended trailer lasting over seven minutes.

Well, there you have it, a comprehensive selection of bonus material if ever there was one. This little lot should keep even the most ardent X-Men fan happy for a long time, as there is literally hours and hours of bonus content to wade through. Okay, so there aren’t any huge making of documentaries, but there’s more than enough production information to be found in the various featurettes to render such documentaries redundant.

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Overall


As Meatloaf once said, 'two out of three ain't bad'. The original X-Men was a slow burner that opened the door for the slew of comic book movies that followed, and its successor X2: X-Men United is one of the best comic book features ever made. Unfortunately the producers' desire to rush the third film out to compete with Superman Returns resulted in X-Men: The Last Stand, which sacrificed the characterisation of the previous instalments in favour of more action, and robbed us of a proper exploration of 'Dark Phoenix' in the process. It's not a terrible film in its own right, but it isn't a patch on Bryan Singer's efforts. I mean, seriously, Vinnie Jones as the Juggernaught (although I hear Matthew Vaugn is to blame for that)...

The respective merits of the films aside, this is one hell of a boxed set. It was almost a given that the audio-visual quality of the films would be top notch, but it's the incredible wealth of bonus material that really came as a surprise to me. I honestly thought that Fox would simply repackage the existing DVD extras, but instead they've gone the extra mile to provide some interesting Blu-ray exclusive material. They've also (thoughtfully) made each film available to buy individually, which is good if you aren't interested in all of the films or if you already own the previous release of X-Men: The Last Stand. Even so, with the complete Blu-ray trilogy available for a little over thirty pounds from most retailers, this set is still great value for money and comes highly recommended to all fans of the series and comic book movies in general.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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