X2: X-Men United
When I began to become infatuated with Marvel comics I was just about to enter those turbulent teen years. That time we all go through filled with not fitting in and wondering about our future. Perhaps it’s because of this the X-Men series was always one of my favorites, Even though they were teenagers with extraordinary powers and abilities they where still kids in many ways. The second installment, I’m sure there will be more, of the X-Men on the screen takes on another emotional twist to support the computer generated special effects. While the first film focused on making a scapegoat of an unpopular group and all the political and social ramifications involved this film is more about tolerance. The American government is about to call for the registration of mutant, people whose twists of DNA bestows special abilities that usually frighten the huddled masses. If light of some of the changes our lives have faced since terrorism violently came to this country the story slams home harder than if it was released at any other time. Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) is an intelligent man, his mental powers are exceptional and he chose to help other mutants with his school for the gifted. He is sure that normal mankind and the mutants can co-exist in peace for the betterment of mankind in general. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Eric Lensherr (Sir Ian McKellan) who as Magneto can control the forces of magnetism. As a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps he has seen this mood in a population before and fears there is no way for mutants to survive except through conflict. This time out there is a third power to be reckoned with, William Stryker (Brian Cox) a man in the employed by the government to handle the mutant menace which considering the emotional baggage he carries is just fine with him. There is a lot more teenaged angst present here than in the first flick due mostly to the raging hormones of such youthful mutants as Rouge (Anna Paquin), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and his polar opposite Pyro (Aaron Stafford). While the adults battle the larger picture these teens have to fight their own conflicts and doubts about their futures. Since this film has a target audience of people that have seen the first flick little time is spent on expository material. They characters get right into the mix. More is spent on character development providing a strong foundation for the action. Typical of the Marvel universe the inhabitants may be super powerful but they are driven by the same emotions as we all are.
Once again, as with the first film, Hugh Jackman as Wolverine steals the show. This is a man that commands the screen. Perhaps the most conflicted character requires an actor that knows how to tread the fine line, not overplaying or underplaying the role. Jackman nails it. His Wolverine is a man that seems on the surface to be invincible; able to heal immediately, protrude unbreakable claws from his body yet he is in search for his past. He also finds himself a role model for young mutants and considering his lone wolf attitude something that he finds difficult to deal with. The contrast between Stewart and McKellan is once again something that helps this film transcend others in the genre. Here are two men with incredible acting credentials that bring in performances worthy of their resumes. Both characters have valid points. Unlike many action packed films made from comics there is no clear line that makes one a villain and the other a hero. Mangeto has lived through a part of history that must never be repeated. Xavier looks more towards a new future. Just for fun there is Brian Cox, a new comer here that plays the role of Stryker in an over the top way that reminded me somewhat of the grand villains played by Gary Oldman. With such a well balanced cast this severs the need for one outrageous character. The young actors here all give fine performances with high marks to Ms Paquin as a character that invokes a great deal of empathy.
Bryan Singer returns at the helm of this film. In addition to rounding up the ‘usual suspects’ he adds to the cast giving us far more mutants to enjoy. The one drawback here is the focus is somewhat lost with all the new and unusual faces and powers to deal with. In some way this is rather true to the comic origins. I do remember the X-Men comics as being dense with characters. Singer has proven again that he can make a film heavy in CGI without becoming dependant on them. The visual effects support not drive the plot. He leaves that to the talents of his cast. He provides a look at the current conditions in our lives without sacrificing the entertainment value. It is a time honored standard for science fiction to hold a mirror to society. The social message here is cloaked in entertainment but it is still real and effective.
This disc sets a new standard for DVDs to show off to your neighbors. The anamorphic 2.35:1 is completely without flaws, dirt or defect. There is a sharper look to this video, the color balance is richer, the tones fuller than before. The contrast between light and dark is striking. The audio is presented with both a Dolby 5.1 and DTS track. Nice move from Fox this time around, rather than making us wait for another special edition we get the DTS up front. There are two commentary tracks provided, one with director Singer and his director of photography Tom Siegel. This track is the gossip track, all the behind the scenes dirt is dished here. Then there is another track by the producers and writers that go more into the details of bring this film off. Featurettes cover every aspect of this film from the comic book origins (with Stan ‘the man’ Lee), to pre-production, production and through post production work required to bring this tale to the screen. Watching the 11 deleted scenes shows that Singer knows what he is doing. There was a reason these scenes did not make the final cut but they are fun to watch. In all this is a required purchase for those into comics on screen or anyone interested in a well made film.