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A spectacular and daring attack on the US President apparently perpetrated by mutants triggers an outcry and calls for a Mutant Registration Act. Ex-military William Stryker (Brian Cox), who is rumoured to have experimented on mutants, is given the task of searching for the attackers, but his anti-mutant zeal drives him on a search and destroy mission, with his ultimate objective the total destruction of all mutants on Earth. Magneto (Ian McKellen), newly escaped from his plastic prison, proposes a partnership with the X-Men, to combat their common and formidable enemy – Stryker – while Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) searches his amnestic brain cells for clues to his origins, leading him towards Stryker. Even Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) is made to play a crucial role in the deadly strike against mutants.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Bryan Singer is right: this isn’t a sequel, and yes, it IS an evolution. X-Men 2 has evolved the Marvel characters to a new level of cinematic genes, where they are …er….more human. Of course they are also superhuman, and their powers provide the pyrotechnics (literally, in the case of Pyro) that Singer harnesses for the film’s spectacular action sequences. Being flights of fancy and wish fulfilment material, X-Men nevertheless touches on issues that can be taken seriously – gawd forbid, of course, we’re just here to be entertained. There are enough of these hooks to keep the film aloft, hovering somewhere between top-end science fiction and high-end action/adventure, with touches of personal drama to give the film a sense of real dimension. 

The extensive effects are powerful magic, and always in service of the story. The two familiar oldies in the cast, McKellen and Stewart, add gravitas (and solidly rounded Queen’s English) while the young newcomers add teen angst to balance things out. The pace is fast but never so hectic that we lose the plot, which is at once accessible and awesomely formidable, as it should be in Marvel-land. Incidentally, you don’t have to be a mutant-ite to get this film, but it may help with backstories, like why it is that mutants are almost indestructible (self-healing for the most part, anyway) yet senior X-Man Prof. Charles Xavier is wheelchair bound. Look it up. 

Singer’s direction is a seamless result of his overall vision for a film that can teleport its audience from exterior locations to intimate duets at will, supported by a great score, clever editing (score & editing by John Ottman) and X-ellent performances from mutants like Hugh Jackman (Huge Jackman, actually, looking at his torso), Halle Berry, Famke Jenssen, and Alan Cumming in the important support role of Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler, while Brian Cox delivers gripping work in his supercharged role as the deadly, powerful baddie - and all of them brilliantly lit and shot. If nothing succeeds like success, then let’s hope the X-Men will mutate again, in Singer’s film lab. 

But until then, here’s the 2-disc DVD, with the film transferred in all its steel-clad glory and fury-bottled sound, with two multi-person commentaries and a second disc crammed with about 7 hours of bonus material. (Not counting the time you might take to freeze frame certain scenes for Halle Berry ogling.) 

In a silly piece of DVD design, the commentaries are not in the first level menu, which only offers the option of play, scene selection or languages. To get the commentaries, you have to know that they are among the language options. And even then, the options are clumsily arranged; a pity in what is otherwise a design-heavy package. 

The first commentary track with Singer and Sigel, is full of the minutia of making the film, revealing where the shots were, how different shots in a single scene were shot in different locations/studios, and other filmmaking debris. But once the duo gets warmed up, they inject bits of dry humour that liven up the track. Singer also relaxes enough to spill the beans on why he made certain decisions that diverge from the ‘lore’. (You may see somewhere that composer John Ottman also takes part, but he’s not on my review copy.) 

The second commentary, full of producers and writers, starts a bit clunkily before easing up, but has one huge irredeemable flaw: with four guys and one femme, we could do with a discreet name caption to tell us who is speaking. It’s been done and isn’t hard, but it’s absence make us feel lost when listening, creating a distraction we don’t need. The commentary also suffers from an inevitable repetition when it comes to explaining how the film was shot. Singer and Sigel already covered that.

But I guess most hard core fans of the films are really more interested in the cool extras. Go to disc 2. Here is a fountain of features positively prickling with stuff, from fascinating and extensively detailed design secrets to multi-angle fight sequences in split screen view with previsualisation shots. And much, much more. A lot of the material is produced specially for the DVD, avoiding rehashes of promotional press kit material, which elevates the package to something worthwhile. 

In the Production menu (one of the three sub-menus on the disc) there’s more eye popping stuff, like fight and stunt rehearsals, and a terrific three and a half minute Nightcrawler timelapse featurette in which we see the actor transformed in the make up chair into the Nightcrawler character. The items range from 60 minutes down to shorts like that one.

The half hour FX2 Visual Effects feature is excellent (look at the Dam Breaks chapter at the end!) and plays like a masterclass in VFX for filmmakers. Not only is it entertaining to watch, it’s generously informative as to how several FX shots were created.

You’ll need a weekend to go through it all in one go, or you can spread it out; it’s a value packed DVD, delivering all that the medium promises; there’s information, insight – and sheer Xcitement. 

Published October 30, 2003

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CAST: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Brian Cox, Alan Cumming, Bruce Davison, Anna Paquin, Kelly Hu

DIRECTOR: Bryan Singer

SCRIPT: Daniel P. Harris (Story David Hayter, Zak Penn; Comic book/characters: Stan Lee)

RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes


SPECIAL FEATURES: Disc 1: Audio commentary by director Bryan Singer and cinematographer Tom Sigel; audio commentary by Lauren Shuler Donner, Ralph Winter, Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris, David Hyter; Disc 2: History of The X-Men (2 features); Pre-Production (3 features); Production (6 features); Post production (2 features); Deleted scenes (11); Galleries of stills (8); trailer

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox Home Ent

DVD RELEASE: October 29, 2003

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