"X-Men 3" is going to be fantastic. "X-Men 1" was entertaining, but too short, while the second picture is even more entertaining, but a little too long. Maybe the third picture will be just right. All that aside, "X2" really is quite a grand improvement over the first picture. With the first film, the filmmakers didn't seem entirely sure whether or not the audience would be there for the first picture, and it seemed somewhat restrained. Given the success of the first film, this feature is bigger, somewhat more effects-heavy and dynamic.
The second feature starts where the first one left off: Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is searching out his roots, while Magneto (Ian McKellen) is still imprisoned. Mutants are still being threatened, and the Mutant Registration Act may pass - the act gets new backing when a teleporting mutant named Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) launches an attack on the president in one of the film's early scenes.
After the attack, General William Stryker (Brian Cox) asks for the power to launch a special operation to investigate Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart)'s school for mutants, or, as he describes it, a "training facility". Given his access to Magneto, Stryker knows all about Xavier and his powers, and soon enough, his larger plan against the mutants is revealed.
All of the original X-Men - Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Scott Summers/Cyclops (James Marsden), Ororo Munroe/Storm (Halle Berry) and Rogue (Anna Paquin) return, and there's introductions (if only somewhat brief ones) to a handful of new characters, including Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and Pyro (Aaron Stanford). Shape-shifter Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) is also up to her old tricks, including changing into...Rebecca Romijn-Stamos. Although I wasn't going to give it away, the trailers and title (X2: X-Men United) do already; both the good (Xavier's mutants) and "bad" (Magneto's side) must join later in the picture to face Stryker.
Speaking of that bit, "X2" is surprisingly funny (dare I say hilarious?) in quite a few scenes - and I don't mean unintentionally so. McKellen seems to be having much more fun this time around (everyone seems to have a firmer grasp on their characters) and there's some very amusing bits involving Wolverine. These very funny bits do deflate the tension at times (and occasionally, seem to contrast a bit too much with some of the darker - and occasionally more violent - moments in this PG-13 picture), but I suppose they worked well enough that that isn't much of a concern. At about 130 minutes, the film also could have used a little tightening. It's nothing of great concerns, but a few scenes could have been a couple of beats shorter.
Technically, this is also a superior film, in part because Singer has once again used long-time collaborators like cinematographer Newton Thomas Siegel and composer/editor John Ottman. The film's special effects, aside from one or two little things, were outstanding and certainly an improvement on the effects from the first picture.
Overall, a very enjoyable Summer movie that provided fairly strong character development (well, about as best as one can do with this many characters), superb visual effects and several well-staged action scenes. A really good film, but I couldn't help but feel that it's leading to a really great one.
VIDEO: "X2" is presented by Fox in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is a fine presentation from Fox, but I did notice a few issues at times. Sharpness and detail are certainly not a problem, as definition appeared crisp and consistent throughout, with good fine detail apparent in many scenes.
Still, as good as most of the film looks here, there are some concerns. Compression artifacts do show up a couple of times, but only in extremely minor amounts. A little bit more noticable is some edge enhancement, which appears in a few scenes. On a positive note, the print appears in superb shape, with no noticable specks, marks or other debris. Colors appeared superbly rendered, with excellent saturation and no noise or other issues.
SOUND: "X2" is presented by Fox in both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 on this release. Although my opinion of the first film's soundtrack remains generally positive, it's apparent from the opening scenes to the closing credits here that, along with the bigger budget of the sequel comes a much bigger, much grander sound design. Surrounds are wonderfully aggressive throughout the whole show, often providing some remarkably effective sound effects that zip around the room, yet don't draw the attention away from the show at hand. While not an official EX soundtrack, those who can enable use of a back rear surround should do so, as it does enhance the experience.
As one might expect from a big-budget experience, sound effects pack a punch and the soundtrack overall boasts impressive dynamic range. Deep bass can be heard and felt throughout many of the film's action sequences, while effects, score and dialogue remained exceptionally clear.
Commentary One: This is a commentary from cinematographer Tom Siegel and director Bryan Singer. The two have worked together over a span of 10 years and 4 films, so the friendship between the two really does make for a very enjoyable commentary. Singer's particular sense of humor, which allows some joking about himself and set experiences, also adds to the track. Although Singer does much of the talking, the two do provide a great deal of information about a variety of topics, such as trying to continue the development of the many different characters, technical issues such as cinematography and effects and obstacles that the production had to overcome.
Commentary Two: This is a commentary from producers Lauren Shuler Donner and Ralph Winter, along with writers Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris, and David Hayter. Some of the participants have been recorded separately. This commentary isn't as consistent, with some noticable gaps of silence, but it's still a fun and enjoyable track that does provide some useful information. The writers do much of the talking, chatting about the concepts and development of the story, along with the changing and expanding roles of both the new and returning characters. There's some good stories from the set about the participant's experiences and working with the actors, as well.
The 2nd Uncanny Issue of X-Men: This is a nearly hour-long documentary that's the main long-running feature included on the set's second DVD. This is a pretty general overview of the production, starting off discussing the process of continuing the stories of all of the characters and their universe with more money and time at hand. There are aspects of the technical elements discussed at points throughout the documentary, but a lot of the time is spent talking about the characters, giving the actors a few moments to discuss their experiences with the character and chatting about where things go for the sequel. We hear from director Bryan Singer, the cast, the producers, the writers and others throughout this piece.
Wolverine/Deathstrike Fight Rehearsal: This zippily edited piece shows the stunt performers working through the blocking/choreography of the sequence. Interesting, but kind of choppily presented.
Introducing the incredible Nightcrawler: This 9-minute piece talks about the introduction of Alan Cumming's character. We hear from the actor, learn more about the history of the character and the make-up work needed.
Nightcrawler Stunt Sequence: This piece is a mix of animated storyboards (animatics) and rehearsal footage for the film's opening sequence.
Time-Lapse Nightcrawler: This time-lapse sequence shows the exact process involved in the make-up application for the Nightcrawler character.
FX2: Visual FX: This is a lengthy documentary that goes through the process of creating some of the film's larger effects sequences. We talk to both the film's actors and visual effects crew, as we learn more about the actors' experiences working with not-there FX as well as what it took to choreograph and build the visual FX. It's pretty technical in the way it goes into great detail about all of the minute details of creating effects, but for those interested in the process, this is quite a fascinating tour.
Deleted Scenes: 11 deleted scenes are included: "Extended Wolverine/Deathstrike Fight," "Wolverine Kills the Intruder," "Mystique in Stryker's Files," "Nightcrawler Bamfs to Save the Students," "Jean and Storm in the X-Jet," "Jubilee at the Museum," "Pyro Starts the Campfire," "One of the Children is Sick After Bamfing," "Rogue Helps the Children Escape," "Professor X and Cyclops Escape" and "Arriving to an Empty School." These scenes generally seemed like extensions, but they provided some interesting moments.
Nightcrawler Attack: multi-angle study: This is a multi-angle look at the opening sequence, with 4 angles: 1) animatic; 2) unfinished FX; 3)animatic vs. final film; 4)unfinished FX vs. final film.
Evolution in the Details: Designing X2: This is a look at the film's production design, breaking down the process of creating some of the film's main sets. While many featurettes quickly take us through the process of creating major sets, this documentary really gives a greater understanding of what it takes to try and create a major set, such as the early museum set, down the last detail.
United Colors of X: This documentary takes us through the film's costume design.
X2: Global Webcast Highlights: This piece offers some clips from the cast and crew answering questions from the web chat on the film's worldwide release date. The questions are pretty mediocre, but a decent piece, nonetheless.
Requiem for Mutants: This piece deals with creating the score for "X2".
Trailers: Three trailers and two promos for the film.
Galleries: Two major image galleries: characters and locations/sets.
Final Thoughts: "X2" is a great big-budget action film - it's intelligently written, well-acted and offers several very enjoyable action sequences. Fox has also put together a superb DVD, with excellent audio/video quality and a great deal of informative supplemental material. Highly recommended.
The Film *** 1/2