Review by James Harvey
It goes without saying that the X-Men Trilogy starts out a bit rough, hits a high-mark halfway through, and then tumbles a bit at the end. Regardless of any problems with the qualities of each film, you can't dismiss the perfect casting, great effects, and stunning action sequences seen in this film series. So let's dig a little deeper into one of the best superhero franchises to grace the big screen as we take a closer look at the new X-Men Trilogy Blu-ray Collection release!
One of the most critically-acclaimed comic book franchises of all time claws its way onto hi-def with new the X-Men Trilogy Blu-ray Collection. Directed by Bryan Singer and Brett Ratner, the X-Men saga – X-Men, X2: X-Men United and X3: The Last Stand – chronicles the ongoing battle between humans and mutants and their attempt to coexist, from their humble beginnings at Xavier’s School For The Gifted to the ultimate showdown against those that wish to “cure” them. Professor Charles Xavier must lead the well-known mutant heroes Wolverine, Storm, Cyclops and Rogue to fight against evil villains and use their powers for the good of mankind. Boasting superior picture and sound quality for the ultimate viewing experience, the X-Men Trilogy set is loaded with deleted and extended scenes, cast and crew commentary, making-of featurettes and much more.
Since the new X-Men Trilogy release covers all three X-Men films, I'll briefly touch upon each film before getting to the actual Blu-ray release. Suffice it to say, these are three highly enjoyable films that are worthy additions to anyone's Blu-ray collection.
To me, X-Men, the first movie, is basically the skin and bones of a good movie, but lacks a little meat. Regardless, the movie still tackles the core themes of the X-Men mythology and manages to handle the ensemble of characters very well. That being said, it's quite obvious a fair chunk of this movie was cut out, to give it a shorter running time, leaving the story intact but basically providing the bare essentials. It's still a good movie and a great introduction into the cinematic world of the X-Men. X-Men introduces us to a solid group of characters, features some inspired casting, and is enjoyable for the duration. While it goes without saying that this is more of a Wolverine movie than an X-Men movie, Director Bryan Singer is able to balance things well, and actually makes a smart choice by having Wolverine and Rogue serve as our entrance into the world of the X-Men, and, as one could expect, they get the most screen-time.
Still, X-Men managed to faithfully bring these classic Marvel characters to life and, for that, you really have to give Singer and Fox credit. And, even today, the movie still holds up quite well. The special effects may look a bit dated now and the plot a bit ho-hum, but it's still an enjoyable movie and a solid way to kick off a movie franchise. While the movie shouldn't have been cut down so much, rumored to be cut down by nearly 30 minutes, the final form is still solid and serves as a suitable springboard for its inevitable sequels.
And speaking of sequels, let's move on to X2: X-Men United, a superbly crafted and brilliant film. With the characters and set-up out of the way thanks to the first movie, the second one hits the ground running and never stops. After a stunning opening sequence featuring a daring attack on the White House, the idea of government control over mutants returns and serves as the basic plot driver for the film. Wolverine's quest to discover his past ends up getting tangled into the main plot, leading up to a siege on the mansion and an eventual showdown in a hidden Canadian government base. The film builds upon the original and just gives us more of everything. We get bigger action scenes, a more complex plot, more story, more characters, and just more of everything perfectly nestled in a 134 minute running time - 30 minutes more than X-Men. While more doesn't always mean better, it actually does in this case. The movie has space to breathe and, by doing so, is able to juggle the enormous amount of characters featured and allows the film to unfold at a seemingly natural pace. It's the best film of the franchise and one of the best comic book movies to date. X2: X-Men United manages to up the stakes but, at the same time, never loses the core theme of the X-Men and what they stand for.
Some say the movie was overloaded with characters, but I found that X2: X-Men United managed to balance nearly everything perfectly. True, some characters do get more screen-time than others, including Wolverine again, but I found that it naturally served the story. While, true, this is a big summer blockbuster, it doesn't talk down to the audience and really manages to carry some serious undertones throughout. Like any successful sequel, it builds upon the original as a natural extension thanks to Singer's dedication to the message behind the X-Men.
Which leads us to X-Men: The Last Stand, the third and (currently) final film in the X-Men trilogy. Sure, we're getting spin-offs and such, but this movie closes off the main story of the cinematic X-Men universe. X-Men: The Last Stand focuses on not only the resurrection of Jean Grey, thought dead after the last movie, but also the emergence of a "cure" for mutantcy. While this film continues the main themes of the franchise, there's a big change behind the scenes that impacts the movie. Bryan Singer, director of the first two installments, opted to step down from X-Men: The Last Stand in order to work on Superman Returns, and was replaced by Brett Ratner. While I won't waste any time on the behind-the-scenes drama that enveloped the movie due to these changes, there are plenty of websites that can fill you in on it, the impact is quite noticeable. While the film basically looks the same as its predecessors, it does lack the visual flourish and feel from Singer's script work that aided the two previous installments.
That being said, the movie is still surprisingly enjoyable and actually pretty fun, even if it does lack the complexity of the previous two installments. But, as fun as it is, it doesn't allow the franchise to go out as well as it should have. It goes out with a bang, yes, but it seems so hollow compared to the earlier films. I'll give Ratner props for following through with plots from the previous two movies and tackling obvious metaphors that comes with "the cure" subplot of the movie, but it seems so glossed over compared and lacks the oomph that Singer brought to the series. Still, this movie is just brimming with characters, and Ratner's handling of Jean Grey/Phoenix is well done. And sure, having countless new mutants can't fix the plot holes and slight script, ripe with cliches and some of the most cringe-worthy dialog of the trilogy, but it's enough to keep fans glued to the screen for the duration. Like I said, that doesn't excuse a story that should have been more epic, especially for this franchise, but at least this film brings the franchise to respectful, if imperfect and conventional, conclusion.
As I said, so long ago in the introduction to this review, the X-Men Trilogy is a great movie franchise, though far from perfect. The franchise starts off well enough with the enjoyable X-Men, even though the movie is edited down to the bare bones, but then takes a dramatic swing upward with the more complex installment in X2: X-Men United, before coming back down for a serviceable conclusion in X-Men: The Last Stand. Now, X-Men: The Last Stand isn't as horrible as many make it out to be. While it lacks the strength of Singer's vision, it manages to get the job done and respectfully wrap things up, but I can understand that, after coming from X2: X-Men United, why the third installment can seen seen as an overstuffed, convoluted, and disappointing conclusion. Still, all together, these three movies do form an enjoyable and complete story that definitely make up a solid film franchise. While the quality of these films do vary, X-Men Trilogy still makes for a satisfying film series and is a Must Own for hardcore and casual fans alike.
Fox Home Entertainment has packaged X-Men Trilogy, and the three movies included, in regular Elite Blu-ray cases housed in a double cardboard slipcase cover. And what do I mean by "double?" Well, there's basically two cardboard cases, a smaller one housed in a bigger one. Once you get beyond the two cardboard slipcases and crack into each individual Blu-ray cases, nine Blu-ray discs are what await. As you can expect, each film gets three discs covering the main feature, bonus content, and the Digital Copy.
Starting with the audio and video presentation for this collection, it's safe to say that all three movies have never looked better.
For the video, all three films receive the solid 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 treatment and they each look great. Now, the quality does vary film to film, but overall, these flicks look pretty stunning. Having seen X-Men previously on both VHS and DVD, it's amazing to see that, even with Blu-ray, it still feels like there's something to discover with this new high-def transfer. The movie looks absolutely stunning, even if it doesn't hold up to the later films. The colors don't seem as bold or solid, but the detail is still impressive. As we progress, X2: X-Men United definitely looked more sharper than the first flick, but the video transfer seem a bit softer than what I was expecting. The colors here are quite amazing and, as I said, even though the film looks a bit soft, the detail is still pretty amazing when compared to its previous DVD release. Predictably, X-Men: The Last Stand looks the best. While there's some slight compression, the degree of texture and detail is really impressive, resulting in an absolutely gorgeous transfer.
Moving on to the audio, the same above can be said for the audio transfer of these three movies. X-Men and X2: X-Men United both get a 5.1 DTS-HD English Master Audio while the third gets a 6.1 DTS-HD lossless mix. Each release also includes 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks in English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese. It's an engaging track for X-Men, coming in crisp and clear, though the age is quite apparent in audio transfer. In short, it sounds great but doesn't really stand out. Still, the sub-woofer gets an incredible workout whenever Magneto unleashes his power. For X2: X-Men United, the audio track really makes every moment come out crisp in clear. Whether it's a quiet moment or a huge action scene, this track seems to be very engaging and perfectly accents what's going on during the film. Finally, as expected, X-Men: The Last Stand has the best audio transfer of the three movies, sounding rugged, loud and absolutely aggressive.
Looking at the extras, it goes without saying that the bonus content here is staggering. Each movie has a wealth of material, even if the majority of the standard definition (480p) bonus content is ported over from the previous DVD releases of these three movies. So, disc by disc, let's go through the bonus content.
X-Men comes packed with the bonus features, porting over the extras found on the original X-Men DVD release and the X-Men 1.5 special edition release that came a couple years afterward. Bonus features are spread over the first two discs of the three dedicated to X-Men. The bonus features kick off with an audio commentary by Director Bryan Singer and Brian Peck followed by a special Enhanced Viewing Mode, allowing viewers to watch a version of the film with deleted and extended scenes inserted back into the film. Please note this is nearly identical to the previous versions of the Enhanced Viewing Mode featured on the previous X-Men DVD releases. This extra also includes an extended commentary track and 17 behind-the-scenes pieces that can also be viewed during the film by pressing the appropriate key at the designated time. And, naturally, all of this content is also accessible separately through the menu. The first disc also contains the classic EPK "Fox Special: Mutant Watch," a five-part interview with Bryan Singer by Charlie Rose, animatics, a pair of Art Galleries, three TV spots, an advertisement for the soundtrack, and a selection of high-def trailers. The disc is also enhanced for D-Box Motion Control Systems.
The second disc includes the original X-Men 1.5 DVD introduction by Bryan Singer, which I thought was a great touch to the release. Following that we get a five-part documentary called "Evolution X," which follows the production of the movie. The documentary is divided into several parts and include "The Uncanny Suspects," "X-Factor," "Costume/Makeup Tests and Image Gallery," "Production Documentary Scrapbook," "The Special Effects of the X-Men" and "Reflection of the X-Men Retrospective." As you can tell, each segment covers a different aspect of the film's production and also uses seamless branching to include additional segments and short little featurettes during the documentary. This includes small things like "Hugh Jackman's Screen Test," "Ellis Island Premiere," a gallery of still art, and much more. All things considered, this documentary, including the additional seamless branching material, clocks in at almost three hours worth of content,and it's very detailed, very gritty stuff. There's barely a stone left unturned here. The second disc is rounded off with a "Marketing" section, which includes trailers, TV spots, and Internet interstitials.
The third disc for X-Men is a standard definition digital copy of the movie.
The first disc for X2: X-Men United, once you get past the movie, jumps right into the commentaries. The first disc features an audio commentary by Director Bryan Singer and Cinematographer Tom Sigel, and then a second audio commentary by Producers Lauren Shuler Donner and Ralph Winter, and Writers Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris and David Hayter. Both tracks are very enjoyable, but I'm sure fans will enjoy the first one, with Bryan Singer, due to how breezy and informative it is. The disc, which is is also enhanced for D-Box Motion Control Systems, wraps up with an assortment of trailers.
The second disc features a host of bonus content for X2: X-Men United, clocking in, again, at nearly three hours worth of content. First up is "History of the X-Men Featurettes," a documentary broken up into two parts - "The Secret Origin of X-Men" and "The Nightcrawler Reborn." The documentary features interviews with Marvel writers, including Stan Lee and Chris Claremont, about the creation of the characters and how they endured, with a particular focus on Nightcrawler in the second half. Next is the multi-part "Pre-Production," another extra divided into several different segments focusing on different aspects of the movie, including a look at the "White House" sequence from the movie, a close look at the sets and movie props, and costumes. Following that, the multi-part "Productions" featurette include a look at the rehearsals for the Wolverine/Deathstrike fight, a featurette on Alan Cumming's work as Nightcrawler, a closer look at the special effects used for Nightcrawler, and a look at the make-up process for Nightcrawler. After that is a featurette based on the movie's special effects, and a one-hour documentary covering the production of the movie in much closer detail. It covers a remarkable amount of ground for an hour program. Finally, "Post-Production" features a look at the score and the webcast done for the movie's promotion. Wrapping tings up are a series of deleted scenes, several still galleries, and the film's theatrical trailers in high definition.
And, you guessed it, the third disc for X2: X-Men United contains a standard definition copy of the feature
Moving onto the third and final film, X-Men: The Last Stand, the bonus content is just as plentiful here. The first disc, once we get past the main feature, includes an audio commentary by Director Brett Ratner and Screenwriters Simon Kinberg & Zak Penn, an additional audio commentary by Producers Avi Arad, Lauren Shuler Donner and Ralph Winter, and over twenty deleted scenes. The commentaries aren't as engaging as the Bryan Singer ones, but amidst the bad jokes and self-congratulatory banter, there's the odd nugget of neat production information. The deleted scenes are mostly alternate takes and scene extensions, with the majority not really adding anything, though they due hint at a darker and more violent movie. The scenes cut from the climactic battle at the end of the film shows a higher body count, and the tussle as Jean Grey's childhood home is much more violent. The disc also features a collection of high definition trailers for other related Marvel movies. Finally, the disc is also enhanced for D-Box Motion Control Systems.
Moving onto the second disc dedicated to X-Men: The Last Stand, the second disc contains a wealth of bonus material. The second disc includes "Brett Ratner's Production Diary, a detailed look into the production of the movie. After that is "X-Men:' Evolution of a Trilogy", a collection of three EPKs repackaged to look like a retrospective on the films of the trilogy. "X3: The Excitement Continues" is a basic behind-the-scenes featurette featuring interviews with the cast and crew. The disc also contains a featurette based on the "Golden Gate Bridge" sequence of the movie, and text-based biographies of the main characters of the trilogy. Keeping in line with the previous releases, this disc also contains a lengthy featurette, clocking in at over an hour, looking at the comic book roots of the X-Men. It's a great documentary that fans will undoubtedly enjoy, covering everything from the Uncanny X-Men of the 1970s to the Astonishing X-Men of today. After that, the third disc rolls on with a couple "Fox Movie Channel Presents" featurettes based on X-Men: The Last Stand, followed by a host of vignettes and blogs focuses on the many aspects of the film, including costume design, props, cameos, editing, animatics, and much more. Wrapping things up are the three trailers for the movie in high-definition.
Naturally, the third disc dedicated to X-Men: The Last Stand contains a standard definition copy of the feature.
Also note that all three films included in X-Men Trilogy are BD-Live enabled, allowing consumers access to a special X-Men Origins: Wolverine clip and E-Movie Cash.
If you've managed to get through all of the above, and congratulations if you were somehow able to, then it goes without saying that this is one hefty package of bonus materials. The nine-disc X-Men Trilogy box set, without a doubt, features a wealth of bonus material that fans should definitely be more than pleased with. While the majority of the bonus material is ported over from the previous DVD releases of the three respective movies, there still is enough exclusive content here to make this a worthwhile purchase. While the quality of the X-Men films may vary, all three together still make up a fun franchise and the extras are well-executed and expertly put-together. After wading through this incredibly long review, it should come as no surprise that X-Men Trilogy gets stamped as Must Own, for casual and hardcore fans alike. But seriously, how can you pass up this collection? Not only do you get all three X-Men movies in high definition, but they come collected in a sturdy package and feature an absolute wealth of bonus content. This is one collection that should not be missed!
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