Lionsgate // 2008 // 68 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // April 27th, 2009
"The fans have let us know that that is not right; Wolverine's no leader, how could this happen? And, I assure you that we know he's no leader. That's why we did it." -- Craig Kyle
For decades, X-Men has been one of Marvel Comics' most profitable properties. The comic book has spawned a wildly popular live-action feature film trilogy and two previous animated television series: X-Men: The Animated Series was part of Fox Kids' line-up from 1992 to 1993, and X-Men: Evolution played on Kids' WB from 2000 to 2003. With Marvel's launch of its own animation studio, the comic book publishing giant has brought everyone's favorite team of super-powered mutants to the small screen once again with Wolverine and the X-Men (first season episodes began airing on the Nicktoons Network in early 2009). After a series of direct-to-video animated features such as Ulimate Avengers, The Invincible Iron Man, and Hulk vs., Wolverine and the X-Men is Marvel Animation's first venture into episodic television. It's a solid start.
Wolverine and the X-Men: Heroes Return Trilogy contains "Hindsight," the three-part episode that kicked off the series. In part one, Professor X and Jean Gray go missing after the X-Mansion is destroyed in an explosion. The story picks up a year later. The X-Men have disbanded and scattered. On the lam, Logan brings the Mutant Response Division down on his own head by rescuing a non-mutant young girl from a fire. When the MRD detains and interrogates the girl and her grateful parents, Wolverine tracks down Hank McCoy (aka Beast) to help him execute a jailbreak. While in the MRD detention facility, Wolverine and Beast free all of the imprisoned mutants.
In part two, the MRD and local law enforcement have their hands full trying to round up all of the mutants that Logan and Hank released. When the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants reforms to oppose Senator Kelly's Mutant Registration Act and his proposal to build an army of robotic Prowlers to protect humans from mutants, Wolverine and Beast decide it's time to reunite the X-Men, but have trouble getting anyone but Warren Worthington (Angel), Bobby Drake (Iceman), and Kitty Pride (Shadowcat) to join them. Demoralized by Jean's disappearance, Cyclops has no interest in returning to his old team. Meanwhile, Domino convinces Rogue to reject the X-Men in favor of joining the Brotherhood.
In part three, Angel uses his father's vast fortune to rebuild the X-Mansion and Cerebro. Emma Frost arrives uninvited at the mansion with an offer to use Cerebro to help the X-Men locate Xavier. Despite his misgivings, Wolverine allows Frost to use telepathic device. She locates Professor X in Magneto's separatist island nation of Genosha. Xavier is in a coma, but his disembodied psyche visits Logan and the other X-Men, warning them of a future in which their apathy leads to a worldwide apocalypse at the hands of an army of ruthless Sentinels. The team resolves to stick together regardless of the challenges they face.
The title Wolverine and the X-Men alone kicked up a minor controversy among fanboys. Though Wolverine is easily the most popular and recognizable of the X-Men (especially after Hugh Jackman's memorable portrayal of the character in Bryan Singer's X-Men and X2: X-Men United), the idea that the burly, abrasive anti-hero with retractable Adamantium claws could lead the X-Men was an affront to comic book purists. I can't say how effectively putting Wolverine front and center works across all 26 episodes of this series' first season since the three episodes on this disc are on the only ones I've seen, but it works quite well in Heroes Trilogy -- in large part because Wolverine isn't so much the leader of the X-Men as he's the guy left to manage a particularly nasty crisis in which Professor X is absent and Cyclops is too beaten down by life to stand in his traditional role as the group's tactical leader.
As producer Craig Kyle acknowledges in one of the electronic press kits included on this disc, Wolverine is not a leader. What makes the episodes on this disc fun, though, is watching the lone wolf anti-hero struggle against his personal deficiencies in order to hold his team together. One of the episodes' surprising charms is the perfect partnership between Wolverine and Beast. Both are vicious and tough, but Beast's cool-headed rationalism is the ideal antidote to Logan's "slash first, ask questions later" approach to conflict. Without Beast checking his worst instincts, Wolverine would be an utter disaster calling the shots (even with Beast helping him, he makes unnecessary mistakes -- an assault on Genosha ends with Magneto soundly defeating the X-Men, urging them to "use the front door" the next time they want to pay him a visit, and inviting them to move to the mutant paradise any time they please).
In addition to Wolverine and Beast, the show uses an interesting mix of X-Men, though the supporting cast tends to change from episode to episode in order to best utilize the massive number characters that have appeared in the comic book over the years. Stand-out characters from the feature film trilogy such as Storm, Cyclops, and Jean Grey are pushed into the periphery in favor of Angel, Emma Frost, and Iceman who have central roles in the drama. Characters like Boom Boom, Wolfsbane, Rockslide, Forge, and others have small but significant roles, usually in single episodes. The ever-shifting cast may be annoying to fans who want to see their favorite characters in more than cameos (X-Men: The Last Stand used the same technique to less than stellar effect), but it fits well with the chaos at the heart of the three-part story on this disc. Wolverine and his team are in crisis mode, reacting as best they can to events they don't fully understand. That characters drift in and out of our view feels perfectly natural given the lightning pace of the story.
Animation-wise, Wolverine and the X-Men is decent by television standards, but only decent. The character designs are excellent, but movement -- particularly in action sequences -- is mediocre (it doesn't compare to the smooth visuals in The Spectacular Spider-Man, a show produced by Sony). This DVD presents the show in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, enhanced for widescreen displays. The good news is that colors are bold and accurate. The bad news is that the transfer exhibits some isolated compression artifacts, especially during action sequences. Audio is a Dolby 5.1 mix that is full-bodied for a television program, though dynamic range is limited and the rear soundstage isn't used aggressively.
I've seen enough of these single-disc three-episode collections of kids' shows not to expect much in the way of supplemental material. Wolverine and the X-Men: Heroes Return Trilogy is a pleasant surprise. There are two commentary tracks, each of which stretches across all three episodes. The first is by directors Boyd Kirkland and Steven Gordon; the second is by writers Craig Kyle and Greg Johnson. Both are interesting, though the second is the better of the two because Kyle and Johnson know the X-Men and they delve deeply into their rationale for making Wolverine the leader of the team in this show. There are two electronic press kits, one of which was produced to air on Nicktoons. Finally, a feature called "Character Profiles" is really a series of brief TV spots that aired on Nicktoons to introduce young viewers to the show's main characters.
Wolverine and the X-Men: Heroes Return Trilogy is a great kick-off to the television series, but ending as it does with the X-Men at the beginning of their fight to rescue Xavier and to save the world, it's not much of a stand-alone adventure. This set is okay for parents who want to pick up a small dose of X-Men for their kids on the cheap (unlike Marvel Animation's PG-13 rated features like Ultimate Avengers and The Invincible Iron Man, this one's suitable for children), but fans of the show or the comic book are better off holding out for the inevitable Season One box set.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 68 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Character Profiles