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Case Number 03370

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X2: X-Men United

Fox // 2003 // 135 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Chief Justice Michael Stailey // September 29th, 2003

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All Rise...

Editor's Note

Our review of X2: X-Men United (Blu-ray), published July 3rd, 2011, is also available.

The Charge

"Have you ever tried not being a mutant?"

Opening Statement

As the first film out of the gate in the summer 2003 box office derby, X2 dazzled its audience with greater intensity, stronger character development, and an evolved storyline layered with poignant social commentary. Those disappointed with the first film will find this to be a more thrilling ride, while fans of the comic book series will cheer the many nods to its near 40 year history—and the portent of things to come. To further enhance the experience, Fox has loaded this two-disc special edition with hours of insight and behind-the-scenes access to capture the attention of X-fans new and old alike.

Facts of the Case

Just another average day at Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters—home to genetically enhanced students learning to embrace their unique talents and understand their place in the world. With Logan's (Wolverine) quest to unlock a missing past coming up empty, his return to the X-Mansion will bring forth more answers than he bargained for. Not so far away, in the Oval Office of the White House, a covert government operation, sanctioned by the president himself, has set its sights on Xavier's institute as the first step in eradicating the so-called worldwide mutant menace and the last step in exacting bitter revenge. This time, Logan and the kids must rally the troops and call on the assistance of two former enemies to stave off an ambush and rescue their fallen comrades. But will it be enough to combat the fanatical forces of Col. William Stryker?

The Evidence

Based on the 1982 critically acclaimed graphic novel, God Loves, Man Kills by writer Chris Claremont and artist Brent Anderson, X2 reshapes the X-Men mythos for the big screen and a new generation with surprisingly well-executed results. Adaptations are oftentimes difficult, as a certain percentage of the audience comes into the film with a great deal of expectations. Director Bryan Singer and his writing team—Zak Penn, David Hayter, Dan Harris, and Michael Dougherty—succeed by taking the essence of these characters along with the core message of this story and making them their own. It would be foolish to even attempt condensing 40 years of history and melodrama into two hours—lessons learned well from their work on the expository-laden first film.

X2 is a taut, well-paced action/adventure, touching on age-old themes. As originally written, God Loves, Man Kills was an allegory for racial violence and hatred, using religion as the weapon of choice. Today, twenty years later, those themes hold even more validity in dealing not only with human equality but extending into areas such as gender, sexual orientation, mental and physical disabilities, et cetera. At its core, X2 is about tolerance and accepting what the universe has given us instead of lashing out in anger and finding someone to blame for our personal circumstances.

Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) has embraced the gifts and limitations he has been given, choosing to make it his life's work to enable other similarly situated individuals to do the same. Magneto (Sir Ian McKellan) has also embraced his personal power, choosing to use it to eradicate those who fear and suppress his uniqueness. The third and final leg in this tragic triad, William Stryker (Brian Cox), refuses to accept any of the events in his life, instead using them as excuses and weapons to seek vengeance against those he feels are responsible for his unhappiness. If gone unchecked, this imbalance of forces will eventually destroy everyone involved.

Tolerance is a word often used but never fully understood. We tolerate the noise our neighbors make. We tolerate the inefficiencies and ineffectiveness of our government. We tolerate our jobs, even though we dream of pursuing our life's passions. Yet this is not truly tolerance at all. X2 illustrates…

• Tolerance is embracing ourselves—warts and all—developing and utilizing our natural talents to make a positive contribution to the world.

• Tolerance is accepting others and their uniqueness, leveraging the power of our differences to affect positive change.

• It is our right and responsibility to question and challenge authority, never accepting things at face value or blindly following the masses to avoid feeling different or abnormal.

• Summer movies don't have to be brainless, Bruckheimer barrages of explosions and empty plots.

Give this X-team credit for creating a story that operates on many different levels and casting actors who bring even its most subtle nuances to life. While marketed as a Wolverine film, it's the ensemble that sells it. Hugh Jackman delves even deeper into Logan's shattered psyche, fighting to control his own rage to ensure the safety and security of his newly adopted family—and engaging in one of the greatest fight scenes on film opposite Kelly Hu as the mind-controlled, near mute Lady Deathstrike. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan are, as always, understatedly brilliant as two sides of the same coin, neither being 100% right or wrong but each firmly entrenched in their convictions. Brian Cox is masterful as the enraged antagonist, always a half step away from insanity, while never losing site of his ultimate goal. Unfortunately, the majority of the X-adults are nothing more than filler. Scott/Cyclops (James Marsden) has little to do but look bitter and use his eye blasts on occasion. Ororo/Storm (Halle Berry) gets a new wig and creates CGI tornadoes in a wild air chase. Jean (Famke Janssen) suffers a debilitating expansion of her powers, laying the groundwork for future stories. Even the introduction of Alan Cumming as Nightcrawler, aside from an incredible opening sequence, falls short of being a critical plot element, while still serving as an underscoring example of tolerance. It is only Rebecca Romijn-Stamos who is given her time to shine, playing fast and loose with the character of Mystique, continually walking the fine line between hero and villain.

The surprise talent of X2 is found in three actors and their respective performances. Anna Paquin (Rogue) takes on a smaller but more integral role as the quick thinking veteran X-child, no longer the damsel in distress. Shawn Ashmore (Bobby/Iceman) steps into the spotlight as the object of Rogue's affections and the self-assured leader of X-men the next generation. Aaron Stafford (John/Pyro) takes on the bad boy role as the alluringly enflamed anti-thesis of Ashmore's Iceman. Representing a new generation and the potential catalyst for change, it's through their eyes we get to see the truth and consequences of our actions. The question is, in the end, are we changed by what we see or do we squander this opportunity, destroying their innocence, and once again doom ourselves to repeat the mistakes of centuries past?

Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, X2 has a more lustrous look and feel than its predecessor. The warm wood and earth tones of the mansion, the haunting beauty of Nightcrawler's church, the stark nothingness of Magneto's plastic prison, and the gritty underworld of Stryker's command center give the film life and depth. There is little or no evidence of dirt or digital tampering, placing this transfer on the Top 10 list for 2003 releases. The Dolby 5.1 and DTS audio tracks explode through all five channels, bringing us right to the heart of the action, never allowing us to leave. Crank up your surround system and warn your neighbors. Fox also gives us Dolby 2.0 versions in French and Spanish, with English, French, and Spanish subtitles, although it's quite bizarre to experience Logan's fury in a foreign tongue.

If you are a student of special features, this edition has got it all!

Feature Commentaries
Two to be exact. Director Bryan Singer and cinematographer (DP) Tom Siegel are self-effacing and shameless in sharing all sorts of behind-the-scenes stories, while producers Lauren Shuler-Donner and Ralph Winter team with writers Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris, and a remotely located David Hayter comment on the film's genesis and evolution. Personally, I preferred the Singer and Siegel version.

The History
The first of four collections of bonus material, History consists of a 15-minute featurette entitled "The Secret Origin of the X-Men" which goes back into the comic book origins with creator Stan Lee, writer Chris Claremont, creative director Avi Arad, and the original film crew. It appears this was leftover material from the first film, as there is no mention of X2. The other segment is an eight-minute featurette on the origin and evolution of Nightcrawler, a character who has gone from outcast, to star circus performer, to X-man, to European superhero, to tortured man of the cloth. He's a character of great depth that is only barely touched on in the film.

Pre-Production
As one might expect, this collection spotlights the massive amount of work that took place before the cameras even began rolling. "Designing X2" takes us into the world of production designer Guy Dyas exploring the tools and tricks used to ensure the production values of X2 were above and beyond those of the first film (16 minutes). Costume designer Louise Mingenbach gives us an eight-minute explanation of the challenges she faced in the "United Colors of X2." Finally, the most interesting segment is a "Multi-Angle Study" of the film's opening sequence in which Nightcrawler invades the White House. This four-minute feature allows you to view the original plans for the sequence versus what was actually shown onscreen in side-by-side (actually top-bottom) comparison.

Production
Watch director Bryan Singer's hair change length and color during the course of the shoot! Thrill to Alan Cumming piss and moan about his makeup experience! Experience true behind-the-scenes mayhem when actors are allowed to do their own stunts! Six segments here account for nearly 90 minutes of bonus material, ranging from a 60-minute "Making Of" featurette to a three-minute Nightcrawler stunt rehearsal in which he rips his costume pants. Also included is a Wolverine/Deathstrike Fight Rehearsal (three minutes), a Nightcrawler makeup time-lapse (three minutes), another Nightcrawler featurette (10 minutes), and FX2, a 25-minute look at the effects used on the film. Pay careful attention to the car explosion sequence to see just how close stunts come to being disastrous.

Post-Production
John Ottman, who was unavailable for the first film, returns to the Singer filmmaking family to score X2 and a five-minute featurette talks about the challenges he faced, cleaning up the mess left behind by composer Michael Kamen. Also included is a 23-minute recap of the film's theatrical debut via Internet webcast.

Deleted/Extended Scenes
The more special editions I see, the more I am convinced the editor's first choice is usually his best. Included here are 11 deleted and/or extended scenes smartly removed by the Singer editing team. However, it is interesting to view an elongated version of the battle between Logan and Lady D, as well as a clearer visual explanation of Mutant143's manipulation of Xavier's mind. While there is no separate commentary for these scenes, Singer and Siegel make reference to most of them during their feature commentary.

Promotional Materials
Thanks for hanging in there. The final batch of bonus material consists of still galleries (ho hum), theatrical trailers, and a Fox studio PSA that has no connection to X2 or the X-Men whatsoever. Doing their civic duty perhaps?

Closing Statement

Director Bryan Singer and his longtime creative team have succeeded where many others have tried and failed—adapt a comic book franchise that is faithful to its source material, visionary in scope, and compelling to a diverse audience who may be completely unfamiliar with its history. X2 is a film that proudly stands on its own and will endure the test of time. While Tim Burton's Batman, Richard Donner's Superman, and Sam Raimi's Spider-Man all focus on the plights and demons of one individual hero, X2 turns the mirror back on humanity and the evil that we achieve as a collective whole. For that alone it is worth experiencing. A must buy for fans of the comic book and the film franchise. A must rent for everyone else.

The Verdict

Mutants around the world are hereby allowed to live their lives free from hatred and persecution, lending their unique gifts to the betterment of all living things. The creative team and Fox studios are commended for not pandering to the masses and in so doing raising the standard for summer films. We hope the trend continues. This court is adjourned.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 99
Audio: 99
Extras: 100
Acting: 95
Story: 97
Judgment: 98

Special Commendations

• Golden Gavel 2003 Winner: #7
• Top 100 Discs: #80

Perp Profile

Studio: Fox
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 135 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
Genres:
• Action
• Blockbusters
• Superheroes

Distinguishing Marks

• Feature Commentary -- Director Bryan Singer and DP Tom Siegel
• Feature Commentary -- Producers Lauren Shuler-Donner, Ralph Winter, and Writers Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris, and David Hayter
• The History -- Two Featurettes (23 minute)
• Pre-Production -- Two Featurettes and a Multi-Angle Study (28 minute)
• Production -- Three Featurettes, Stunt Rehearsal, Fight Rehearsal, and Makeup Time-Lapse (90 minutes)
• Post-Production -- Featurette and Webcast (28 minutes)
• 11 Deleted Scenes
• Photo Galleries
• Original Theatrical Trailers
• PSA

Accomplices

• IMDb
• Official Site
• Marvel Comics








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