By Steve Vivona
Fox, $29.95, Widescreen
When it comes to movies based on my favorite comic book characters I've always felt like a Brooklyn Dodger fan. Since I was a kid I've been an avowed Marvel Zombie, and my favorite characters were (and still are) Spider-Man and The Hulk, amongst others. However movies based on Marvel characters have failed miserably. Remember "Howard the Duck?" "The Punisher?" "Captain America?" If you don't you didn't miss much. Meanwhile DC has managed to have huge hits that spawned franchises with benchmark characters like Batman and Superman. Even the independents like Dark Horse and Image have had more success with films like "The Mask" and "Spawn."
There seemed to be a light at the end of the tunnel with the 1998 release of "Blade" starring Wesley Snipes. While Blade was definitely a lower-tier character it proved that if done correctly, Marvel characters were viable at the box office. With breathless anticipation we all waited for the release of "X-Men" because that would truly tell the story. For Marvel it was sink or swim and the future of any theatrical properties hinged on the success of this film.
Well after years of taking a back seat to DC Marvel finally scored and scored big. "X-Men" won acceptance from fans and crtics alike and went on to gross more than $155 million. A sequel is assured and tons of other Marvel projects have been greenlit, most importantly the long-long-long delayed "Spider-Man" movie, which will be directed by Sam Raimi and star Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker.
I had a good feeling about "X-Men" almost from the start. The casting was perfect. Patrick Stewart was born to play Professor Charles Xavier, leader of The X-Men, and Ian McKellan brought the right combination of majesty and menace to his role as Magneto, the X-Men's arch-enemy.
Everyone knew that the casting of Wolverine was crucial. Originally Dougray Scott ("Ever After," "MI:2") was cast but when the "MI:2" shoot went behind schedule, Australian actor Hugh Jackman was brought in. Quite simply he became Wolverine. Readers of the comic know that he inhabited this character perfectly. There are so many nice little touches in the film geared especially to comic fans that I lost count.
As the McCarthy-esque Senator Kelly pushes through a Mutant Registration Act, heightening the paranoia already caused by mutants, Magneto has devised a plan to level the playing field between humans and mutants. The lynchpin of his plan is Rogue (Anna Paquin) a 17-year old girl who has the ability to absorb the powers of other mutants with the merest touch.
After running away from home Rogue encounters Logan (AKA Wolverine) in the Canadian North Woods. After she saves his life in a bar Logan reluctantly allows Rogue to accompany him on his travels but they are quickly interrupted by Sabretooth (Tyler Mane), an incredibly powerful mutant working for Magneto.
They are rescued by Cyclops (James Marsden) and Storm (Halle Berry) of the X-Men who bring the pair to Charles Xaviers School for Gifted Youngters. There Xavier explains the threat posed by Magneto and offers them membership in the X-Men. Logan is incredulous at first but an offer from Xavier to help him sort out his past makes him reconsider.
Magneto kidnaps Rogue because he needs her absorption abilities to power a machine that will cause all of humanity to mutate. Of course the X-Men mount a rescue setting up a thrilling finale atop the Statue of Liberty.
"X-Men" was, for me, the perfect comic book movie. It had a reverence for the source material but it was accessible for all audiences. No one needs to have read the comic for 30 years to follow what is essentially a very straightforward story.
As directed by Bryan Singer ("The Usual Suspects") the film is more of a character study than an action-adventure piece. While the action is there (and very impressive too) the film focuses more on the relationships between these heroes and the film is better for it. Jackman really stands out as Logan, and uses the source material for his characterization (what better blueprint?)
As expected Fox has put together an impressive DVD package for "X-Men." Firstly the transfer is immaculate. Colors are strong and true with no compression artifacts and a razor-sharp image. The image has been letterboxed at a 2:35: 1 aspect ratio and is anamorphic. Sound quality is just amazing. This will be a reference disc for all you audiophiles who love to show off.
Also included are six deleted scenes which have been edited back into the film and can be viewed in an extended branching version. Hugh Jackman's screen test has been included as well as a 20-minute documentary that originally aired on Fox. Excerpts from an interview Charlie Rose did with Singer are included as well as storyboards, animatics and trailers. Two neat Easter Eggs are included that are really for the serious comic fan!