The X-Men Trilogy is an antithesis to Hollywood’s traditional presentation of three-film arcs where the middle chapter falls short of expectations relegating filmmakers to rehash the original’s ideas into the finale. The adventures of Wolverine, Xavier, Magneto and other gifted mutants do not save the best for last which makes watching all three films consecutively tougher than it sounds.
Brian Singer’s interpretation of X-Men for the big screen managed to withstand riotous Internet backlash over black leather outfits en-route to surprisingly audiences with a credible and entertaining entry in the superhero film pantheon. Even nearly a decade removed since its debut, the original X-Men film overcomes the necessity of ensemble character introduction and some questionable special effects to set an enticing table for a sequel.
With Fox willing to crack open the checkbook for X2: X-Men United, Singer blew open the franchise with one of the best superhero films produced to-date. This sequel is special from the opening scene where teleporter Nightcrawler works his way through White House security to deliver a message to our Commander in Chief. The action, tension, music and intensity of this scene bests anything from the original and the rest of the film follows suit.
It was clear in X-Men that Hugh Jackman as Wolverine was a fan favorite so his character’s back story plays an integral role threaded into X2’s main plot. An argument could be drawn that too much emphasis was placed on Wolverine and not enough on other mutants. Given the choice to grant more screen time to Wolverine or Halle Berry as Storm might as well be choosing between ice cream and cyanide for dessert.
X-Men: The Last Stand was beautifully set up by Singer with the birth of Jean Grey as Dark Phoenix. Before filming could get underway on X3, the wind was taken from the franchise’s sails when Singer left abruptly to pursue Superman at Warner, leaving Fox to find a last-minute replacement in the form of Rush Hour mastermind Brett Ratner. The unprepared director’s impersonal and rushed direction coupled with a “let’s finish this” determined script sans fan favorite Nightcrawler from X2 crashed and burned any hopes for a series continuation with these characters. Trying to get into Last Stand and its killing or undermining of characters immediately after cheering on X-Men United proved no easy task to stomach.
The first two X-Men films had been absent from Blu-ray collections until this Trilogy’s release, to which thanks is owed to X-Men Origins: Wolverine making its theatrical debut. Each is offered in its original aspect ratio with AVC MPEG-4 encoding at 1080p resolution.
The first X-Men is the softest of the bunch running at 31MBPS on average. Detail is above average but the overall picture is not as sharp as might be expected, especially a handful of darker interior shots in the film’s final act. X2: X-Men United boasts a slightly stronger transfer than its predecessor leaving little room for improvement. Detail is sharper and with the exception of some slight black crush during the mansion assault, there is little to complain about. Though X-Men: The Last Stand is the weakest film entry it is, hands down, the strongest video transfer in the Trilogy set that can be considered reference quality. Much of the action takes place at night with flashes of light, all of which are beautifully presented in high definition with no edge halos, crush, artifacts or other issues.
Judging audio quality for all three 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks is easier done as a whole. From Magneto’s use of his “power” in X-Men to Nightcrawler’s teleporting in United to Dark Phoenix’s use of her “power” in Last Stand, each of these soundtracks delivers the kind of powerful lossless audio expected from big hollywood effects extravaganzas. LFE digs deep often, surrounds come to life as much, if not more, and quieter scenes still deliver soft ambient noise with crystal clear clarity. Even when explosions are ringing right and left, dialogue never requires jacking up the volume on the fly.
D-BOX Motion Code
The X-Men films are perfect candidates for D-BOX motion enhancement with seemingly nonstop practical and fantastical action sequences those wonderful mutant powers bring about. In X-Men, D-BOX is put to work immediately during the opening “DNA Tunnel” that offers a solid and unexpected “reverse” kickback at the end. It is a brief, but new, D-BOX motion sensation to experience. Other memorable moments include Mageto’s machine being put to use (the D-BOX highlight), Cerebro being activated and used, and hand-to-hand mutant combat between pretty much anyone.
I raved about how spectacular the Nightcrawler sequence is in X2: X-Men United and that carries into the D-BOX track as well. His quick and sudden movements, even in slow-motion, get the chair rocking fast. The real D-BOX treat in X2 comes when the X-Jet must maneuver through Storm’s tornadoes while being pursued by military fighters. Tons of lateral and “floating” movements build to a climax when the jet is hit and slams to a half just above the ground with Magneto’s aid. The sequence’s motion effects are awesome and spot-on with the action on-screen from to start to finish and worth multiple return visits more than any other scene in the film.
Judged individually and the first two X-Men film D-BOX tracks would be perfect scores. When compared to what The Last Stand has to offer there is hardly any comparison at all. There are two sequences involving Dark Phoenix: one in the house with Charles and at the end with Wolverine, where the most intense D-BOX rumbling I have come across not only makes an appearance but sustains the intensity for minutes on end. I actually started to feel uncomfortable much like Dark Phoenix’s victims must have felt being exposed to her powers. Other scenes like Wolverine being flung through the forest by Magneto and Juggernaut slamming through walls are fantastic in their own right, but nothing comes close to comparing what Dark Phoenix and D-BOX deliver together.
Fox Home Entertainment has designed the menu interface to be coordinated across all three films which helps pull together the Trilogy into a “united” viewing experience. Upon boot-up with any of the films, a BD-Live download greeting requests a 1MB download that offers access to purchase X-Men Origins: Wolverine tickets online. The update is fast to the tune of 30 seconds or less and presumably will go away once Wolverine exits theaters. The only negative is there is no way to detect the update so you are continually prompted for it.
Most, if not all of the Bonus Features from the special edition DVD sets for each film have been ported to these Blu-ray versions. That is the good news. The bad news is Fox got lazy with the budget, time or both and did not bother offering high definition versions of most of these bonus features. Rather than hash through them all since they have been available for some time already, you can read the complete lists here, here and here.
Exclusive to the Trilogy set versus the standalone releases are Digital Copies for each film. These will not be a selling point for most but are a nice addition to offer something unique since the movie disc contents do not.
The X-Men Trilogy may not offer the most even distribution of sheer entertainment across its three films but it does provide some of the most explosive superhero action sustained through six hours than any other franchise can boast. The success of these films is a big reason why we are seeing the next evolution in comic book entertainment on the big screen today with even bigger budgets and smarter scripts. Though The Last Stand is a letdown creatively when released and remains so after repeat viewings, the Blu-ray audio, video and D-BOX high definition presentations on all three films deliver enough charged mutant energized goodness to rock anyone’s home.
– Dan Bradley