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"There is a war coming. Are you sure you're on the right side?",
This review is from: X-Men [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
The first film of a new franchise is always tricky, trying to satisfy existing fans and introduce the characters to a new audience is an almost thankless task - you can't please everyone, but X-Men succeeds, mostly...
Starting the film at a Nazi concentration camp instantly gives it gravitas - this isn't a silly superhero film, it means business and seeing a young boy twisting the metal of the gates separating him from his parents as he stands terrified is an incredibly effective opening. Straight away this becomes a human story and we can sympathise with the villain, he's not a one dimensional baddy - he has a history, a past which gives him a motive to resent humankind.
The strength of the X-Men film is that it is grounded in reality, the political struggles the mutants experience reflect the social movements of the twentieth century where prejudice is driven by fear and ignorance. The 'real world' feel means that the film can pull off a farfetched plot without it looking ridiculous as the 'X-Men' from Charles Xavier's school for gifted youngsters find themselves pitted against Magneto and his disdain for non-mutants. The main story itself isn't very complex, but the real substance comes from the more subtle relationships, particularly between new members Logan and Marie who find that integrating with their own kind isn't always that easy.
Black leather outfits look edgy and help to give the film a dark feel, bright costumes wouldn't have been in keeping with the tone - in fact, surely a highlight for the fans was Cyclops' "yellow spandex" comment, a great nod to the original comics. The visual effects in X-Men perhaps aren't as grand as the ones in the X-Men 2, but they are still very well executed and will please those wanting action but not at the expense of drama. This is a film which benefits from some tremendous acting talent, both Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen have great screen presence and their performances as the two opposing leaders of their own very different cause brings not only a theatrical sincerity, but also a warmth which makes them both so incredibly likeable. Instead a of a simplified good versus evil battle, this is a clash of two very distinct philosophies from two great minds who understand and respect each other. You get a genuine sense that there is a long history between them, although they oppose each other there's also an underlying fondness which gives their adversarial interaction a magnetic quality (pardon any pun). Although it's hard to imagine anyone else as Wolverine now, Hugh Jackman was something of a surprise casting and many were sceptical that he could fill such big shoes - he did of course, and brilliantly so. His growling, rough-around-the-edges portrayal adds to the mystery of the man, along with Magneto and Xavier, Wolverine's story carries the film, he too is a well developed character with enough humour and compassion to make him lovable.
This blu-ray release looks bright with details well rendered. The film looks great in high definition, though it isn't too kind to some of the special effects; the CGI on Wolverine's claws look a bit obvious at times! In terms of bonus features, this isn't much of an upgrade from the DVD release - personally I didn't have the DVD and so the extras seem more impressive to me. Extended scenes are nice to have - but don't bother watching included within the film, I think they're in standard definition and the detail looks a bit 'mushy' when sandwiched inside the main Hi-Def feature. The best additional feature is the documentary "Evolution X" which runs for over two hours and explores all aspects of production, though it does get a bit repetitive with some areas touched on several times!
In a nutshell: This was a film to make or break the X-Men film franchise, and thankfully it was handled well. This succeeds where The Fantastic Four movies failed, visual effects aren't enough - you need characters you can believe in, on both sides. X-Men sows seeds, introduces mystery, and asks questions we want to see concluded, it makes you want more.
Location: Doncaster, Yorkshire, UK.
Top Reviewer Ranking: 85