Uncanny entertainment

The ranks of movie sequels that can stand next to their predecessors are slim indeed: since audiences expect to see "the same thing, but different," sequels are usually by-the-numbers affairs that are eminently forgettable. To find a sequel, therefore, that not only matches the original, but surpasses it as well, is a rare thing.

Director Bryan Singer has added a film to these selective ranks with X-Men 2: X-Men United (2 hours 13 minutes, PG-13, 20th Century Fox). Set only a few weeks after the events of the first film, X2 escalates the tensions between mankind and their evolutionary offspring, the mutants. After the White House is invaded by a demonic blue mutant, the president charges General William Stryker with eliminating the perceived mutant menace.

Without having to trip over clumsy character introductions, the film can give its story over to the actual plot, which is more action-heavy than the original. This is definitely an ensemble piece, following 13 main characters through several converging storylines, but the large cast rarely feels crowded and the characters never degenerate into cartoony simulations: for all their super powers, these people are still only human.

The subtlety of character development may have been toned down, but the action sequences easily carry their weight in the film. The opening attack is spectacularly inventive, for instance, using a combination of physical and digital effects to portray the supernatural abilities of the assailant.

X2 is available on a two-disc set and a larger collector's set. Disc 1 features only two commentary tracks, saving most of its storage space to preserve the high quality of the film's picture and sound. Bryan Singer and cinematographer Tom Siegel share a lot of decent info in their track, but the second, with the screenwriters and producers can easily be skipped.

Disc 2 divides its content into categories covering History, Pre-Production, Production and Post-Production. History of the X-Men begins with the 15-minute "Secret Origin of X-Men," an examination of the film's four-color roots, followed by "Nightcrawler Reborn," an eight-minute look at the history of the fuzzy blue elf.

Pre-Production offers a multi-angle deconstruction of the Oval Office invasion, 18 minutes of set design and nine minutes of costuming. Production offers a lot of on-the-set footage, from stunt rehearsals and make-up design to a series of interviews with the cast. Post-Production's highlight is the 12-minute examination of the sound design. The disc is finished with 11 deleted scenes, six galleries and three trailers.

The collector's set features the same content as the standard, but also includes the original X-Men (1 hour 44 minutes, PG-13, 20th Century Fox) and a bonus disc of material related to that. While the hardcore geeks whined and moaned about everything from the uniforms to the color of characters' hair, the film was surprisingly mainstream and approachable.

Singer, who had previously proved his skill for handling large casts in The Usual Suspects, managed to change a lot of the comicbook elements without ruining the ideas or alienating audiences. The X-Men, in comic, cartoon or movie form have always been allegories, placing their meaning above any superficial changes, which is why he changes work.

The bonus features available for X-Men in this set are the same as those available for the last release, the ridiculously named X-Men 1.5: a commentary track, a pre-X2 tour of the sequel sets, production featurettes, cast interviews, make-up and costume designs, visual effects examination and a selection of trailers. The release of X-Men 1.5 was timed to help create hype for X2, so a lot of the features come off that way now. Still, this is a handy way to get both films at a discounted price.

Pros
two wonderful films, one low price

Cons
that stupid "toad/lightning" line

The Bottom Line
"We are not enemies, but friends; we must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break the bonds of our affection."

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