X-Men: First Class Blu-ray Review
X-Men: First Class comes to Region A-locked US Blu-ray complete with a 1080p High Definition video presentation in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.4:1 widescreen. Summer blockbuster material this is, and everybody was expecting it to look amazing and, indeed, it does. But it isn't quite perfect. My biggest niggle is to do with the filming approach – shot in that broad 2.4:1 format, the image suffers from the inherent softness-around-the-edges style which, whilst intentional, does mean that the image can't quite reach perfection. Still, as stated, this is nevertheless a superior, demo quality effort.
The central in-focus shots showcase excellent detail, the close-ups reveal every pore, every crack, every strand of hair; the longer shots offer up some great panoramic background glimpses (the moving-the-radio-mast sequence looks superb, and the final act is peppered with amazing effects-bolstered moments), and the image generally stands up without any obvious DNR or distracting digital defects; edge enhancement is also non-existent - all of which is exactly what you would have hoped for this kind of release. The colour scheme is also very well presented – the tones ranging from vivid and vibrant, to the more muted shades, helping to enhance the period setting and vibe. And the colours do look deeper and striking when required, reminding you that this is blockbuster material that we are dealing with. Black levels are solid and allow for decent night sequences and overall this is a superb presentation that definitely rides into reference quality even if it doesn't achieve a perfect 10.
On the aural front things are much more clear-cut, the movie accompanied by a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which really brings out the best in this thematically-strong, action-packed affair. Dialogue comes across clearly and coherently, dominating the frontal array wherever appropriate, but never afraid of taking a back seat when the score or action takes over. Effects are myriad, and well-represented – from the explosive blasts of Havoc to the magnetic powers of Magneto; with the final act packed to the brim with loud, effective noises which thoroughly engage the surround system. With great dynamics, superior surround use, and plenty of guttural LFE action to throb through the lower end, this is a fantastic effort. And we can’t ignore the score, a great blend of Bond-styled themes which are all character-specific and perfectly enhance the main feature – Erik/Magneto’s signature tune standing out above the rest. Overall a great, demo quality effort that’s just shy of perfect.
This relatively recent cinematic release comes to home cinemas complete with a whole host of generally very good extras, which cover all the bases.
X Marks The Spot allows you access to a variety of mini-Featurettes either available during the course of watching the movie, or playable through the extras menu. They are broken down into: Erik in Auschwitz; Charles Meets Raven; Mr. Howlett Declines; Mindscape; Emulsional Journey; Rebecca’s Return; Cuban Beach Pre-Viz Sequence; and Retro Cool. Totalling less than 20 minutes of actual footage, this feature does not play that well as a full-length PiP track (for obvious reasons). That said, as standalone mini-featurettes, there’s a lot of information packed into these brief segments, and it’s well worth checking them out – we get background into the introductions to the two characters and how they filmed them (including the reshoot for the replicated opening scene from X-Men 1), a couple of brief moments with the two main surprise cameo actors, some visual effects breakdowns on Charles’ special powers, a little bit of background into the sound design, a split-screen version of the pivotal final act battle sequence, and a brief look at the retro-styled title design (based on early James Bond title sequences). All in all, this is a nice introductory background effort but a poor PiP track, and, overall, it doesn’t compare to the comprehensive documentary.
Children of the Atom is a comprehensive 7-part documentary running at some 70 minutes’ long, and split into the following chapters (which can be viewed separately or under Play All) – Second Genesis, Band of Brothers, Transformation, Suiting Up, New Frontier: A Dose of Style, Pulling Off The Impossible, and Sound and Fury. Here we get many of the crew (including director Matthew Vaughn and original X-Men director Bryan Singer) discussing how First Class came about, the problems Singer had with other projects, the difficulties Vaughn had after he had quit X-Men 3, the script changes and character choices (many disagreed with the notion of dropping Cyclops in favour of Havoc), the makeup for some of the more elaborate characters (like the remodelled Beast), the costume design, the Bond influences on the style, the effects work done and the soundtrack work that accompanied it. Although you may wonder why we don’t get a commentary, this feature-length Documentary probably makes up for it, and has the added bonus of being visually informative, rather than just an aural ride.
Composer’s Isolated Score allows you to watch the entire movie with just Henry Jackman’s score playing off in the background in Dolby Digital 5.1. It’s actually one of the great aspects of the movie – the score which at once infuses a 70s vibe with a modern feel; overt John Barry Bond-themes with punchy, gut-hitting bass. Worth checking out, as it reminds you just how good the score in – and also makes you wish more releases had this option.
Interactive Character Profiles
Cerebro: Mutant Tracker is a nifty little interactive feature that basically allows you access to the various characters from the X-Men movie universe (not just limited to First Class, it also includes the main trilogy and Wolverine as well) through ‘Cerebro’. It states: Cerebro enhances your telepathic abilities so you can locate and learn about various mutants. What you’re offered is flash images of the main characters, which you simply click on to hear brief background detail into them, played over a montage of footage culled from the various films that they may have featured in. All the obvious contenders are here, as well as several of the less well-known characters: Cyclops, Storm, Rogue, Wolverine, Professor X, Storm, Pyro, Iceman, Juggernaut, Emma Frost, Beast, Sabretooth, Colossus, Mystique, Gambit, Archangel, Magneto, Jason 143, and Jean Grey / Dark Phoenix. After ‘finding’ all of the mutants offered here (i.e. selecting them in a simple yet painstakingly repetitive way) you can then access them easily through the Mutant Manifest that your quest automatically creates, whereupon you are given the option of selecting video profile, or vital statistics, which will offer a text-based background into the selected character. This is quite interesting, but I’m really not sure how well it will stand up if they do a couple of sequels to First Class and start using different actors for the likes of Cyclops and Jean Grey.
Here we get no less than 13 Deleted Scenes, totalling roughly 14 minutes of extra footage, almost all of which was excised for good reason. That said, it’s worth trawling throughout them out of curiosity as you will likely find a few nice moments that engage you: we get a glimpse of Erik being haunted by his memories, an extra moment of Charles showing off his powers in the club, a couple of extended scenes with the Russians (including more violence from Erik that may have pushed this to an R-rating), as well as the full-length training scenes that were spliced to form the montage (and work far better when not in montage form), and a couple of extra flirting moments between Hank and Raven, and Charles and Moira.
X-Men: First Class is a good movie, encased in a fluffy, often generic outer shell; padded out by colourful, young-audience-friendly characters and extraneous story plotting. It’s not even a case of style over substance – it’s merely a matter of having a good script spliced with a bad one. The Magneto/Professor-X origins are great, with superb performances from Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy; but the First Class bit, which involves training montages and teens-with-powers on their oh-so-predictable character journeys from untapped potential to kick-ass superhero, is just throwaway through-and-through. Still, X-Men fans won’t want to miss the excellent origin of Magneto story that is buried at the core of this flawed superhero blockbuster; a film which does show potential, and which could be the start of a quality trilogy, if only this particular team would step up its game.
On Region A-locked US Blu-ray we get excellent video and excellent audio, as well as a rewarding set of fairly comprehensive extras that survives even without the presence of a Commentary. Fans of the movie – and of the X-Men universe in generally – will surely want to pick this up and add it to their collection; newcomers should consider it a worthy rental. You probably won’t be disappointed by a blind-buy, so long as you realise up-front that this is a good movie spliced with a flawed one. And at least the Blu-ray release is undeniably great.
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