"Wolverine and The X-Men: Heroes Return Trilogy" DVD Review
April 21, 2009 by James Harvey
A massive explosion opens up the latest animated series based on the popular X-Men franchise from Marvel Comics. The explosion results in two key characters going missing and the team essentially disbanding until, a year later, a new threat brings them together. I have to admit that for a new animated series, Wolverine and The X-Men has some guts. It completely bypasses any character origins and, while it is still pure set-up, manages to at least take a different spin on things. It's an interesting start-up to a new X-Men animated series that finds a plausible excuse for putting Wolverine front-and-center. More details and thoughts on the series and this new DVD release after the synopsis.
When an explosive event shatters the lives of the X-Men and takes away their mentor, the beaten heroes walk away from it all. But then they’re given a rare glimpse into the future, and see a world in utter ruin, ruled by giant destructive robots. A world that spiralled out of control because the X-Men had given up. So now the most legendary of all X-Men takes the lead – Wolverine! Reuniting these broken heroes, Wolverine embarks on the ultimate mission - to prevent the world’s destruction. To rescue us from ourselves. To save the future. And to do it as only Wolverine and the X-Men can!
Trying to appeal to both the casual fan and die-hard enthusiast, Wolverine and The X-Men manages to succeed on almost all levels. I know that sounds like quite a lofty statement, that this series is that good, but, for the most part, the series does manage to be what most X-Men fans are looking for. It's not perfect, far from it, but it does manage to amazingly strike a perfect balance between appealing to the new viewer and to the hardcore fans. It essentially runs with the best elements from past interpretations of the characters - picking things from previous cartoons, movies, comics, all of that - slaps Wolverine in front of it all, and runs with it. While some might consider that a recipe for disaster, that's not so here. What we get here is a pretty great ensemble of X-Men, probably the best interpretation of Magneto since the live-action movie series, and some nice animation, and that's only the tip of the iceberg.
Combining the first three episodes of the series into a feature-length adventure, the show manages to hit the ground running but doesn't outrun the audience. The set-up, described above, allows for a quick glimpse of who's who, providing the viewer with enough detail to place a name to a face, with bits of character development strung along the way. Admittedly, we don't spend too much time with each character, though these introductions are obvious set-ups for future episodes. Given that this is the first volume release for the first season of Wolverine and The X-Men, we can't expect to learn everything about every character right away. What we do get, though, is a fair glimpse at each with the expectations that we'll be getting more, which is fairly standard for such an introductory to a new animated series. New viewers will be enticed to learn more while educated viewers will be interested to see what twists the creative team behind Wolverine and The X-Men are cooking up.
So, what will fans get with this Wolverine and The X-Men: Heroes Return Trilogy DVD release? Well, the episodes included in this release include "Hindsight, Part One," "Hindsight, Part Two," and "Hindsight, Part Three." Stated to be the first of many releases, Lionsgate Home Entertainment has provided viewers with a suitable opening act for the series. There's plenty here in this "feature-length adventure," comprised of three episodes, to keep viewers new and old interested, and it will definitely have them anticipating the next release.
Originally aired on the animation network Nicktoons Network, as well as countless other networks internationally, those checking this series out for the first time on DVD can expect to see plenty of action. To go into more detail for a moment, we do get big set pieces with out merry mutants using their fantastic abilities, but actual fisticuffs are toned down. Any punching is shot at an angle where any connecting punch is not seen onscreen, yet countless characters are kicked around like soccer balls. Wolverine's claws are used mainly to chop open doors or take apart robots, and occasionally to intimidate the odd bad guy, but never to harm them. It's not surprising to see the violence toned down to such a degree given that this is a series meant to appeal to ages seven and up, and, to be honest, it's not as distracting as one may think. It doesn't get in the way of what is basically a well executed show.
Additionally, if the creators behind the series are looking to improve on any aspect of the series, I'd recommend taking a closer look at action sequence directing, as most action scenes don't have the punch they should have. Just watch the sequence where Wolverine takes on one of the spider-esque Tracker robots, for example, or the sequence where the X-Men attempt to stop an attack on Senator Kelly. The action is good, but it's never really "edge-of-your seat" good. Consider watching this show side by side with an episode of Justice League Unlimited and you'll get a better idea of what I'm trying to say. Compare those action scenes and you'll see a distinct difference. This show could definitely use some improved staging when it comes to the big set pieces. That being said, that's only a minor quibble considering what is generally a surprisingly sharp and engaging series filled to the brim with fascinating characters.
And what makes the X-Men such fascinating characters is what they stand for, and we get that here with Wolverine and The X-Men. Those familiar with the comic series know that the metaphor of the X-Men has changed overtime, but it has always resonated with the core reading audience. The X-Men struggling for understanding against a world that fears and hates them, and that remains here. In fact, you could even say that the creators have even apparently amped that up some while avoiding any possible controversy. The series tends to lean away from the comparison of racism or homophobia, something the X-Men books have never shied away from, and has blatantly embraced the comparison on terrorism. While the difference makes no change in the ultimate goal of the X-Men, and does seem to be laid on thick whenever government foes of the X-Men rear their head, it does make for a few startling dark moments and situations.
Overall, Wolverine and The X-Men is an enjoyable interpretation of Marvel's beloved mutants, full of solid animation, good writing and great characters. While the opening "movie," the first three episodes, may not be perfect, they do lay the interesting groundwork for a series that both hardcore and casual fans will no doubt return to. This first installment of the series on DVD is just the tip of the iceberg, and I am sure that fans will be opting to pick up the second release when that hits shelves later this week. I would definitely tag Wolverine and The X-Men as Recommended, but I want to emphasize that this is only the beginning for what looks to be a complex, enjoyable interpretation of the X-Men. There's much more to come, and I have no doubt fans will be keeping an eye on this thrilling animated series.
As one can expect, this DVD looks and sounds great. The 1.78:1 picture is vibrant and really pops off the screen, with the only noticeable defect being some digital banding and compression on the image. Even though the audio is standard Dolby 5.1 English, the sound is still excellent with loud sound effects and action sequences coming out loud and clear. An alternate Spanish 2.0 dub is also available.
And what about the all-important extras? Each episode comes with two commentaries each, one with supervising producer Craig Kyle and head writer Greg Johnson, the other with Directors Boyd Kirkland and Steven Gordon. Both tracks are pretty informative, providing a nice amount of behind-the-scenes information. We learn about the visual style, why these characters were chosen, the changes made, and more, with these lively tracks. After that we get a handful of featurettes, one clocking in at two and a half minutes and other over five, that provide a light look at the production of the series. Not really informative but entertaining nonetheless. The DVD also includes a collection of "Character Profiles," quick thirty-second spots spotlighting the main characters of the series. To wrap thing sup, the disc also comes with a host of trailers.
With a solid stack of extras and an enjoyable main feature, I'd rate the Wolverine and The X-Men: Heroes Return Trilogy DVD release as Recommended, but with some reservations. It's worth picking up, but I can't help but feel a complete season collection of the first 26 episodes is inevitable later this year. Even so, a second DVD volume of Wolverine and The X-Men is slated for July 2009, and with this release priced to move at around $9 - 12 dollars at most outlets, Wolverine and The X-Men: Heroes Return Trilogy still looks to be a good deal. The main feature, the series, is a solid interpretation of Marvel's Merry Mutants. As I said above, there's plenty of action, great characters, and a solid story that should keep fans engaged, plus a nice heaping of extras. A nice taste of what's to come, Wolverine and The X-Men: Heroes Return Trilogy is a great start to what'll surely be a solid animated series.
Wolverine and The X-Men: Heroes Return Trilogy is now available to own.
Wolverine and The X-Men - Heroes Return Trilogy DVD Talkback (Spoilers)