Directed by John Cassaday, Neal Adams, and Jesse Cote
Starring Mark Hildreth, Laura Harris, and Brian Drummond
Created by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday
The complete landmark run of famed creator and The Avengers director Joss Whedon and current Uncanny Avengers artist John Cassaday is completely collected in motion comic form. Is it a suitable alternate that adds to the original book, or does it pale in comparison to the printed page?
In a time where most X-Men stories take a more militant view on the characters, treating them as the police and enforcers of all mutant kind, Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s Astonishing X-Men takes the team back to its roots by putting them back in tights and making them super heroes again. This astonishing team consists of its leader Cyclops, Wolverine, Emma Frost, Beast, Kitty Pryde, and the recently resurrected Colossus. It’s a good mix of old school, fan favorites, and drama queens (I’m looking at you, Emma).
The overall story is divided into for arcs, which are also the episode divisions used in this release. The first, “Gifted,” introduces the X-Men to the new villain Ord and his home planet Breakworld, which is bent on destroying mutants to prevent one prophesized to destroy their world. It’s a good starter in introducing or reintroducing us to the stars of the story. It’s also where the mutant cure concept comes from, which was also used in the third X-Men film X-Men: The Last Stand. The less said about that though, the better.
The story hits a lull in parts two and three, “Dangerous” and “Torn.” The “Dangerous” arc sees the X-Men fight a sentient and personified version of their highly-advanced training room. The “Torn” arc breaks the team down with psychic attacks from the villain Cassandra Nova. Both need more familiarity with back history than the first and last arcs, especially about Cassandra Nova and her destruction of the mutant nation of Genosha from Grant Morrison’s run. “Dangerous” feels like a slowdown from its prior arc, and “Torn” is overly convoluted, but both still have shining moments.
The story comes right back around with the highly climatic adrenaline rush of “Unstoppable” – the final arc. The X-Men make for Breakworld to confront its residents and save the Earth, and they might not all have a ride back home. This final part is the peak of Whedon’s writing, expertly combining action with deep characterization and witty dialog.
I really like Whedon and Cassaday’s Astonishing X-Men. I think bringing them back to being super heroes is the way to go, having the X-Men represent the best of mutant kind and really all of us, to be on par with the Avengers. Whedon plays to his strengths with an ensemble cast, as well as being one of the few writers to realize that less is more with Wolverine. Cassaday’s art is a perfect companion to the story, displaying both the super and the human side of these characters with incredible skill.
The story on its own gets a 9 easy, only because of the lull in the middle. But this is a motion comic, and that affects things a bit. The acting is average, with some really deadpan line delivery where there should be emotion. And each arc is divided into minisodes that are made of each individual issue of the story, sandwiched by opening and ending credits that run three minutes together every ten or so minutes of story. That totals to over an hour of wasted time spent constantly interrupting the viewer throughout the feature.
Again, the story is top notch, but as a film, it loses points due to presentation.
The Video and Audio
The Blu-Ray sharpens the art and cleans up a bit of the noise versus the DVD copies. It’s still not quite on par to the pages themselves, but it’s not far off. However, it doesn’t stop how jerky and laughable some of the full-body motion looks.
The audio maintains the weaknesses found on the DVDs, namely the sound effects occasionally playing against dialog and rendering it inaudible. I’m actually a fan of Whedon’s dialog, so that’s a no-no.
Not only is the dialog occasionally inaudible, there aren’t any subtitles for when you can’t hear. I find it somewhat ironic that a comic book, which prints the dialog on the art itself, removes any possibility of text on screen even for those who can’t hear. It might as will print on the box “For subtitles, consult comic.”
The Packaging and Bonus Features
Unlike the DVD copies I’ve previously reviewed, this two-disc set comes with a selection of extras. One, a music video made up of the first issue and a half of the story, is forgettable. The other two, interviews and behind the scenes, are more notable.
In a half-hour interview with Marvel Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada and the first arc’s co-director (and comic artist in his own right) Neal Adams, Quesada discusses how the Whedon-Cassaday Astonishing X-Men came to be, which is an interesting tale. Adams goes on about how motion comic animation is a new and exciting medium, which feels too aggrandizing. The five-minute making-of featurette better sells the effort that goes into making what otherwise looks like cheap animation.
Overall (Not an Average)
Astonishing X-Men, the Whedon and Cassaday run that’s adapted into this collection, is a landmark work in X-Men stories and comics in general. It’s a great title even for those not familiar with the X-Men. Especially for those not familiar with the X-Men. Unfortunately, thanks to poor presentation, average-at-best acting, and inaccessibility to the hearing impaired, I cannot recommend THIS presentation of Whedon and Cassaday’s now-classic tale of our merry mutants. Thankfully, this title is easily found in its original print format through various trade collections.
If you are determined to watch this on a big screen though, this Blu-Ray set is the way to go. Skip over the DVD releases if you haven’t seen them already. The sharper image quality and extras make this one something you can admit to owning, so there’s that.
The Movie 7/10
The Video and Audio 4/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 6/10
Overall (Not an Average) 5/10