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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Astonishing X-Men: Torn DVD Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
The chart-topping super-team of Joss Whedon (“Marvel’s The Avengers”) and John Cassaday (Captain America, Planetary) return for more action on home entertainment shelves in Astonishing X-Men: Torn! Comic book pages from the third story arc of this acclaimed series by one of Marvel’s greatest collaborations between Whedon and Cassaday come alive from Shout! Factory, in association with Marvel Knights Animation, in the highly anticipated Astonishing X-Men: Torn on DVD!  This third installment brings more action and adventure as Emma Frost’s erratic behavior has the X-Men spinning in a nonstop downward spiral. Will an unlikely union be the final straw? After secretly lying in wait for months, the new Hellfire Club makes its move! This DVD invites viewers to delve deep inside the imaginative world of the Marvel Universe. A must-have for collectors and loyal fans, this deluxe DVD is featured with a graphic rich cover and a unique replica of comic book-style packaging that bridges the comic book to DVD concept.

 

Film (4 out of 5 stars) 

Before he triumphed with the live action The Avengers, Joss Whedon and John Cassaday had already created a comic story-line that featured the X-Men that was broken up into four parts.  The first one was the Gifted story-line which revolved around the idea of a “mutant cure” which would remove the special abilities (or afflictions depending on how the character viewed it) which was also the basis for the live action X-Men: The Last Stand film.  One of the things that’s different from the film is that the character of Colossus died in the comic book world and was brought back while he never died in the film series.  His return is explored by Whedon as well as his burgeoning romance with Kitty Pryde.
In the second chapter, Dangerous, life has returned to normal for most of the instructors and students but there’s still one young man still struggling with the the concept of a mutant cure. Without Professor Xavier around who could have sensed and helped the boy, the young man is goaded into jumping to his death by what appears to be a fellow student.  Then a long forgotten and heavily damaged Sentinel comes back to life and crawls its way towards the Xavier institute only to be challenged by the X-Men.  When Kitty escorts the school’s children into the Danger Room (a holographic training room) they see the lifeless body of the young boy lying in a pool of his own blood.  Before she can do anything, they are all locked into the Danger Room with no escape.  Soon enough, the X-Men realize that hidden the threat to them is the newly sentient Danger Room who tricks them into removing her core programming which was designed by Xavier to prevent her from actually killing people in the training room.  That separate string of coding that counteracted her other design of trying to kill the X-Men to provide realistic training is the very reason she became sentient.  That conflict between her two directives has made and their inherent illogic has made her self-aware and very angry.
Now calling herself Danger, she informs the X-Men that not only does she know all of their strengths and strategies from their training sessions, but she also knows every one of their vulnerabilities.  That point is driven home when the X-Men attack her and she easily dispatches them in record time.  With them out of the way but still alive, Danger journeys to Genosha where Xavier is hanging out for some unexplained reason.  Xavier is full aware of Danger’s approach and indeed he knew that someday this might happen when he created the Danger Room.  Despite that possibility, he believed that the pros outweighed the cons and he decided that the training his X-Men would receive would be worth the risk.  When Danger does confront her “father” she quickly learns that he is the biggest threat to her because he never used the Danger Room and she knows nothing about what he can do or what kind of strategy he might employ.  That unpredictability almost gets her killed when Xavier catches her by surprise, but she manages to save herself.  Only the last minute appearance of the X-Men can save the Professor from her wrath.
In this third chapter known as Torn,  it’s revealed that the newly reformed Hellfire Club that includes Cassandra Nova, Emma Frost, the enigmatic Perfection, Negasonic Teenage Warhead, and Sebastian Shaw has been blackmailing Emma Frost to do their bidding.  Using her mind altering powers, Frost has been undermining the X-Men’s confidence and focus.  For Kitty Pryde, she believes that she had a son with Colossus and she will defend it from anyone that poses a threat to it, even her fellow X-Men.  Scott Summers (Cyclops) is forced to deal with the guilt over his powers and a childhood trauma as well as the fact that he and Emma psychically fooled around together while he was still seeing Jean Grey.  Wolverine is forced to believe that he is a wussy little boy who is unfortunately being chased by the Beast who has been reduced to a feral animal who likes the taste of the Wolverine.  In order to beat the Hellfire Club, the X-Men will have to break out of the mind control before they destroy themselves.
This latest release is directed by John Cassaday and the legendary Neal Adams who have added motion to the original comic panels drawn by Cassaday.  I’m still not crazy about the motion comic concept, and this chapter didn’t seem to flow as well as it did in Dangerous.   I really wish that Marvel would just make an actual animated movie like DC is doing with movies like Batman: Year One, which is the perfect example of how to transfer the story and artwork into a fully animated movie.  Motion comics seem to be a cost cutting half-ass way to make a movie to me.  It doesn’t help that each segment is around ten minutes long and in between each segment you have to go through the same opening and closing title sequence.  If you are going to break it up like this and not just edit it all together as one film (like you should), then at least don’t make us watch the title sequence over and over.  That’s fine when you are rolling it out piece by piece on the internet, but it repetitive and annoying when you are trying to watch it as a movie.

Video  

This motion comic is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic wide-screen and initially it looks terrible during the opening credits that look as if they’ve been transferred off of a VHS tape.  Once you get past the credit sequence (which appears on every episode), it improves quite a bit but not to the level of quality that I would have expected from Marvel.  Torn is true to artist John Cassady’s original artwork which means that there’s a ton of red and blue hues which includes some minor artifacting throughout.  Detail is average and the colors are bright but on the warm side. Black levels are decent but not as strong as I would have liked. 

Audio (2 1/2 out of 5 stars)  

Astonishing X-Men: Torn’s Dolby Digital Stereo mix is even more disappointing than the picture quality.  The dialogue is intelligible but flat and the rest of the mix is uninspired.  This sounds like a quickie effort with all of the sound effects and the score just thrown together and they called it a day.  When the entire film already seems like a quick way to make some money without much effort, the decision not to go with a real 5.1 mix just reinforces that suspicion.  The only good thing that I can say is that the voice actors are well cast and deliver the dialogue well.

Extras (0 out of 5 stars) 

There are no extras on this disc which will drop the final score even lower. 

Summary (2 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

While I enjoy this continuing story-line and the trademark Whedon humor (especially the parts with Wolverine and Beast), I really wish they would just animate it as a movie and do it right.  This would have been much better if it had been traditionally animated.   Taking some of their best stories and converting them into motion comics is one thing, but if they don’t even bother to give it some decent production values or extras, then all I can do is tell people to support the original work by buying the trade paperback of these stories.  I love the Marvel universe and it’s very disappointing that they still haven’t been able to get their act together to to do these stories right.
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