Friday, January 18, 2013

Astonishing X-Men: Dangerous DVD Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson

Danger takes on a whole new meaning as the X-Men are forced to confront a reality they never thought possible. Continuing the saga of the Astonishing X-Men, comic book pages come alive when Shout! Factory, in association with Marvel Knights Animation, debuted the highly anticipated Marvel Knights Animation Astonishing X-Men: Dangerous on DVD, April 10, 2012. The highly popular “Dangerous” storyline and colorful visuals from the graphic novel by pop culture icons Joss Whedon and John Cassaday combine smart story telling, incredible action, and startling revelations in the second story arc of the acclaimed Astonishing X-Men multi-part series. This DVD invites viewers to delve deep inside the imaginative world of the Marvel Universe.

Film (4 out of 5 stars) 

I reviewed Marvel Knights Animation’s  Thor and Loki: Blood Brothers awhile ago and I wasn’t that impressed with it so I was a little concerned that this movie would be more of the same.  I’m happy to report that this story written by Joss Whedon is a lot better and that the animation is a lot more fluid and it doesn’t seem like a paper cutouts being animated like Thor and Loki did.  Somehow I missed the first part of Whedon’s story arc as Astonishing X-Men: Gifted was released and slipped by my attention which is too bad because this movie is the continuation of that story.
From what I can gather, the Gifted storyline revolved around the idea of a “mutant cure” which would remove the special abilities (or afflictions depending on how the character viewed it).  It sounds like that series must have been the basis for the live action X-Men: The Last Stand film which I am familiar with so it wasn’t too bad to jump into this midstream.  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 Astonishing X-Men: 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.
I really liked the clever storyline that Whedon came up with as not only did the threat to the X-Men come from within, but it came from an entity that knew everything about them.  That alone raises the stakes far more than if Rhino or another random villain attacked them.  The Danger Room had the goods on each one of them and in a great sequence we watch her systematically beat the crap out of all of them now that she was no longer shackled by conditions to stop her.  This movie (and the comic it was based on) proves why Joss Whedon was the perfect man to write and direct The Avengers. He has a firm grasp on who the characters are and their relationship is to one another as well as his ability to write interesting arcs for multiple characters.  We also see an interesting take on Xavier which nicely shows his intelligence and the lengths he will go to help his X-Men.  There’s also a fun cameo by the Fantastic Four to add some extra  goodness to the movie.
I’m still not crazy about the motion comic concept, but it was pulled off a lot better in this than it was in Thor and Loki. 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.  In any case, this is the best motion comic I’ve seen as the animation flows better and the story is excellent.

Video (3 out of 5 stars) 

This motion comic is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic wide-screen and initially it looks terrible during the opening credits that look as id 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.  Dangerous 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: Dangerous’ 2.0 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 really liked the story that Joss Whedon created for this series, I’m not a fan of the artwork or the process used to make this.  This could have been much better if it had been traditionally animated instead of this lazy cash grab.  Every single aspect of this disc’s presentation is lackluster to the point of being insulting.  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, 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 can’t seem to get their act together to to do these right.
This title is available to purchase by clicking the link below.

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