Tuesday, December 12, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW: X3: The Last Stand (2006)

Well, it doesn't suck too hard. In fact, it's sorta okay. In a safe, predictable and middling kind of way.

That may be the bottom line concerning X-Men 3: The Last Stand, one of the blockbusters of the summer of 2006. To the good, the third movie in the X-Men franchise moves assuredly from special-effects set-piece to special effects set-piece like a well-oiled machine. And the crux of the story - an injection that "cures" mutants - is a solid, interesting hook on which to hang a tale.

And yet, a crucial element of heart seems to be missing on this go-round. The film's story is an outline in search of a plot, despite the potential of that narrative hook. Worse, the familiar characters march lock-step through their paces on automatic pilot; as if nobody behind-the-scenes thought to provide actual motivation for anything they say or do. The actors all seem bored and disengaged. They showed up, and that's a plus, I guess.

Now, I'm not going to bash Brett Ratner, the director. That's too easy and too common. On the contrary, he manages to stage and shoot the set-pieces with aplomb. If we're being honest here, he manages this aspect of the production far better than Bryan Singer handled the Statue of Liberty battle in the original X-Men back in 2000 (a melange of confusing perspectives and close-ups that lacked scope). Nope, Ratner may have been but a hired hand on this project, but he does a competent job with what he's been given in terms of script. The fault isn't his.

The fault is in the script...which is a turd. The story involves the mutant community's reaction to the "cure" which will transform them all into humans. At the same time, the script resurrects Jane Grey as Dark Phoenix, a force of pure evil. How did she manage to survive the crisis at the end of X2? "Her powers wrapped her in a cocoon of telekinetic energy," Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) helpfully explains. Oh. And if you believe that, I have a bridge in San Francisco I want to sell you...

Anyway, as goofy as that one sentence explanation is, I accept it. For purposes of the story we need our evil Phoenix in action, so...whatever. Dramatic license and all. What I can't and don't accept is the slapdash way the film abruptly and immediately kills off Cyclops. Can someone explain to me why Dark Phoenix kills Cyclops but not Logan? (Hint: Jackman's a bigger star.) How does she kill Cyclops? Why don't we ever see it? Why has it been relegated to an off-screen moment? Why does she take a near-roll-in-the-hay with Logan but not Scott, before killing him? Why murder a franchise character in such a half-assed, unfocused way? A way in which, I might add, he contributes nothing to the plot? Cyclops has a cameo in this movie, and that's about it.

Secondly, why does Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) not even think about what might have happened to Scott until AFTER he frees Jane Grey from mental restraint in the lab. Is he that stupid? It suddenly occurs to Wolverine - after Phoenix is up and about and acting nutsy - that she might have had something to do with Scott's disappearance. Not the brightest bulb, this Wolverine, I guess. On the other hand, at least he actually thought of Cyclops. The script provides not a word of sorrow, confusion or worry over Scott's fate from Storm, Rogue or Professor Xavier. Aren't these guys supposed to be a team? What's with all the Cyclops non-love?

One story-point and its resolution illuminates best the problems with the film's script. Rogue, the mutant who absorbs the powers of any mutant she touches, struggles with the idea of the cure. Should she take it or not? What would she give up if she did so? What would she gain? Of all the mutants, Rogue certainly has the most dramatic reason for wanting the cure. After all, her powers physically separate her from those she loves. This should be a focal point of the script. But the plot point is resolved in a short scene, again in by-the-numbers fashion. With little build-up, she reveals to Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) that she took the cure. Oh, okay. So it was more important to Rogue to have physical intimacy...I get that. I believe it.

But hah! Then, in the deleted scenes, you'll see the exact same scene, only this time with the opposite resolution. Rogue has decided not to get the cure; to retain her powers, in this version. It's the same scene, except for her choice. In other words, the writers never sat down, got into Rogue's head and attempted to figure out exactly what it is that this character would want or desire. Nope. It was just a flip of the coin, apparently. That stinks if you're writing a movie and you understand the characters so little that you don't know where they'd stand on the plot's main point.

So the morality of the cure is not even examined here. Was Rogue wrong to want it? To get it? To give up her powers? Would she have been wrong not to have taken the mutant antibody? X3: The Last Stand has no idea. Why? There's cars to flip over and bridges to destroy!!!

Finally, why do Storm, Wolverine, Kitty, Iceman, and the other X-Men defend the humans from Magneto and his Brotherhood, when it's fairly obvious that the American government is indeed launching a genocide against Mutants? I mean, the U.S. President has authorized the use of the anti-mutant drug as a weapon. It can be fired from guns like bullets, for heaven's sake. Is that not evidence that his Administration has it out for mutants? But because the X-Men are the good guys (a priori...), they defend the human race.

Well, I'll tell you something, sometimes the human race ain't worth defending. Sometimes, we do stupid ass shit and need a smackdown. Why don't the X-Men fight Magneto AND disarm the human troops carrying the mutant "cure?" I'm reminded, of some reason, for Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, which didn't play favorites in terms of species...even though the audience was exclusively homo sapien. In that film, humans enslaved apes and treated the simians terribly...monstrously. The audience was rooting for the apes to win their bloody insurrection, because mankind had proven totally unworthy of being the "master" race. X3 seems to believe that the audience will be on mankind's side no matter what...even though mankind has broken faith by turning the "voluntary" cure into a pogram of eradication.

Again, it's as though the writers just didn't ever stop to think about what any of the characters in this story would legitimately feel. For that matter, what's up with the U.S. President? He's got a mutant ensconced in his administration and seems reasonable. So then why does he go from making the cure voluntary to weaponizing it? Again, the script provides not a single line of dialogue that explains his motivations.

In The X-Men universe, "mutantcy" is an allegory for homosexuality in our world. Can gays be cured? Would they want to be cured if they could? This is not an issue that's settled or obscure today. So why doesn't this film take a "stand" (or last stand...) on the matter? Why doesn't it have characters on either side of the debate passionately argue their point? Again, I suspect because there's wire-work to do, and things to smash ("I'm the juggernaut, bitch!") But an opportunity has been missed. Imagine how much more powerful it would have been if The X-Men themselves (forget Magneto...) were divided on the issue of a cure.

Again, another movie franchise, Star Trek, handled this sort of idea well. The Undiscovered Country was all about racism...even the "invisible" racism of the Enterprise crew. "Let them die," Kirk said of the Klingons. "They don't place the same value on life as we do," Scotty told Spock about the Klingons. These were horrible comments revealing that the characters we love were indeed flawed and human (we're all that way..., come on!) However, in the course of the film, Scotty, Chekov ("Guess who's coming to dinner?") and Kirk
were confronted with their own racism and were able to rise above it. That's what makes them heroes! Yet in X3, the X-Men are all golden goodies, and the folks in the Brotherhood are all black hats. There's no nuance or shades of gray, and thus the issue at the core of the film is not explored in any significant way. Characters like Storm and Wolverine don't learn anything in the course of the movie. Not about the cure and not about themselves. They thought one way at the beginning of the adventure and they feel the exact same way at the end of the story. Kinda boring. And deeply, deeply disappointing, since The X-Men comic-book has always been about a disenfranchised minority fighting for freedom in a society that doesn't understand it.

X3 is a competently-made film, and the twin mutant smackdowns (one at Grey's house; the other at Alcatraz) get the adrenaline pumping. But there's something terribly by-the-numbers about this sequel. It's not so much that it feels rushed, just that it feels...empty. Again, like an outline in search of a movie. If you turn off your brain, it's entertaining enough, I suppose. It's not embarrassingly bad. Just...vacant.

On the scale of superhero sequels, this not the worst (Superman III, Batman and Robin, RoboCop 3), but it is nowhere near the top tier either (Superman II, Spider-Man 2). It's actually not even a Blade 2. Instead, it's down in the middle of the pack somewhere...a kind of sorry ranking for a "last stand."

6 comments:

  1. Hi John,

    I agree with much of your review. I reviewed this movie a few months ago and here is an excerpt of what I thought was wrong with it.

    "The biggest problem in structure was the whole Jean Grey/Phoenix storyline. I didn't expect them to adapt the entire Dark Phoenix Saga with aliens and all, but this watered down version was a waste.
    Although the writers tried to merge it with the 'Cure' plot, it seemed really forced and the storylines really had no business being in the same movie."

    I also didn't care for what they did to Cyclops. To be fair, it had a large part to do with the actor wanting to be on Superman Returns instead.

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  2. Anonymous2:08 PM

    People can say what they want about X-Men 3 but I thought it was WAY better than the first two films. I think the film had a much grander scope and felt big, like an X-Men movie should feel. Bryan Singer just makes slow moving, somewhat boring, fair-to-middling movies. I was happy to finally see wire work, big fights, and "action set pieces." We had enough talking in the first two movies. If you view them as a trilogy, we finally get to the action in this one after two movies of set-up. I can't possibly write a long, elegant explanation about why I liked this movie. But, I think most people went into the movie with their minds already made up. All I can say is I thought it was cool.

    Chris Johnson

    Chris Johnson

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  3. As far as why Phoenix killed Cyclops, but not Wolverine, it can be looked at in two ways. Practically, it was because Marsden signed on for Superman Returns. Plot-wise, it was because Wolverine's healing factor was able to compensate for her disintegration wave.
    The Destinies Film Review Team had a lot to say about X-Men: The Last Stand when it came out. To hear the show, go to www.captphilonline.com/Destinies.html and scroll down to find the description for the review.

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  4. joey_bishop_jr5:07 PM

    John, I love you like a brother....

    but...

    I agree with some of the points you have made here, but on a fundamental level I strongly disagree with your take on the positions of the government and the authorities as presented here.

    By this point in the films, it is well established that Magneto himself is a hair's breadth away from declaring genocide on the "normal" population in this world. He has already done severe damage to the Statue of Liberty, and in fact almost succeeded in forcibly mutating a sizable portion of the populace, by usung the gifts of a fellow mutatnt against their will. Is that even nearly the same as using the cure as a defensive weapon? In this film, the president doesn't authorize it's use until an attack by the evil mutants.

    Another point is that several mutatnts are being held as a result of the use of their powers to the detriment of society. Mystique for "terrorist" activities, Jamie Madrox for bank robbery, and Juggernaut for God knows what all. I think I have a unique perspective here. If I am only armed with a sidearm, and charged with protection of life, is it too unreasonable to want something a bit more to level the playing field against criminal minded foes, some who are bulletproof even, who can cause earthquakes, throw cars without effort, or even drop a bridge on me? Also bear in mind that the cure only removes powers, and doesn't kill the target. It seems similar to when someone is determined a felon, they lose the right to own a gun. No one seems to mind that Wolverine slices and dices his opponents beyond repair, but the use of cure bullets seems reprehensible. It does seem to smell a bit like a double standard. A mutant can kill his foes, but a standard soldier is repugnant for leaving a disarmed but still living foe on the battlefield.

    In the second film, Wolverine gets shot after he is told to "drop the knives". In the real world as comic fans, we have the luxury of knowing the reality of his situation. But please think for a moment of the other side of the coin- an officer confronted by a person wielding the equivalent of three swords, and then telling the officer that he "can't" drop them after being told to do so?

    Just a few things to mull over...

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  5. Hey buddy,

    No need to apologize for having a different opinion. I cherish the debate. You know I think the world of you. We can disagree and still be budz.

    Your points are interesting; and come from a very specific point of view, which I understand. I totally agree that law enforcement officials should have the tools they need to defend themselves and protect and serve society at large.

    I also agree that Magneto's attempt to change humans into mutants and the President's attempt to transform mutants into humans is a morally equivalent "evil." Right on!

    But, here's where our opinions diverge a bit. I don't believe the military has the right to use a transformative weapon on American citizens - mutant or otherwise. It's beyond the pale to arm soldiers (on American soil), with a weapon that eliminates part of a citizen's identity.

    That's what I think is "evil" about the cure. Imagine that President Clinton decided in 1999 that the country would be better off, more unified, and safer without Conservatives to bother with, and therefore developed a weapon that would transform conservatives into liberals on contact with the blood stream. Then, he used the excuse of a conservative law-breaker to deploy the "cure" as a weapon across the American landscape. That would be worth a revolution or insurrection or fight, don't you think? (Just like the mutants fight in the film.)

    I think American citizens would rightly have a problem with something like that. And the same goes if the weapon turned African-Americans into whites, gays into straights, or men into women. Politicians could argue that blacks, gays, or men are a "danger" to society and that the "cure" is just a matter of security. Frankly, this isn't their business. We're all Americans and guaranteed certain rights and freedoms under the Constitution. One is the pursuit of liberty. The cure, conceivably, curtails that (and other...) rights.

    The President in the film had already weaponized the cure BEFORE Magneto's break-out attempt with Mystique. Which means, he had planned to use it all along; or at least that the thought was in his head. Think about this: he must have mass-produced not just the cure bullets, but the guns to fire them. This isn't something that happens in a day...this is something that happens over years. A secret agenda.

    My stance is that no government has the right to wage war on its populace in a way that destroys the populace's individual "identity." That's my firm belief. I'd rather get shot with a bullet, for instance - and bleed to death - than lose some essential piece of myself, my individual identity, the thing that makes me special to myself; like my belief in justice for all; my love of freedom of speech; and on and on.

    So I totally get your point; don't piss on the soldiers who are doing their job and fighting a strong enemy. Equip them, support them, and so forth. Yet, if President Bush were to announce today that he had a "cure" for all the people who didn't approve of the Iraq War, and was intent on using it, I'd stand up and fight him. Because no one has the right to "change" the people so that they (conveniently) agree with one ideology (like no mutants; no gays, whatever). Because who is the Government to tell us what constitutes a disease? Is homosexuality a disease? Well then, we better purge alcoholics (because alcoholism is a disease...), smokers (it's an addiction!) and gamblers (because gambling is a disease), and so forth. Where does a government stop when it begins to "cure" elements of its populace that one ideology doesn't approve of? I find it terrifying that soldiers could wage war on Americans with such a weapon.

    But, the point of my review, at least I think, is that these issues should have been more carefully examined in the film. I would have liked to see the film intelligently argue the merits of your points and mine; rather than just assume that the X-Men would automatically rally to the human side of the equation.

    My bias here is that I am naturally and eternally suspicious of authority; particularly political authority (on either side of the spectrum...). I don't like the idea of a bureaucratic government and one man controlling the "minds" and genetics of the populace. To paraphrase a Star Wars movie, that's how democracy dies.

    I mean, imagine if a President came out today and said "you know what American people? I have a very accomplished doctor here who believes that questioning your government is a form of illness. Therefore, I will now administer a cure that removes that "gene" from you."

    To me, that's the start of genocide, not to mention dictatorship. Who in America could stop an Army that was equipped with the "cure?"

    So while I appreciate your point and subscribe to the theory that we should adequately equip the men and women who protect our rights on a daily basis, I disagree with the notion that they could be equipped with weapons that inherently curtail the Civil Rights (and which destroy the identity...) of the very people who they are supposed to protect in the first place.

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  6. joey_bishop_jr8:40 PM

    John, I totally on board with some of what you said. A lot of your points are solid, and I am right with you. If a "cure" for being black, gay, or any other "undesirable" condition became a reality, and was in the process of being deployed, I could not in all good conscience either use it, nor would I be a part of an organization that would.

    And the fact that the weapons were readily available is a fact that I wanted to address in my last post, but got sidetracked. You are right, that they just didn't get magicked out of the air, and were obviously in the works for some time. That points to the intent of the administration, and not to the better. It does raise the specter of control, perhaps beyond what is right or proper.

    I would say thowever that I appreciate your statement that you don't trust authority on either side, as I feel that we both agree that if Magneto came to power, a large part of the world would fall into dire straits indeed.

    As far as the film itself, I feel you are right on. the problems and issues it presented are really deep, and dealt with rather simplistically.

    Bear in mind, tho, this is from the same guy that feels the original Punisher film is exactly right in tone....all it needed was the skull suit! The second one basically killed it for me. if I wanted a deeply thought out revenge picture, I would have seen The Sting..although the scene of thomas jane in the trenchcoat with the suit and two .45s ALMOST made it worthwhile!!!

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