Tuesday, May 30, 2006

X3: The Last Stand

I went in to see X3 last night with an open mind and fairly free of spoilers and believe me when I say that both were very difficult tasks. The internet is full of opportunities to see to it that all innocence surrounding any particular movie is lost. I did read reports of troubled production and saw more than a few uuuugly publicity stills, but that didn’t hamper my enjoyment in the least. I will take a moment to say that I miss the days of my youth where all I knew about any upcoming movie came solely from the occasional trailer. There were no message boards, easily accessed leaked scripts, or bootlegged copies that could be downloaded in no time. If you were a real fan you could get glimpses in movie magazines, but as far as I know that was it. But I digress and begin to sound a bit curmudgeonly. Let me get back to the movie at hand.

In the spirit of my first paragraph I will endeavor to avoid anything spoilerish, but that may prove difficult. Read on as always with caution. After a brief flashback that establishes how Jean Grey came to Xavier’s school and more importantly how powerful a mutant she is, we’re shown a country that has undergone some changes since the second movie. Hank McCoy aka Beast (my personal favorite mutant) is Secretary of Mutant Affairs and things seem to be going well for mutant-kind. Well that is until a company come forward with a treatment that suppresses mutant powers permanently, marketed as a cure. In the background we see the two lead dogs of the X-men, Cyclops and Wolverine, dealing with the death of Jean Grey. We soon learn that the grieving may be premature. What follows are some fantastic action scenes, opportunities missed and taken, X-men death, and an overall good flick.

The Good: Kelsey Grammer blew my socks off as Beast. I had no doubt that he could pull of the mental gymnastics that the fur ball is capable of, but I was concerned about how he would look/act in motion. He did it all and then some. Acting under all that makeup had to be hard, but as pros often do he made it look effortless. He even managed to pull off one of blue boy’s signature lines without sounding stupid.

Bobby Drake/Iceman was used to excellent effect. In the first two movies we see the teenager hiding a secret from his family. Here he gets to be a good friend to Kitty, showing a romantic side. He also gets to kick butt as a member of the X-men’s main team. His showdown with Pyro is perfection. In short, he grows up and we get to experience it and that leads me to one of the bigger goods, character arcs.

Two of the more interesting examples are the arcs that Mystique and Rogue get. Mystique is played perfectly in the first two films and here she gets what some think is an out of character closure to her story. I think it’s an opportunity to show Magneto’s character and what he has sacrificed in his quest and Mystique’s strength and ultimately her redemption (fueled by a desire for revenge no doubt). Rogue’s time in the movie is brief, but is a major part of the cure storyline. Whether you agree or not with her decision I think it’s touching. More moments like these would have made this a smarter movie, but like it or not this is a summer blockbuster and things are sacrificed in the name of explosions. I'll take what I can get.

I said that this movie could have been could have been smarter, but it does deal at least tangentially with a couple of issues that are on the forefront of our lives. The cure and looking at the X-factor (heh) as a disease was intriguing. The cry of “We don’t need a cure because there’s nothing wrong with us!” (Storm) balanced against mutants who hate their lives (Rogue) echoes back to Bobby “coming out” to his parents in X2. Much was said then about comparing mutants to homosexuals and this extends the metaphor nicely. That and the government’s reaction to the mutant threat (using the cure as a weapon) say much about how our society looks on anyone that’s too different and how willing we are to ignore our own sins in an effort to "cure" others.

And I don’t want to ignore all of the little touches that were the “love note” to fans that has become de rigueur in comic book films. I like it when writers/directors remember the people who are the core audience. A line here, a robotic head flying through the air there, a piece of costuming all has the power to induce a smile (and I’m sure they’re hoping the power to make us forget when they really muck something up).

The Bad: One of the unfortunate things about the decision to cram so much into this film was the fact that some of the core X-men got the shaft in terms of screen time. Cyclops was never treated as well as he probably deserved. As the team leader in the comic book and in at least the first two movies he never showed any of the qualities that a leader should possess. In all three movies that position was ultimately relegated to someone else. If you’re going to do that why have him around at all? Angel, though he does have two important scenes and perhaps because of those scenes needed to be better developed. He’s the whole reason for the cure. Finally, there’s Colossus. He has a couple of scenes where he’s just a plot device, but as a main member of the combat team he deserves more.

As much as I liked it as a social commentary, the cure was a plot device that could have been handled better. X2 had a mind control drug synthesized from a mutant. Pulling a similar trick in this one seemed to be a bit of a cheat. It also served to give us one more character that, while seemingly important in the scheme of things was nothing more than a plot device. Just make the cure an invention of science and you get the same thing without an actor to get in the way.

The biggest bad though had to be the handling of Jean. It shouldn’t be a surprise that she came back. It was hinted at near the end of X2 and there would be no reason for the flashback at the beginning if she didn’t. My objection is that they set her up as this force of nature that required Xavier to do something extremely out of character and then they don’t use it. I liked seeing Professor X's more human side, but we aren't really shown the reason why it was necessary. Told, yes but that's not enough. She should have been at the center of this movie, no question.

Put on a scale I’d say that the goods outweigh the bads and it comes out looking far better than I thought it would. It’s by no means the best of the three, X2 holds that crown (as second movies so often do), but it’s as comic book movie adaptations go, pretty darn good. They say it will be the last X film, though some things that happen near the end say otherwise (stay past the credits, I didn’t and wish I had). For the action sequences and big dumb fun alone you should see this on the big screen, oh that and if you want to see X4: This Time We Really Mean It.

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