Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Now Playing: X-Men 3: The Last Stand

I completely missed this one this summer yet somehow I managed to stay mostly spoiler free. Oh sure, I heard about the "big character deaths" but when I did I shrugged them off as more corporate level decisions instead of creative ones. Oh how right I was...

From the word go, you get the sense the franchise is in new hands. When Bryan Singer and his team were thrown off the 20th Century Fox lot by head Tom Rothman, many in the geek world (re: AICN and its ilk) were thrown into bouts of geek hysteria that the film would suck. Those suspicions went from loud to deafening when Brett Ratner was hired to replace Singer as the director. No one outside of Hollywood understands how he's considered A-list.

Yet somehow the finished film actually suprised me in very good ways. There is an awful lot to like and even love with X-Men 3 but I was most taken aback by how many things Ratner actually managed to get right. By now, every main actor knows their character inside and out save the still useless Halle Berry. Angela Bassett should have been cast to begin with, but even she may not have been strong enough to overcome the universality of Storm's underwritten character. She's unfortunately put towards the front this time, but it speaks of good things when she's just about my only problem.

Hugh Jackman storms, ahem, the stage once again as Wolverine and right from the start he's back in top form. For the first time in the series Wolverine is finally unleashed and it's impressive seeing just how destructive an animal he is. What's funny though is I found the development of him as a sort of romantic foil to Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) in the first film as distracting, yet the powerhouse finish of the series would be nowhere near as emotional were anything different.

I do think the writers bit off more than they could chew with the three primary storylines because each of them would make stellar films in their own right. Mutants co-existing with humans and the infamous Dark Phoenix saga from the 1970's are mere sub-plots to the main thread about how the harvesting of a new mutant's genes has resulted in a "cure" for the mutant problem. Yup, just like in part two only, you know, it's different this time 'cause it's from a bald headed mutant. Wait, you say the mutant in the second one was sorta bald to?

Well then, uh, this one is a kid. Around 10 'cause that's different. Yeah.

I tried to read through the original Dark Phoenix saga and to be honest my brain melted from too much nerd. X-Men 3 streamlines it thoroughly while melding it into the universe created by the films. Even without knowing the whole story I do think they streamlined it far too much, and something that should have been told over an entire film, or two even, is handled in roughly 40 minutes spread across two hours. The main plot also isn't all that interesting considering how well the exact same story was handled in the previous movie.

All that negativity aside, I did enjoy the Phoenix effects work and the massive battles both at Jean's house and the finale on Alcatraz Island. There's a particular money shot towards the end that rotates through all the carnage Phoenix wrecks and it's an absolute doozy. Also, the raw power some of the superbeings throw around in the film makes this one of the best examples of what we as fans want to see superheroes and villains do: Make absolute mincemeat out of one another while laying waste to entire regions. As an action film, X-Men 3 definitely towers over its predecessors with things like Magneto (a superb Ian McKellan) hurling cars through the air while Pyro ignites them.

That's my kind of superhero action right there, baby.

The new kids on the block all leave different impressions, but for the most part I was thrilled. Casting Kelsey Grammer as Hank "Beast" McCoy was a stroke of genius and he's perfect as the charming and sophisticated albeit hirsuite bouncing furball. He knows full well how the eyes of the world are on him in particular given his role in the president's cabinet and watching him torn, if only for a moment, between loyalty to "his people" and "the greater good" was very strong.

Ellen Page makes the most of her introduction as Kitty "I can walk through walls" Pryde and she looks like she's going to break an awful lot of hearts when she turns legal. Between this and Hard Candy I think she's more than willing to hurl herself into any role regardless of difficulty and that sort of devotion will hopefully contribute to a lengthy career.

I do hate Brett Ratner for turning Juggernaut into a cartoon and saddling Vinnie Jones with the single worst line in the movie. Jones can be hilarious when he's used correctly which sadly is not here. Check out Snatch instead to see just what Jones can do in the right hands. He's surly and brutish and little more than a thug here though. If you want to see something epically awful, check out the deleted scenes and you'll find one gem that could have replaced the infamous line with something far, far worse.

I think Fox is truly incompetent for shelving this series now, but it's no secret Rothman and Berry both hate the X-Men and everything involved with them. By the very nature of the comics, this is a film series that can go on forever by simply rotating out the cast on both sides and fans and movie-goers alike would remain excited because every time would be a new experience.

"Who's going to be in this one?"

"Oh, do you think they'll bring X back for a cameo?"

This is exactly why the series could bring in the continued revenue the Bond franchise has made for MGM over the years. Here's hoping the Wolverine spin-off is a hit because Jackman was born for this role. Here's also hoping the way they end this film (and I'm talking about after the credits) means they'll at least consider another X-Men film in the near future.

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