published on Sunday, July 09, 2006|
I saw both of the first two X-Men movies in the theater and, both times, I left the theater feeling, well, satisfied. I think that's exactly the word I want to use. Both of the first two X-Men movies had entertained me and I was satisfied with that. I'd paid my ticket price, I'd sat in a theater for two hours and watched images flicker on the screen, and I'd found those images entertaining. Seeing X-Men and X2: X-Men United had, for me, been satisfactory exchanges of commerce.
And, yet, in both instances I'd left the theater with a vague feeling that I hadn't gotten what I'd hoped for.
After watching the first two X-Men movies, if someone had asked me what I'd thought of either movie, I'd have simply said "It was good." I'd have said that and I'd have left it at that, with no more enthusiasm than I might use to describe the Big Mac I had for lunch two days ago. That, also, had been a satisfying commercial exchange. I'd paid the price for the item and the item had satisfied me. If a Big Mac fills you up and doesn't taste bad, then it's done it's job. That's what fast-food burgers are for. That's what fast-food movies are for, too. In that regard, X-Men and X2: X-Men United are both perfectly good McMovies.
It wasn't until I saw the third movie in the franchise, X-Men: The Last Stand, that I really realized what had been missing from the first two movies: excitement.
Why had I left the theaters feeling satisfied, but not that I'd really gotten what I'd hoped for? Because neither film had excited me. Neither had delivered the goods the way a story-line in an X-Men comic book does. I realize now, in retrospect, that both of the first two movies had been restrained. Weighed down. I believe that the first two movies had suffered because their director, Bryan Singer, had wanted those two films to mean something. I think Singer was trying to have some sort of profound subtext with both of his X-Men movies, and, for me, there was simply no subtext there. There was nothing meaningful between the lines. The movies failed with regard to thematic subtext, and since they'd been so restrained (actually, suffocated is a better word), they'd failed as escapism. They both looked good enough, and neither ever really slowed down enough to be downright boring but neither one succeeded at making me think, nor at making me stop thinking.
Brett Ratner, director of the third X-Men movie, seems to have been hell-bent on making a movie that only did one thing: Entertain. Along the way, he also manufactured genuine excitement, almost as an unintentional byproduct. There were times while watching X-Men: The Last Stand when I was literally on the edge of my seat with my jaw literally hung open in a state of wide-eyed joy. Wow! I didn't know what to expect from the third X-Men movie. I had no idea that what I'd be getting was one of the best all-out action movies of the past few years.
As a fan of the X-Men comics, the third movie finally put on the screen the same characters I'd enjoyed on the page for years. Finally, in X-Men: The Last Stand, Wolverine demonstrated that famous berserker rage. It was nice to see him break free of Bryan Singer's needlessly imposed James-Dean-like moping goth mode. And, finally, Storm was really part of the action! For two movies in a row I'd watched Storm do little more than moralize. Oh, and lest I forget, finally Iceman actually ICES.
And, by the way, did you know that some of the X-Men can fly? You did know that if you've read X-Men comics... and Brett Ratner obviously knows it, because some of the mutants in this movie actually fly. It's as though these superheroes have broken free from some sort of tyrant. I'm so glad Bryan Singer jumped ship to go direct his hobbled version of Superman.
Best of all, finally, in X-Men: The Last Stand, the mutants were vulnerable. Vulnerable to each other, to humans, and to the world around them. I was shocked and, surprisingly, delighted... as major mutant characters were killed off, altered, or rendered powerless along the way. Fights, conflicts and battle sequences in this third film actually meant something because it was clear from early on that this movie would dispose of characters indiscriminately. The conflicts in the third X-Men film mattered because the consequences of those conflicts had immediate, long-reaching, profound impact on the movie's world.
It's the ultimate irony. Bryan Singer wanted to make exciting movies with a deep meaning, and instead made films that merely entertained on a basic, rock-bottom level. Brett Ratner, I'm convinced, wanted to make a movie that simply entertained and, instead, he made a movie that I found completely exciting and surprisingly meaningful. How's that for mutation?
As Hank "Beast" McCoy, the most significant X-Men to make his big-screen debut here, Kelsey Grammer was in perfect pitch. His performance was exactly what it should have been, and I think that has more to do with Grammer's distinctive delivery and presence than anything else. It's not that Grammer became Hank McCoy. Grammer already is Hank McCoy.
My complaints with The Last Stand are few, but I guess I'll mention them. For starters, why wasn't Nightcrawler in this film? The storyline, about the nature of mutation and the natural desire to fit in, is perfect content for his character. Nightcrawler is my favorite X-Men mutant, and I missed him. Another classic X-Men character, Angel, was added to the movie with absolutely no meaningful effect at all. He might as well have been excluded. And, as in the first two movies, the spitfire mutant Rogue was reduced to little more than an angst-filled teenage damsel in distress.
Still, when a movie has so much to offer, complaining at all seems ungrateful. Juggernaut, for instance, is a brother of Charles (Professor X) Xavier in the comics. In this film, he was just a big, noisy bad guy. But, ya know what? Even in the comics he's never been much more than a big, noisy bad guy and his big scene in this movie, involving a chase between him and Shadowcat, was one movie's many action packed jaw-droppers. Other mutants were mere composites of characters from the pages of the comics but since those composite roles weren't particularly consequential, I suppose I'm indifferent about Ratner's employment of that cinematic device. Over all, if an X-Men comics fan has things to complain about with this movie, it's because he wants to have things to complain about and he's carefully looked for them.
A lot is left up in the air at the end of this movie. Major characters are dead (or are they?) or have lost their powers (or have they?) or have been abandoned (maybe). There are a number of directions this franchise can go in the fourth film. My vote? Don't make a fourth film. Leave it as it is. It's rare that a movie trilogy actually concludes with it's best installment. The only instance that I can think of is Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. If they stop here, the X-Men trilogy will be able to make that same claim. The X-Men movies won't equal the Lord of the Rings movies but, just like Return of the King, Brett Ratner's X-Men: The Last Stand will conclude the trilogy with one hell of a bang.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Here's my problem with the X-Men movies. There are so many characters to focus on that they really don't spend much time on any of them. And in each movie they introduce even more characters to not full develop. If you're not going to do anything with a character, then don't waste my time.
That's how I feel about X-Men: The Last Stand. Once again new characters are introduced to only serve as background clutter. We see Angel for the very first time. We learn just about nothing about him (well other than he has cool wings), and then he does just about nothing. Why even bother introducing him? Why not take characters from the previous movies and expand upon them some more.
The one good thing about this movie was that Wolverine was more like Wolverine. He smoked. He looked tougher. He killed. He looked stockier. He wasn't as tall and slender as in the past movies. This really gives me hope for the upcoming Wolverine movie that they've been working on.
The action scenes just bored me. The film just bored me. I never once was on the edge of my seat. It didn't even look that good. And once again, how lame is Storm? Pretty darn lame.
If you feel compelled to go see a comic book movie this summer, then go see Superman Returns because you'll have a lot more fun than with this drivel.
Rating: 2 out of 5