by Walter Chaw and Bill Chambers, published on September 25, 2006|
As an example of what can happen when a homophobic, misogynistic, misanthropic moron wildly overcompensates in a franchise that had as its primary claim to eternity that it was sensitive to the plight of homosexuals, Brett Ratner's painfully queer X-Men: The Last Stand (hereafter "X3") manages to present its series of melodramatic vignettes in such a way as to completely negate any sense of peril, individuality, or struggle for the characters. Without a sense of weight, the references in the piece to genocide and The Holocaust ("Ink shall never again touch my skin!" says Ian McKellen's Magneto) become pure, laggard exploitation in the service of a sub-par superhero action film that shows its true colours time and again in its hatred of women ("Hell hath no fury!") and loathing of female sexuality, as well as in its flat-eyed regard of children trying to hasp off their wings while their fathers attempt to break down the bathroom door. It's Michael Bay's Schindler's List: a reptilian populist, at ease with the slick and facile, has been asked to take the reins of a project that, for whatever its crimes of pacing and exposition, had in its Bryan Singer-helmed episodes the good sense not to kick over ant piles it wasn't prepared to contain.
The premise this time is that they've discovered a cure for "mutant-ism" in the mutant power of a little boy, Leech (Cameron Bright), meaning that any close contact with him results in the negation of mutant powers--which of course doesn't make any kind of sense if we're talking about genetic change, but there you have it. Happily-imprisoned in Alcatraz (retrofitted now as a research laboratory (it's a metaphor, stupid)), Leech sits there blankly in the style perfected by young Mr. Bright, waiting for a stupid battle to take place on his behalf between the forces of "good" and the forces of "evil." But these lines drawn in X3 feel arbitrary, and the scenes of picketers protesting before "clinics" offering the cure to unhappy mutants (leading to the inevitable abortion clinic explosion), the horrific imagery of a woman who has had her sexuality unfettered by a traumatic event going batshit (Jean Grey/Dark Phoenix (Famke Janssen))--her entire storyline reminding of Clive Barker's "Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament"), and those loaded tableaux of people being reduced to ash while a troubled minority exterminates itself all start to feel dirty, like the world's most expensive Leni Riefenstahl film.
What should be an excruciating decision of whether or not to take the cure for an "unfavourable" mutation--even the question of how the debate begins to change once a "cure" is found over the morality of playing God to fix one of His works--is ignored in X3 in favour of rote special-effects sequences and perfunctory action spasms that bear no relation to each other. There are no consequences in this universe. As with X2 casualty Jean Grey being resurrected with nary an explanation, emotional or narrative, when other main characters die, there's never any sense of peril or pathos. When Cyclops (James Marsden) is summarily dispatched in the early going, for instance, his absence isn't questioned for at least an hour, by which time it's no longer clear if he's actually dead or was pushed out of the picture by the sheer volume of characters introduced--at least in one scene--through a literal checklist. Dark intimations that Jean's Id--manifesting itself as a real strong desire to get laid--needs to be stringently controlled by Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) hint at some real dysfunction in the picture that's neither addressed nor ameliorated by Magneto's late-film semi-intervention. Magneto wants this girl to go wild, and once she does, he's as helpless as the rest of the "brotherhood" before her appetite.
In Ratner's world, tortured men ride motorcycles along winding roads; women (preferably naked) are sexually voracious fatales who make decisions based primarily on the likelihood of getting fucked by über-mensch; and androgynous leather freaks typify the difference between dark and light. The final battle--which finds only six "good" X-Men arrayed against an army of "bad" mutants--is cacophonous in no fruitful way, allowing Beast (Kelsey Grammar, probably delighted to get to say "Oh my stars and garters!") to kill a few faceless rabble, while over it all hangs the truisms that Storm (Halle Berry) is completely worthless for someone who can control the weather and that Magneto should just neutralize the metallic Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), thus reducing his opposition by a third. In the middle of so much ridiculousness (and more: with the seams already bursting, Ratner shoehorns in a romantic ice-skating scene), find young Ellen Page creating, as Kitty Pryde, a character out of whole cloth that feels vulnerable, fully-fleshed, and somehow worth caring about. The great irony of X3 is that even with the inevitable suggestion of another sequel, the promise of a Wolverine spin-off film looming on the near-horizon, and Ratner's continued viability as a big-budget director despite/because of his string, unabated, of sub-par, repugnant, feckless pictures, the star born out of this hateful, clumsy mess is a young woman, Page, who's so obviously too damn good for it.
You'll recall from our review of Transporter 2 that Fox, with a little encouragement from the likes of yours truly, quickly discontinued the practice of watermarking DVD product sent out to press, opting for the less invasive route of pressing their screeners at Deluxe with various piracy deterrents encrypted into the platter itself. Unfortunately, over the past few months, these check discs have seen a sharp drop in quality, and the studio has started branding them with a 20th Century Fox logo that materializes onscreen four or five times over the course of the film--pre-emptive measures against file-sharing, both. If I may regurgitate my own addendum to Walter's review of Mr. & Mrs. Smith:
"While I realize we're entering a brave new world and companies need to protect their freshly vulnerable assets, I'm not sure that such an open display of distrust towards the press is the best preventative measure...Maybe we're spoiled, but that's sort of irrelevant--you wouldn't tell a restaurant critic to eat his soup even though there's a fly in it just because it's on the house. Furthermore, you wouldn't blame him for the fly; the studios are looking for scapegoats because of the embarrassing fact that most bootlegs are sourced back to a mole within the company."
These anti-piracy measures ultimately show as much contempt for the movie in question as they do for the (re)viewer, though. Last week I requested a retail version of Dark Sky's 2-Disc Ultimate Edition of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which presents the film in a high-definition transfer struck from the original negative. (In short, for the first time in its home video history, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre will be watchable.) The publicist referred me to my watermarked promotional DVD, arguing that it was sufficient despite the "Property of Dark Sky" tag that obscures the bottom third of the image for the length of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre's duration. Isn't this counterintuitive, to stain something after improving it?
I confess a chance to climb this pulpit once more is my main reason for reviewing X-Men: The Last Stand. I certainly don't feel comfortable assigning a letter grade to the 2.38:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation*: with a bitrate averaging 4.0mbps, the image on our copy looks soft and pixellated, its colours conspicuously weak. Fortunately the audio isn't affected--and while I found the sound design a tad uninspired compared to that of the second film, this is a robust mix whether you listen to it in Dolby Digital 5.1 EX or DTS-ES 6.1. The latter boasts superior bass and transparency, but the two are fairly comparable in a blind taste test. Chapter 10, Jean Grey's homecoming, is demo material.
For a tentpole release, the DVD is remarkably light on supplements. Extras begin with two determinedly uncontroversial commentary tracks, the first featuring Brett Ratner and sceenwriters Zak Penn and Simon Kinberg, the second teaming producers Ralph S. Winter and Lauren Shuler-Donner with (ex?-)Marvel head Avi Arad. Bryan Singer is spoken of reverently in each yakker, though neither the production's tumultuous backstory nor its fast-tracked schedule are ever addressed. Shuler-Donner credits other departing director Matthew Vaughn with Kelsey Grammar's casting, however, and calls second-unit helmer Simon Crane the unsung hero of the film. I like the bit where Ratner refers to the "leitmotifs" of John Powell's score--you can almost hear him flipping his hand over to read the magic marker on his palm. Mostly he covets or brags about possessing the various motor vehicles that appear on screen while his co-conspirators participate in a running gag trainspotting ostensible homages to Stanley Kubrick. To Ratner's credit, he's as embarrassed as we are by a sign outside a clinic façade that reads "Mutant Cure Shots Available Here," but it really shouldn't have been there in the first place, should it?
Also included is a 10-minute selection of thirteen "Deleted Scenes" with optional group commentary again from Ratner, Kinberg, and Penn. Most of these are more aptly described as extended or alternative scenes, and I have to say that Ratner's justification for eliding the final, mushroom-cloud-layin' step in Jean Grey's transformation into Dark Phoenix (he felt that it "took you out of the movie") makes very little sense to me. I prefer Rogue's fate here, by the by, and so does Kinberg (I think it's Kinberg), although in the yak-track for the movie proper he admits that by that point in the process he was too tired to mount a defense for it. Two trailers, a "24" spot, trailers for Daredevil, Elektra, Fantastic Four, and A Night at the Museum, and a promising work-in-progress "first glimpse" of The Simpsons Movie round out the platter. Previews for Ice Age 2, Thank You for Smoking, and Behind Enemy Lines II: Axis of Evil cue up on startup. Note that the main menu prompts you to either "Join the Brotherhood" or "Take a Stand," but there's no difference in content between the two.
Rating: 0,5 out of 4