by Brian McDonough, published on June 8th, 2006|
X-Men 3 packs a ton of action and angst into just over 100 minutes. If the film has a drawback, its that its frenetic attempt to hit every emotional and action high overwhelms the story and the viewer. Yet many of those emotional moments flop, and a lot of action potential is underutilized.
Its no spoiler to reveal that Jean Grey, heroically killed at the end of the second flick, comes back, with dangerously increased powers. Its also been a key note of the ad campaign that Magneto is back, fighting against some kind of alleged cure for mutant-ness. Topping those two major storylines is mutant angst unrequited loves, jealousy, all that oh-so-human frailty that the X-Men comics have always dripped.
Brett Ratner steps into the chair Bryan Singer abandoned and seems determined to top the guy who had such success with the first two X-flicks. In particular, his action scenes are as fully orchestrated as military maneuvers, with Wolverine and a new addition, the Beast (Kelsey Grammer), really cutting loose in some exciting sequences. However, the moments that are supposed to have emotional heft are often fairly clunky, most particularly the intended tension between Wolverine and Jean Grey when her Phoenix incarnation comes back a bit randy. Ratner isnt as bad at romance and sexual tension as, say, George Lucas, but he aint much better, either.
As Magneto gathers an army of mutants committed to resisting this cure for their genetic gifts, the film managed to provide something the comics gave me when I was a kid, but the first two movies lacked. Much has been made of how the X-Men, as mutant outcasts, serve as a metaphor for anyone who feels disenfranchised. Racial minorities, the gay community, and most importantly, teenagers young people whose bodies are going crazy on them, who feel misunderstood and alienated, and resent or revolt against the system. Watching the mutants take sides in this movie, I felt that old desire to be an X-Man again, to want to be part of that world. While Singers movies held my interest and were quite successful, they never gave me that particular old buzz.
For fans of the X-Men comics, there are a lot of classic references to enjoy. For the less initiated, the film is liable to rush past at points, but not at the cost of overall enjoyment. The film does a particularly good job early on, laying out the conflicts and explaining characters and situations at a brisk but digestible clip.
(Warning: If you follow the jump, there wont be major specific plot spoilers, but there will be thematic commentary that might piss you off if you dont want any hints about the flick. Which, if youre that intense about it, you shouldve seen by now )
The biggest drag of the movie is how it handles the Phoenix story. Jean Grey comes back from the dead with the full, frightening potential of her psychic powers unleashed. Shes mentally unstable because well, the explanation the movie gives is kinda convenient and lame, really. But she is. Unstable. Anyway, the two things they do wrong is that whenever Jean is in character as the Phoenix, she gets this ugly vampire-zombie look. While characters argue whether Jean is now evil, the viewer looks at the screen and goes, yeah, clearly evil. Why make it so easy on the audience?
Another problem is similar to what occurred in the comics. Before Phoenix went bad, she was so powerful a good guy it was difficult to write a threat that she couldnt solve in the blink of an eye. Here, shes so powerful a sorta-villain that most of the time, the film has her standing around doing nothing, because if she were to take center stage as the main threat, shed wipe out the X-Men and everyone else in a heartbeat, and thats tough to sell as a Hollywood ending (which is not to say that her, and the films, body count isnt damned impressive).
Also, the extreme measures the X-Men have to take to contain her out-of-control powers seem absurd when a less drastic solution is not only right at hand, but is used against another villainous mutant only minutes before the final confrontation with Phoenix.
The film adds another original X-Man, the winged Angel, but barely makes use of him, and seems even to forget him by the end of the movie. Similarly, what seems like a really interesting possibility with shape-changing terrorist Mystique gets no play, either.
Magnetos plot, the opposition to the cure for mutanthood, is interesting, but the consequences and implications of the situation couldve been explored just a bit more, too. The film bites off more than it can comfortably chew. The result is a movie that moves really fast but doesnt get quite as much emotional or intellectual traction as it could.
And with so much going on, theres a lot of loose ends. It seems the Angel character was added only for one majestic shot of him spreading his wings. Hes underutilized throughout the film, and in the final battle, he rescues one minor character, flies off, and is never seen again.
The film makes some major changes to the status quo, leaving the team and their world in a condition much, much more changed than at the end of either of the previous movies. While this is supposed to be the Last Stand, there are a couple teasers at the end that seem to deliver a promise of stories to come (watch all the way through the credits for the last of those promises). Considering how much Ratner delivered as a latecomer to the project despite his unsatisfying emotional moments it wouldnt be so bad to see those promises kept.
THREE DEGREES of SEPARATION
Spider-Man 2 Full-steam action, emotional notes nailed one after another. Notice how having one charismatic villain works better?
Battlestar Galactica Technically not a movie, but the mini-series and a season and a half of the new show is out there, combining life-and-death tension, character drama and hot robot babes perfectly.
After the Sunset Ratners caper film with retired jewel thieves Pierce Brosnan and Salma Hayek against rogue fed Woody Harrelson has some really, really clunky moments, but is ultimately a fine piece of Caribbean confection.
Rating: 2,5 out of 5