Tuesday, October 17, 2006


X misses the spot

By Edward Copeland
I've never picked up an "X-Men" comic in my life, but the first two film installments directed by Bryan Singer made me a fan of the film franchise at least. I loved the original and thought its sequel, X2: X-Men United, was even better. The films went beyond the usual heroics and added layers of metaphor I found unusual for comic-based films ranging from explicit allusions to the Holocaust and more implicit ones to people who think homosexuality can be "cured." Of course, quality control in Hollywood never proves to be an easy accomplishment and the third installment, X-Men: The Last Stand, wore out its welcome, with me at least.

The series that made Hugh Jackman a star as Wolverine finally had reached its limit — with the prevalent humor of the first two installments hardly present and the metaphors to other issues wearing thin.

Not familiar at all with the comic versions, I've often asked people who were whether I was wrong based on the first two films not to see Magneto (the great Ian McKellen) as the villain he's supposed to be. Honestly, his point of view that mutants need to fight attempts to annihilate them seemed to make a lot more sense than Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and his rosy dream of peaceful coexistence with humans who can't move things with their minds, control the weather or shoot fire or ice from their hands. The third installment does try to paint Magneto in a bit more villainous terms, but I'm still more on his side, even when I'm not on the side of the movie itself. The premise this time concerns a scientist (Michael Murphy), the father of a mutant (Ben Foster) who discovers a "cure" to mutants' special abilities.

While the film tries to posit the case that the mutants don't need to be cured, they need to be accepted, there doesn't seem to be much maliciousness on the part of Murphy and other characters. In fact, Rogue (Anna Paquin) embraces the idea, which makes sense since I never quite saw the advantage of a mutant power that caused anyone you touched to die, because she wants to be able to make out with her boyfriend.

One thing that this installment improves upon though is the character of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), who apparently died in the second installment. We learn that not only did she survive but that she's always had a split personality, the other being Phoenix, the most powerful mutant of them all and one with a nasty streak. The change gives Janssen a chance to sink her teeth into the role in a way the first two films didn't allow.

It also presents a problem as to the arguments of Xavier. He's suspicious of the idea of "curing" mutants, but we learned he constructed some kind of mental block on Jean when she was a child to keep her Phoenix side at bay. Is there really that big a difference between his actions and the desires of the government? Again, I think Magneto has the moral high ground on this one.

It's tempting to attribute this film's weaknesses to Singer's exit to make Superman Returns and the placement of Brett Ratner in the director's chair, but really, the screenplay takes the blame here. There are some interesting action sequences and many top-notch CGI effects, but those elements are not the ones that made me such a fan of the first two X-Men movies.

On top of that, Wolverine's would-be laugh lines, which usually worked in the first two films, mostly play like watered-down Schwarzenegger one-liners from his 1980s action films. Oh well. I guess it was too much to hope that the series could maintain its high standard of excellence, but one thing is for certain: X-Men: The Last Stand definitely plays as if it's the end of a trilogy and based on this movie, I think that's probably a wise decision they should stand behind.

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I am an old reader of the X-men comics... and old means that I stick to the long-gone times when writer Chris Claremont and artists Dave Cochrum, John Byrne and Paul Smith took it to the Pinnacle (Afterwards the whole thing went a bit trite and predictable, of these I have only kept those drawn by the great Alan Davis.

Magneto, in the pre-Claremont days, this is as originally conceived by Stan Lee and jack Kirby, was just another powerful baddie, but Claremont created his Holocaust chilhood and Magneto's reasons for his antagonism against humanity: the conflict with Xavier lied in that Xavier thought that Magneto's methods (To annihilate the enemy) were not so different from those of the Nazis who had killed Magneto's family.

The conception of the Phoenix as represented in the film is the result of battles between Claremont the creator and the Marvel publishers who somewhat castrated his original idea, and the successive perversions of the idea by Marvel hired hands who have deviated from Claremont's original concept (by successively killing and ressurecting Jean Grey and/or making her one with the Phoenix or two different entities: at some point publisher Jim Shooter "comdemned Jean Grey to die as she had become evil, qualms about the morality of the actions of Phoenix. The film tries to establish a canon, though).

Re the mutant difference, the more common theory is that the X-men personified the irruption of teenage angst (you suddenly feel different to others and feel uncomprehended by adults, boo-hoo) though the outcast theme was skillfully dealt with, so it could applied to any human group which has ever been persecuted (the fact that magneto is a concentration camp survivor is a good example of this)

Personally, while I find the X-films reasonably watchable, I still miss the kick of the original series: now that really was thrills!
I simply hated X-3 ... Ratner just tried to cram in way too many storylines, without bothering to take the time to understand any of them .. And as someone who has read far too many X-Men comics, I thought his treatment of Jean Grey was particularly shabby, introducing the Dark Phoenix concept, a very important one, and then discarding it so quickly
...But then little wonder: not even Marvel has respected the original Phoenix as Claremont devised it. I couldn't think of a more devilish thing to do as to cram the Phoenix story in a feature film: a series would have been more suited to develop the story.

If it was me, I'd left (comics) Phoenix dead in the moon , with Rachel Summers as only heir, and Scott happily married to Madelyne... Any further deviations (and spamming of Summers/Grey genes through all the multiverse) were devised by Marvel just to make cash.
Was it just me or did the final resolution of Phoenix and Wolverine in X3 bear a striking resemblance to Angel and Buffy at the end of Season 2?
Well, words like "reached its limit" or "this should be the end" are inconsequential because it is the closing backend of a trilogy.

I've agreed with your writings many times, but I personally still have yet to see a valid argument that this doesn't work as a film. I can see people being dissapointed if it didn't live up to past expectations but I think it's more or less at the mark of the previous X-Men Films:
To counter arguments:
-I think they found time to adequately develop Storm, Wolverine, Jean, and Professor X which was pretty and to a lesser degree Magneto, Mystique, Pyro and Kitty Pride had their moments. I'd call that pretty impressive.
-When you say it lacked the humor of the first two X-Men films, I would argue that humor was never one of the X-Men trilogy's strong suits. The scattering of jokes is mild at best.
-The conflict within Jean Grey and the professor is what made it interesting, and the film can't be criticized for not being self-aware of the dilemna. That doubt is voiced in Wolverine's character
-I also think you're way off the mark in saying that Wolverine had a lot of laughable dialogue. He has the most tranformation in this film, in which he has to let go of Jean and encourages Colossus, Kitty and Iceman to fight
What I said was that its attempt at humors, especially Wolverine's one-liners, fall as flat as the worst Arnold Schwarzenegger lines in his 1980s movies. As always, films like these are only as strong as their villain. The first one had it in Bruce Davison's senator and the second with Brian Cox's military madman. This one, doesn't really have a villain. Michael Murphy's aims don't seem ominous, whereas Professor X's mind trick on Jean seems of dubious ethical quality from someone who is supposed to represent the "good" mutant vs. the "bad" mutant Magneto. The first film found a metaphor to the Holocaust and the second equating it with coming out as gay. Here, the metaphor has lost all its steam, as has just about everything else minus Jean/Phoenix, which is really the only interesting thing in this installment.
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