Wednesday, May 31, 2006

"Oh my stars and garters!"

Mes Amis

As mentioned yesterday, went to see X Men III (Or X Men: Last Stand if you prefer) tonight. With a heavy heart. After all, Brett Ratner (Rush Hour 2, Red fuckin' Dragon) was directing, the script was written at the last minute and so many directors have come and gone from this project after Singer left to deal with the Man of Steel that frankly if this was going to come out as anything other than an incoherent mess, then, yes, I could believe in miracles.

So okay, I'm a believer because X 3 isn't half bad. Its not blow-your-mind great, but nowhere near the mess it could have been. The action takes place shortly after the second film. Jean Grey is dead (or at least presumed so after having a ruddy great wall of water falling on her at the end of the second movie), Scott is in mourning, Magneto is still waging a kind of guerilla war against humanity with what's left of his Brotherhood of Mutants and Charles Xavier is still running his school for gifted mutants (and for all his talk of peace, seems to want to teach them to fight ruddy big robots in the Danger Room - something that only fans of the comics will understand as Sentinel robots haven't made a proper appearance in the movies).

But before all this we have a very cool prologue where a twenty years younger Xavier and Magneto go to meet a talented teenage telepath called Jean Grey who shows off her powers by telkinetically lifting cars and playing with Stan Lee's hosepipe*. What's cool about this sequence is not only the intensity of the actress playing the young jean but the great de-aging effects on Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. Granted Patrick looks like someone's just wrapped his head in sellotape to smooth out the wrinkles (and besides, if you watch episodes of Star Trek TNG from about a decad back he's really not aged that much at all), but McKellen looks convincingly younger and both actors are clearly at home with their characters, convincingly showing us old friends who could quite easily become enemies at some point in the future when their differing ideologies force them into conflict (in fact in a later sequence, McKellen perfectly plays on this, showing us the great respect that Magneto still holds for Xavier despite all that has passed between them in the twenty or so years since they met Jean).

As the story proper begins, Scott goes off to where Jean got whacked by that big wall of water in the second film. He's having strange aural hallucinations you see where Jean keeps saying, "Scott!" in a ghostly voice. Its stopping him from shaving and clearly he just wants a good night's sleep. Here's where the problems start. This sequence, where Scott goes in seach of Jean and finds her should be dramatic but ends up playing pretty flat and ultimately in what should be a dramatic beginning, it takes a while before what has actually happened sinks in and by then, well, you just don't care.

And that's the major problem with X 3: you just don't really care that much. And you should because in Bryan Singer's hands, character deaths (or even just injuries) were affecting and filled with a deeper resonance than "wouldn't that be cool?" but it seems Ratner has sucked all the humanity out his film, although at least most of the cast give it their best. They all have limited time, of course, because the other problem is simply that there are far too many mutants introduced in this movie and suddenly we have love triangle with Bobby Drake (Iceman), Rogue and Kitty Pride who only ever appeared briefly in movies one and two and now suddenly has a whole backstory to deal with among those other newbies jostling for attention: Warren Worthington III (big wings), Juggernaut (Vinnie Jones and his mutant power of being unable to act), Collosus (who only appears on screen when Wolvie needs someone to throw him around) and the brilliant ball of blue that is the Beast (Kelsey Grammar, perfectly cast here). Add in the fact that you have three movies in one (The continuing war of ideology between Magneto and Xavier, the "cure" for the mutant gene and the Dark Pheonix as Jean Grey returns from the dead and proceeds to go completely mentalist) and what you have is a script that tries to do everything at once and winds up doing nothing. Except being loud and full of action.

None of which is really Ratner's fault. Its all to do with the scriptwriters (responsible for XXX: State of the Union and the Godawful Jennifer Garner vehicle, Elektra). In fact, Ratner is competent here: aping Singer's style visually if not quite getting the soul that Singer brought to the previous two movies. Singer handles the action pretty well and he knows well enough to let the actors do their thing with what little they have. Its just a pity that Xavier's fate is so poorly handled (you watch and then ten minutes you realise, hey, I should have been shocked!) and poor Scott Summers is barely on screen for two minutes. But Kelsey Grammar is great and Ian McKellen brings dignity while the lovely Anna Paquin tries to pretend that her indecision about whether to be "cured" is actually well written and manages to illicit some sympathy from us, the audience with her performance.

Ultimately, this movie is not as bad as it could have been and competently passes a couple of hours. But competence is a let down compared to the previous two movies which actually tried to do somehting more than just have mutants batter each other around for a few hours.

And Vinnie Jones gets all the worst lines ("I'm Juggernaut, Bitch!" will surely go down in history as one of the worst delivered lines in cinema perhaps next to his other moment of genius, "I don't swim").

If you like the other two, you'll be mildly dissapointed but still passingly entertained and in the end, this is nowhere near the mess it could so easily have been.

And yes, I want to be The Beast when I grow up. Oh my stars and garters, I do!

Au revoir



Gary Smith said...

I was pleasantly surprised. There's a lot going on - too much at times - but the plot threads are all engaging.

They really had to develop the Kitty Pryde character in order to push Rogue in the direction of the cure. Who else could he have flirted with? The only other candidate was Storm!

Still pissed about the role of Cyclops in this film - all 3 films in fact. The man deserves better!

Gary acting props go to Beast, Wolverine, Magneto and Iceman.

Russel said...

Yes, the plot threads were all fine but all really rushed and packed in so that there was very little character dvelopment or proper emotional impact (Think Cyclops and Prof X especially: my guts should have been wrenched). And of course they needed Kitty to push Rogue to the cure, but it was just one more character in an already packed film. Although even just the frustration of not being able to touch Bobby, never mind that he was flirting with anyone else, I think could have made that point nicely. I just feel if they'd made two films they could have really gone to town with all the plots, especially the Dark Pheonix stuff which could made a brilliantly apocalyptic film all on its own.

I'm not saying it was bad, of course. Still much entertainment going on and it was all competent: nothing especially bad except Vinnie Jones who will probably still end up the most quoted character out of the whole thing!

And yes, with you on the acting props. Especially Beast. Hurrah for Beast.

Gary Smith said...

One point about the Sentinels. The black man in the cabinet meeting is referred to as Trask, and the President authorises him to take any means neccesary against mutants.
In the comics the creator of the Sentinels is Bolivar Trask and I therefore spent the rest of the film wondering when the Sentinels were going to show up...