Wednesday, May 31, 2006

MOVIES: X-Men: The Last Stand

Spoilers ahead.

I was a fan of the first X-Men movie, and I thought the second was even better. The third, X-Men: The Last Stand, I didn't care for as much as either of those, but I still liked it.

The main difference between the first two and the third, of course, is the director. Bryan Singer had a knack for delivering great action sequences without sacrificing character. Brett Ratner is a hack. That he doesn't completely destroy the franchise in the third film is more a credit to the actors and characters established in Singer's films that any ability of his own.

I will give him credit for some exciting fight scenes. The battle in Jean Grey's childhood home was spectacular -- and its end result was a big surprise (to me, anyway). Magneto's rescue of Mystique was good, car-smashing fun (as long as you're not one of the dudes in the smashed cars). And the whole Golden Gate Bridge/Alcatraz finale was mostly successful, although it suffered from a bit of overkill. But really, it would be pretty hard to mess up Magneto ripping the Golden Gate out of the ground, especially since that's mostly in the hands of the FX people, not Ratner.

As far as the FX goes (go? Should "FX" be treated as singular or plural?), I actually had some problems with it (them?). A lot of the bluescreen/greenscreen stuff was painfully obvious -- and I don't mean in the big fight scenes, I mean just in quiet establishing shots. For example, when Scott is standing on the rocky outcrop at Alkali Lake, there is an obvious mismatch between the rock and the water, a digital seam that indicates that the rocks and the lake were not in the same place. It's relatively subtle, but to me, very distracting. Same thing when Magneto and his Brotherhood first approach the Golden Gate. It's all too apparent that the actors are standing in front of a greenscreen, not any real landscape. There were several other moments like this throughout the movie, which added up to a real nuisance for me. They should be a whole lot better at disguising those kinds of things these days, shouldn't they?

Another nuisance: the amount of characters. It seemed like there were too many and too few at the same time. Too many bad guy mutants on the one hand, with their Troma-quality "I'm a tough punk! No, really! Look at my tattoos and black clothing!!" outfits. And not enough of the characters we came to know in the first films. Missing in action for most of the movie: Professor Xavier, Rogue, Cyclops, Nightcrawler (completely cut out of this one), and Jean Grey, who actually has a lot of screentime, but doesn't do much more than glare menacingly. Of the three major mutant characters added for this film, Juggernaut was entertaining enough (and apparently his line, "I'm the Juggernaut, bitch!" is some big deal internet phenomenon that someone will have to explain to me), Kelsey Grammer's Beast I thought was excellent, and Angel was a complete waste of time. Didn't work for one second.

Kitty Pryde got a lot more to do (and did you know she's been played by three different actresses now?), basically replacing Rogue, and honestly, Kitty's powers are a lot more dynamic onscreen than Rogue's. But I'd have preferred more Anna Paquin. Bobby and Pyro also get their long-awaited showdown, and it was a little disappointing to me. All they do is shoot a single beam of ice or fire at each other? No moving, no dodging, no strategy? Eh. I did like Bobby turning into the fully frozen Iceman, but again, the FX were (was?) a bit off. And Storm finally became a major character, taking up the space left by the absence of other characters, perhaps at the insistence of Halle "I've got a damn Oscar, you know" Berry. Her relegation to a minor role in the first two films has always been kind of a mystery to me. Not that she's that spectacular with her increased role here, and not that her role is increased all that much; maybe if a fourth film happens, she'll actually get a plotline.

Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart (while he's around), and Hugh Jackman once again anchor this film, with McKellen especially getting a chance to go crazy, whether it's rallying mobs of mutants to his side or squinching up his face real hard while he moves bridges (way to sell it, Sir Ian!). The scenes between Logan and Jean were a high point for me (well, aside from some naked Rebecca Romijn, that is. Hey, I'm only human). Jean's attempted seduction of Logan was sexy and creepy at the same time, and their final encounter was sad but inevitable. Could've been made better if there were a little more to Jean, a little more reason in this film to show why Logan loved her in the first place, other than she just looked hot in her underwear.

Good action scenes; could've been better. Good character moments; could've been more with the major players, and more effective. It's a step down from the high standards set by the first two films, but overall, it's still pretty good. I just hope, if there's a fourth film, Singer is available.

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