When Bryan Singer left the X-Men franchise to direct Superman Returns, I couldn’t help but feel a little dread. The first X-movie got off to an uneven start (mutagenic wave? killing off Senator Kelly?) but was ultimately satisfying. X-Men 2 succeeded on all fronts, evoking the comic books, introducing new characters, and telling a satisfying story.
And now we have X-Men: The Final Stand, a movie which struggles mightily with an ever-larger cast and myriad plots meant to satisfy diehard fans and newbies alike. Unfortunately, the plots and the characters caught up in them never manage to gel cohesively, ending with a movie that’s the cinematic equivalent of one of veteran X-scribe Chris Claremont’s rambling, multi-year, never-quite-explained plots.
Dead But Dreaming
When last we saw the X-Men, they’d just foiled the plot of a mutant-hating general to wipe out the sub-species. In the process Jean Grey, a.k.a. the never-named Marvel Girl, dies saving her fellow X-Men from drowning as a swelling lake threatens to engulf their faltering Blackbird jet.
Flash forward to X-Men 3. Scott Summers — a.k.a. Cyclops — can’t get over the death of his wife Jean and thoughts of her echo through his dreams. Except it turns out that they aren’t dreams … and that Jean’s transformation, begun in X2, is now complete. This is the fabled, much anticipated Dark Phoenix storylines, one of the great tales of X-Lore, and fans have been eagerly awaiting it since X1.
In this movie it’s married to a more recent storyline: a cure for mutation has been found, and the mutant community is struggling with whether to accept it. Some, like the life-energy leeching teenager Rogue see it as a blessing that will free her from a touch-less prison. Others, like Magneto, see it as nothing short of a declaration of war on mutants.
Filling in the odd spots between the two plots are an assortment of new mutants, including much-demanded favorites like the blue-furred brianiac Hank “Beast” McCoy as a former X-Men and current Secretary of Mutant Affairs, the former sewer-dwelling Morlock known as Callisto, and the white-winged Angel.
As the movie unfolds, each mutant must make a stand on the Cure … and all must find some way to deal with the growing power of Jean Grey’s wildly evolving powers.
The key to Bryan Singer’s success with X-Men 2 was a strong, fast-moving plot that managed that teased fans with references to all manner of mutants, but focused primarily on the stories of the core team. So we caught glimpses of Kitty Pryde shadowcatting her way through walls, Colossus turning to steel to defend the X-Mansion, and references to fan-favorite mutants like Beast and Gambit while most of the core X-Men saw their stories advanced (except poor Storm, who never got the focus she deserved).
X3’s Brett Ratner tries the same tricks, but more often than he succeeds. We’re teased with Angel (a founding X-Men in the comics) but he turns out to be a throw away character. We are introduced to Beast, who’s glorious as the blue furred intellectual-turned-brawler, played perfectly by Kelsey Grammer. The Morlock outcasts of the mutant community turn up, but their appearance is meaningless — they’re just pawns in Magento’s army, and their leader, Callisto, is little more than an awkward plot device. Colossus and Kitty rise to X-Men status in the film, fighting on the front lines, but their comic book romance never makes it to the big screen. Colossus exists only to provide the much-appreciated fastball special for Wolverine, and gets almost no lines; Kitty fairs better with her own action sequence and as a romantic foil for Rogue and Iceman.
The biggest disappointment comes from the Dark Phoenix storyline, which in the book’s was tale of power, lust, love and ultimately sacrifice. There’s none of that here — Dark Phoenix exists to drive action scenes, and in doing so she produces a lot of friction, but not much heat. Indeed, part of the larger problem: there is no Phoenix Effect. There should have been flames and surges of red-hot power rolling off of her every time Jean Grey used her Phoenix power. Instead we got Jean staring real intently, which just can not rival the barely controlled inferno that is the true Phoenix effect.
All of this may sound like the rants of scorned fanboy, but in truth, the problem is really one of plot and character development. Every potentially interesting plot point — the ramifications of the Cure for the mutants like the life-draining Rogue, what it means to have a mutant as powerful as Phoenix running around — are thrown away in favor of empty action scenes (like say, tearing apart the Golden Gate Bridge) and meaningless character deaths.
The movie entertains, but it does not satisfy. And ultimately, that is why it fails.
- X-Men 3: The Last stand
- Director: Bryan Singer
- Starring:Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry
- Running Time: 103 minutes
- Buy it from Amazon.com