Thursday, June 01, 2006

X-Men : The Last Bells and Whistles

It was bittersweet news for comic book movie fans (and movie fans, in general) when Bryan Singer decided to skip out on making the third X-Men movie, in favor of Superman Returns. Finally, a Superman movie was going to be made, and with Singer directing, it was probably going to be a good one. But the X-Men were getting screwed over in the process.

I'm not someone who thinks Brett Ratner is the filmmaking anti-christ, though I wasn't thrilled to see him take over (after Matthew Vaughn bolted, as well) because Singer seemed to "get" the X-Men so well. I was really impressed by his vision for them and wanted to see where he'd go next. But hey, the first two movies established the characters and their universe well enough, so maybe Ratner wouldn't (couldn't) #@$% things up.


(First, let me get the gratuitous Hugh Jackman-in-a-tank-top picture up there for Mis Hooz. She's a big fan.)

Okay, Ratner didn't #@$% things up. But that's actually one of the problems I had with X-Men: The Last Stand. Let me try to make sense of that. See, it felt like he tried too hard not to mess with the winning formula. And that was probably smart on his part. But to me, it gave the whole film kind of a flat, cautious tone. There wasn't the same passion or creativity that made the first two X-Men flicks so exciting.

I can't usually point at a film and confidently say "That's where the director is messing up," but Ratner (or his cinematographer - whatever) seemed to do nothing with the camera. It wasn't moving. All the shots were static. Nothing was from an interesting angle. And I often hate it when wacky shots or funky angles are used for no discernable reason (let's use another comic book movie, Daredevil, as an example). To me, that's just the director trying to make it look like he's doing something.

But these types of films are so much better when the camera adds to the action. If you saw X2, think about the opening scene with Nightcrawler jumping and teleporting all over the White House, trying to assassinate the President. Right away, you were pushed back in your seat and knew you were watching something cool. To me, there's nothing like that in the new movie.

It's also missing - for lack of a better word - "soul." There's no depth to this thing. I'm not expecting an Arthur Miller play, but the first two X-flicks were so compelling because of the attention paid to the characters and their conflicts. 'Last Stand' relies far too much on two things: 1) the other X-Men movies, and 2) special effects.

Continue reading "X-Men: The Last Bells and Whistles" (and pardon me while I geek out):

The filmmakers apparently decided that all the character stuff you need is in the previous movies, so go back and watch those if you want to see why Wolverine lusts after Jean Grey, and vice versa. Why do Professor Xavier and Magneto have such an ideological clash in philosophies? Is there a reason these heroes or villains choose their sides, besides "I'm a good guy" and "I'm a bad guy"?

And as I see it, these are the central themes of the film: Whether or not mutants should be "cured" and should someone's mind be messed with for the greater good of the world? Singer would've taken the time to address those themes. Again, look at X2 and the scene where Bobby tells his parents he's a mutant. This time around, however, the themes are only addressed with heavy-handed dialogue, extraneous scenes, and obvious character motivations - i.e., Rogue wants to be cured so she can touch people.

But Ratner & Co. seem more interested in showing Colossus' metal skin, Storm fly through the air, Jean Grey's evil "Dark Phoenix" face and hissy-fits, and Pyro and Iceman shoot fire and ice at each other, rather than showing you why it all happens. Of course, some of that stuff - such as what Magneto does to the Golden Gate bridge - is really cool. But for a film that relies so heavily on special effects, I thought they looked surprisingly chintzy in some scenes. (I can't really mention them without giving away some spoilers.)


Also, when it comes to these types of movies, I think there's a very fine line between giving the geeks what they want ("More mutants from the comics!") and pandering to them to curry favor ("If we give 'em more mutants, they'll be too geeked out to complain"). 'Last Stand' does it both ways, I suppose.

My not-so-inner geek was thrilled to see the blue, furry, and articulate Hank McCoy (Beast) on the big screen. And Kelsey Grammer does a great job. He's not just Frasier Crane under a bunch of make-up. Along with Kitty Pryde, they're the best parts of the movie. But another new character, Angel, gets virtually no screen time, despite his involvement with an very important storyline. It's pretty much "Look, he has wings!" and they're done with him. Such a waste of a good character and juicy story conflicts.

The previous X-flicks did a nice job of nodding to the geeks, which probably resulted in plenty of knowing winks, whispers, and nudges in the theater, but left it at that. This time, wave after wave of fresh new mutant and comic book reference is thrown at you throughout the movie. ("Yes! They're in the Danger Room! Wait - is that a Sentinel? Hey, there's the Multiple Man! Oooh, look at Juggernaut! Hang on - is that Callisto? And wasn't Dr. Rao in the comic books? Excelsior!")

Ultimately, however, it comes down to the same characters we've followed for three movies. So aren't all the other bells and whistles kind of unnecessary? I certainly thought so.

With the "Last Stand" title, it's been assumed that this will probably be the last time we see all the X-Men gallavanting around on the big screen. Next time, we'll probably just get more Wolverine. But with the all the money that it's bringing in, isn't it more than likely we'll get more Marvel mutants? And there are so many more stories to tell. Bryan Singer's long since moved on with the guy in the big "S" and red cape, and he probably doesn't want the X-Men back after Brett Ratner had his way with them. But if more of these movies are made, I hope the producers find someone who will take proper time and care with these characters, rather than just working on them as his or her next project.