X-Men 3: The Last Stand - A Reassessment
Directed by Brett Ratner
So here it is, the supposed sign of Armageddon in the X-film pantheon, a horrific, empty monstrosity to wrap up the franchise Bryan Singer had built with such nuance and care, the black hole that James McAvoy and Fassbender had to help us all climb out of in the reboot “X-Men: First Class.” But, really, was it all that terrible? Compared to the ponderous, pretentious pace of Singer’s films, I remember X-3 actually having a feeling of life to it; colorful super humans angrily charging at each other, the Golden Gate Bridge being levitated through the air. Rather than a series of groggy philosophical arguments with a few bursts of action, Ratner’s entry makes the daring suggestion that summer comic book movies shouldn’t be Ingmar Bergman in costumes. Maybe they should actually be, (gulp) fun.
The main development this time around is the discovery of a cure for mutants, and the ramifications it has as viewed by the Elie Wiesel and Simon Wiesenthal of the mutant set, Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen). That the movie tries to juggle this, an ever-growing ensemble, as well as two major storylines that the comic took years to resolve - "The Dark Phoenix Saga" and "Days of Future Past," for you non-fanboys - gives it points for effort, though the transformation of Famke Janssen (now looking nearly too old for such stuff) from hero Jean Grey to the Linda Blair-like Phoenix doesn't have the operatic power of the comic's slow build, and you have to wonder if the threat of a mutant cure as "final solution" isn't patently ridiculous.
After all, who wouldn't dig being able to glaze one's eyes over like a Greek statue and command the weather, or have unbreakable bones and a set of Ginsu knives in your hands? For others, it sounds like an actor's welcome relief. Patrick Stewart always played Professor X as if on quaaludes, and Ian McKellen is a touch too queen as Lord of the Evil Mutants (that purple number he wears in the opening must be somebody's idea of an in-joke). But Kelsey Grammer makes a kind of comeback as the heroic Beast - you get past the "Frasier Crane as the Cowardly Lion" image soon enough - and Hugh Jackman returning as Wolverine carries the movie with the swagger of someone who knows he has a solo picture deal waiting if the whole thing falls through.
The action sequences when they do erupt are still a fan's dream come true, and the plot's urgency allows ballsy character developments and grim turns like the deaths of Cyclops and Professor X that the regular comic would never dare spring on its readers. It's startling, but feels accurate.
There was also the charming idea of the studio wrapping up the series in a mere three movies. I remember feeling it seemed as if they were just getting started. While fantasy franchises like "Harry Potter" looked content to stick around until they’d wrung every last penny from the kiddies' allowance, and "Star Wars" wore out its bloated welcome well before staggering to the finish line (to say nothing of that current beast, “The Hobbit”), our group of outcast mutants always came off as CGI minimalists by comparison; a bolt of lightning here, a brief super-powered scuffle there, hardly testing an audience's patience as Halle, Hugh and the gang deal with a world they never made.
For years, comics insiders have said the form is on the verge of going the way of Vaudeville, what with the internet, Blackberries, hyperrealistic video games, and any number of distractions to erode a reader's ability to ingest (and attain an advanced literacy from, incidentally) the primitive charms of a comic book, and the transition to a movie-going public seems its next, if not last, evolutionary step for survival. Not only is "X-Men: The Last Stand" indeed a worthy entry into comic-book filmdom, it also acts as a metaphor for the future of its original medium. For our mutant heroes and the funny book industry in general, all bets are off.
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