X Factors

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First, a disclaimer. I’m officially out of the film review business. Oh sure, I’ll use this little cyber soapbox of mine to expound the virtues of my favorite flicks or rip Nacho Libre a new one (although that has guilty pleasure written all over it) – but film criticism, in the traditional deconstructionist vein, is no longer for me. I just find myself sapped of the energy it takes to properly craft my critique. I’d prefer to just fly with some observations – similar to how I handle my posts on Lost and 24 – and hopefully stir some discussion.

Which brings me to X-Men – The Last Stand. I saw the flick last Friday night, opening night, at the Regal Cinemas in Millbury, MA. My cousin Jason discusses his increasingly rare appearances at opening night flicks. He’s in his mid-twenties, lives in a swinging Boston-area pad and is a few years off from wife and child. If the task of catching a flick on a Friday night is difficult for him, it’s down right Sisyphusian for a guy in his mid-thirties with a wife, two kids, two dogs, and second and third wives in Utah.  

Anyway, you can read all about the flick and receive proper reviews at Jason and Sean’s sites. In fact, if you are interested in engaging in this discussion, I urge you to pop over there, read their pieces, and then pop back here as all I’m doing is pretty much adding to the discussion already started by my compadres. Don’t worry, wherever you go, what ever you do, I’ll still be right here waiting for you – all Richard Marx style!!!

Did I like the film? Yeah – although that’s tempered by the fact that I get out to the movies so much less than I ever did in my entire life (I’ve gone from about 50 theatrical visits a year to 5). In fact, I crave celluloid so much, I’m prone to give The Twenty high marks. What’s my rating for a ten-minute infomercial on The 4400:

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Regardless, I go with Sean’s order in rating the X-Men series. X2 is a fantastic comic book film (this series’ Terminator 2) while X3 and X-Men duke it out for second and third. Both films have some pretty stellar elements and fall flat in other areas. I feel the first film had a great two-thirds and a very rushed finale – with director Bryan Singer looking to shoehorn in the main crisis a little too late in the proceedings. He spent a good hour providing the lay of the land, sketching this universe and introducing us to its inhabitants, and then raced to Liberty Island and Magneto’s grand scheme in about a half hour. I hold similar complaints with the first Spiderman, but I guess this rush to denouement is the bane of the origin pic. 

X2 benefited from the ability to dispense with the obligatory introductions – so we got to the meat of the story much quicker. As a result, it felt lived in and comfortable. I think X2 is superior to all in every respect and feel the story structure shares some cool parallels to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (easily the best of that series) and well as the aforementioned Terminator 2. 

X3 is a solid entertainment – a true popcorn picture. Perhaps that’s the problem. We’ve come to expect more. We want Aliens not The Scorpion King. I’ve heard grumblings from the comic afficianados that the continuity is off, so and so should not be a mutant, how dare they do that to this character. To them I say, relax, it’s only a movie. And a pretty fun one at that. While X3 pales to X2, there are a handful of sequences that I think are the best in the entire series. There are some things on display here that many felt they’d never see realized on film. We’re at the point where we can move bridges in photo-realistic manner (non-spoiler ’cause it’s in the ad, bub.)

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Now for my reservations. I echo Sean’s sentiments on the Phoenix storyline. While it features heavily in my favorite scene in the flick (the return to Jean Grey’s house), it really should have been saved for the next film.

There’s too much incident crammed into this flick. The ‘cure’ is all you need for a dramatic conflict. One great scene that really underscores this is the meeting between Beast and Leech – where Hank McCoy gets a brief glimpse at a ‘normal life’. I found that scene – with Grammar’s expert line delivery “You have an amazing gift.” – to be pregnant with so much possibility. This film really needed to slow down and focus on that compelling notion. Would we do anything to change that which makes us different from others? This could have led to real divisiveness in the core X-Men – leaving Xaviers’ house in ruins. Forget ‘trilogy’ – set up the fourth flick with this one. Leave it open-ended. And just because I am in a giving mood, here’s your cliffhanger.

When all seems hopelessly lost – when Charles’ dream is dead – when beloved mutants (say Rogue, Beast, Nightcrawler) have opted for the cure or to ally themselves with Magneto – rejigger the Cyclops scene to the end of this flick. Let it play out as it does in the film. Have Phoenix rise from her watery grave with enough power to tear apart the universe. Let her whack Cyke and send a psychic spike to Charles letting him know that she has risen. Cut to a distressed Xavier and then fade out.

That’s the set-up for X4. Suddenly the world realizes just how much they need these mutants among them. And there is where you devote your entire film to heroes and villains allied against Jean Grey.

In Jason’s post he compared this flick to T3 and I think he’s right on the money. The similarities and my reaction to both are uncanny. Both flicks were the third film in a series shepherded by a genre auteur (Terminator/James Cameron – X-Men/ Bryan Singer). X3 and T3 both feature relatively sparse running times from what we normally expect (both top out around 104 minutes). Both offer some solid action with some ill-advised attempts at humor, draining the subtlety and thoughtfulness that had been in evidence in past films. Therefore they both feel like the Lite version of the prior film. T2 and X2 are superior sequels and while their follow-ups may not be complete regressions – they do feel like they’re treading water.

And then, out of nowhere, come scenes that really shake things up and toss us a curve ball. Jason said the filmmakers have guts and I agree. That T3 finale, with John Connor realizing his fate is to survive nuclear winter in an underground fallout shelter – with nukes launching all over the globe – was exhillerating. He didn’t win, judgement day was inevitable. That scene was so chilling and eerie and instantly dissipated much of the nonsense (“Talk to da’ hand“) that came before. In X3, the sequence in Jean Gray’s home, where Jean’s power begins to shred Charles Xavier – where we get a palpable sense of her menace – was so expertly constructed and executed. It was truly frightening. Now imagine an entire movie devoted to that. Keep Wolverine killing her – that works great and plays tragically (and gives us a nice view of the adamantium skeleton) – but amp this storyline up. Turn it to 11 and give it room to breathe.

Ah well, any one of these X flicks is better than Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Elektra or Howard the Duck. Although the latter did give us Tim Robbins, so that’s something.

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Comments now closed (6)

  • First, love the opening picture. Where’d you pull that from? Would have been cool to see old Lockheed on the shoulder of Kitty in the film, but of course that requires extra storytelling.

    To your point about using the cure as X3 and the Dark Phoenix as X4; I’d reverse those in order. How about Phoenix rises, and maybe they keep it more like the comic story which is so much grander in scale, and she later turns Dark Phoenix and nearly tears the Earth asunder. The sapiens realize how powerful mutants can be and the government cooks up the mutant cure (Of course, the cure would have to be permanent). They could play that one for a full X4 and then possibly return with an X5 that could follow Claremont’s Days of Future Past story where the government has unleashed Trask’s Sentinels to hunt down the mutants who refuse to be *cured.* The original story is based on Mutant Registration, but they already played that out in the first flick.

    Oh, and this sure sounds like a classic Ed review to me, but like Jason, I’ll let you call it what you want even though it quacks like Howard.

    BTW – Are the Ebert heads the rating for X3 or for The 4400?

  • I’m rating the 4400 and quite possible The Twenty.

    X3 would rate 3 out of 5 Ebert heads.

    I grabbed that pic off of some Flash games site (it’s from an X-Men flash game). I just googled ‘X-Men parody’ and that came up. I thought – genius!!!

  • Yeah–the “cure” plotline and Sentinels were made for each other. I don’t think people would have objected to the unrealism of giant robots if, say, some sort of mad mutant scientist were working for the government (Apocalypse in disguise, anyone?).

    The problem is, for a Sentinels storyline to work, you have to off (or depower) Magneto first. He tends to make big metal robots kind of useless.

  • A mad mutant scientist sounds more like Mr. Sinister to me. Bill Duke made a cameo as Trask in X3, as did a Sentinel head in the opening, so that’s the setup for the Sentinels since he is the creator in the comic’s continuity. Of course, maybe some movie-goers will think they are fighting an army of Iron Giants (if they’ve seen that excellent movie).

    Sentinels can still work with Mags too. They have had synthetic and plastic type versions to fight him in the comics. In fact, the wiped out his island nation of Genosha in the comics and this event eventually led to the House of M storyline.

  • Though I am no X-men aficionado, I do believe the best 2nd film of all time is “The Empire Strikes Back”. and you really need to lay of the Richard Mark on your IPod