Super Movie Monday – X-Men: The Last Stand

Last week, we wrapped up our discussion of X2, but I got in a hurry, so I never really gave an overall summation. But basically, X2 did pretty much everything a sequel is supposed to do. It brought back all the things we liked about the first film while upping the volume. We got more mutants, more super-action, bigger stakes, deeper characterization, and a wider view of the world. We also got a ton of Easter Eggs and callouts to the comics. Although the film had its flaws, including a couple of major ones (thanks to Sargon for calling out one that I glossed over in my rush to finish, and for providing me a widescreen copy of this week’s movie), I think it works really well overall.

But now we come to the third film, and third films are often a disappointment, especially for superheroes (see Superman III, Batman Forever, Spider-Man III). And fans were leery going in, since Bryan Singer, director of the first two movies, had left the series to direct Superman Returns, leaving this film to be helmed by Brett Ratner. How will X-Men: The Last Stand hold up?

The film opens (after the obligatory late fade of the ‘X’ in “20th Century Fox”) on an idyllic suburban street that the on-screen caption tells us is “Twenty Years Ago.” But where is this taking place?

Why, in Uncanny Valley, of course.

That is just creepy on a subliminal level. The effects crew supposedly mapped the textures from pictures of their younger selves onto their faces. But they don’t look so much younger as eerily smooth. But the image is just realistic enough that it’s profoundly unsettling. Oh, and apropos of nothing, I wonder how Holocaust survivor Magneto feels about driving around in a Mercedes?

Anyway, the two men are here to recruit a young Jean Grey for Charles’s new school for “gifted youngsters.” And right away, we hit a major theme of the movie when Jean’s parents ask if Xavier can “cure” Jean, offending Magneto with the thought that mutation is a disease. Then they meet the young Jean herself, who demonstrates her powers by lifting every car on the block, effortlessly.

Cameo time! Wow, it came early this time. I could say this is the obligatory Stan Lee cameo, except that he didn’t actually get one in the second film.

But what you may not know is that this sequence also features another cameo. This guy, gaping up at his flying lawnmower…

Is Chris Claremont, the guy who wrote the New X-Men from near obscurity into  fan favorite status and wrote the original storyline that inspired half of this film (the “Dark Phoenix” saga).

But back to the story, because something’s wrong here. In the first movie, Jean’s telekinesis was weak, strong enough to lift small objects and hold a leaping Toad in mid-air, but not strong enough to lift Wolverine. Her powers were much stronger in the second film, but that seemed to be a byproduct of her exposure to the mutation machine or something. Yet here, her powers are even stronger when she’s just a kid. What gives? Everything will be explained later, but you might not like the explanation.

Let’s move on to “Ten Years Ago,” where we see a young boy frantically scraping at his back with what turns out to be a metal rasp. His father breaks in, demanding to know why Warren’s spending so much time in the bathroom (and trust me, parents will never be happy with the answer to that question), only to see the floor dotted with blood and… feathers. That’s right, young Warren (who will, of course, turn out to be Warren Worthington III) is sprouting wings from his back. Time for titles!

Now we visit “The not too distant future” (next Sunday A.D.), a blasted, burning city where the X-Men are fleeing from unseen enemies who are blowing stuff up. And this scene is kind of a demonstration of everything that’s right and wrong with the movie.

As they flee, the different X-Men display their powers. Colossus turns to metal and grabs Rogue so that she will absorb his power and become metal, too, just before they get hit by flying debris. Bobby downs a missile with a blast of ice, and Kitty helps him dodge a second one by grabbing him and turning immaterial. Storm flies in to bitch at Logan, who has just regenerated from a wound.

The action is fast and furious, and the scene is obviously a callback to one of the most popular issues of the Claremont/Byrne run, “Days of Future Past.” Wolverine even calls on Colossus to do their famous “fastball special.”

But there are problems. I don’t love this new look for Colossus. And if you haven’t seen the previous two movies, you will be totally lost here with the characters only briefly even being named. And although the fanboy in me is saying, “Cool, Sentinels!” at the sight of two glowing eyes lurking behind the smoke, we never actually see them in action. We just get one severed head, instead.

But the worst part is Storm, yelling at Wolverine that they need to work as a team,when he and Colossus are doing just that. The conversation continues after Wolverine stops the simulation and we realize they’ve been in the Danger Room the entire time (something they had planned for both previous movies, but which got cut out for budgetary reasons both times).

And Storm’s objections seriously make no sense, becoming mere conflict for its own sake. It’s like the script’s been taken through so many drafts that the words have somehow become disconnected from the actions. And what the hell is up with Storm’s new hair?

Meanwhile, sad Cyclops is sad, thinking of Jean. It doesn’t help that he’s getting what seem to be telepathic messages from his dead girlfriend, shouting his name as he glimpses her drowning. So he takes off.

And now we move to the other plot. We travel to Washington, D.C, and the Department of Mutant Affairs. And the Cabinet Secretary just happens to be the fabulous, furry Beast (played by Kelsey Grammer here in blue fur and make-up, as opposed to the human-faced cameo in X2).

He meets with the President and his staff in the Situation Room, where we learn that Magneto is still on the loose, but Mystique has been captured while stealing documents from the FDA. And what was she stealing? Documents describing a formula from Worthington Labs, synthesized from the DNA of a little bald boy named Jimmy, a.k.a. Leech.

Hank rushes to the X-mansion to tell Xavier and Storm about it: it’s a formula that can “cure” mutants, taking away their powers and rendering them simply human. And really, what the hell is up with Storm’s hair?

Once again, the dialogue seems to have wandered away from the story, with artificial conflict between Wolverine and Beast so that they can find mutual respect later in the film and Storm getting incredibly angry over the idea that anyone would suggest there’s anything wrong with mutants that needs to be fixed. She calls anyone who would take the formula a coward, just before Rogue comes running in to ask excitedly if it’s true.

And in this scene, the writers–Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn (based on a Joss Whedon storyline), although who knows how many hands were in this stew?–have somehow managed to hit upon a very potent issue that they have no time to explore in any depth because there’s too much other shit crammed into the movie.

To wit: the previous two movies have treated mutation as a metaphor for minority, with anti-mutant hatred being portrayed as racism in the first film and more like homophobia in the second. But in this movie, with this issue, they can actually move beyond liberal pieties and acknowledge that mutants, as people with an entire spectrum of needs and beliefs, do not have to believe and behave as a monolithic group. Just as a woman can be against abortion or a black man against affirmative action quotas, Rogue can split with Storm on the usefulness of the anti-mutant vaccine without being a traitor to her own kind.

The vaccine is also being debated at a mutant gathering in what looks like the same abandoned church where Storm and Jean found Nightcrawler in the previous film. And as one dude tries to be the voice of reason, Magneto appears and begins likening the vaccine to the Holocaust. Although the “cure” is being touted as voluntary, Magneto insists that the ultimate aim is to eliminate all mutants, whether they want it or not. And he finds a receptive audience in the form of three of the gang’s leaders.

They seem to be based on the Morlocks from the comics series, although who can tell, because none of these characters even gets a name, another casualty of screenplay drift. Well, with the exception of the big androgynous lesbian or whatever on the left there, who just kind of hovers silently until Magneto calls her(?) Arclight near the very end. The chick in the middle (played by Dania Ramirez, who would go on to play another mutant in the TV series Heroes) can detect mutants and their powers, which fascinates Magneto, because it just so happens the government is keeping Mystique inside a big semi-truck that has been converted into a mobile prison. Magneto hasn’t been able to free her because he hasn’t been able to find her.

But we’ll have to leave that for another time, because Hank McCoy has come to Alcatraz (site of the Worthington Labs research facility) to meet Jimmy the Leech. And there’s a fascinating moment where Hank stares at his restored human hand when it approaches Jimmy.

He seems wistful, remembering his humanity, but he doesn’t step in close to become transformed completely. And  a part of me thinks they rejected it more for budgetary/casting decisions than because it wasn’t something Hank would do.

Oh well, back to the A plot. Cyclops arrives at Alkali Lake, still hearing Jean’s voice in his head. He stands on a big rock by the shore and finally gives vent to his frustration and grief by taking off his sunglasses and zapping.

And if you’ve ever read any of the comics stories that start with Cyclops doing exactly this, you know it never leads to anything good. But this might be just the exception that proves the rule, because next thing you know, there’s a hole in the water, and a blinding light, and Jean appears, alive and with longer hair.

She moves in to kiss Cyclops, but first, she takes off his glasses and uses her power to suppress his so she can look in his eyes without having her head blown off. And while there is a level of fanboy cool to all this, since this entire scene–from Scott’s blasting the water, to Jean’s rebirth, to the suppression of Scott’s power–is a string of callbacks to the comic book series, none of it feels right. Scott doesn’t really seem like Scott, Jean doesn’t really seem like Jean, none of the emotions seem to fit together.

Scott doesn’t care, though. He’s just happy his fiancee is alive and doesn’t ask any questions. He just kisses her.


Continued next week…

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