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Friday, May 26, 2006 

Thank God It's Over

Where it concerns the X-Men, and many of you will agree, I find there are generally two types of fans: the hardcore readers and the casual obeservers. In the week leading up to X-Men 3: The Last Stand's opening, I seemed to only encounter the latter. Their knowledge of the X-Men primarily comes from Bryan Singer's two previous movies, the Saturday morning cartoon and what they managed to overhear comic book geeks talk about on the school bus when they were growing up. These fans will likely be very entertained by Brett Ratner's take. The hardcore readers? You just may hear them screaming at the top of their lungs or audibly groaning during the course of the movie. Brett Ratner will soon stand in fanboy infamy alongside Joel Schumacher, the man Batman purists truly and genuinely disdain for destroying that franchise until Christopher Nolan's recent "Batman Begins" brought it back to prominence (with that script, that cast, how could he fail?).

While much has been made of Singer's absence (he and his writing team took off to do the upcoming "Superman Returns") the truth is, you'll barely notice he's gone if you're not truly paying attention. Gone is his subtlety, his knack for humanizing these characters and allegory (all the things that made the first two X-Men the more faithful Hollywood adaptations) but what remains is what the typical movie-goer comes to see: their favorite mutants duking it out on a grand scale...who cares about the why? When Wolverine finally lets his claws go and takes a run at Juggernaut, any improprieties will soon be forgotten, I'm sure...if they were even noticed.

But for those who ARE concerned: the "why" in X3 revolves around a cure for mutation. A young boy named Leech has the mutant power to dampen the abilities of mutants who even come near him and his DNA is somehow used to manufacture a "cure" that will rid mutants of their powers for good. This, of course, raises a plethora of moral and ethical questions that Ratner and his team don't really bother to trifle with -- they've got a slew of mutants to introduce. Hardcore readers won't need to be told who Callisto (Dania Ramirez) is when she and the Morlocks appear. They'll already know that it is a Sentinel chasing the students in a Danger Room exercise set in Genosha before you see its head topple to the ground in defeat. They'll point out that Olivia Williams is playing Dr. Moira MacTaggart in that hospital on Muir Island. But even the most avid and voracious reader of the X-Men mythos may have a hard time believing that that's supposed to be Omega Red that Logan fights in the woods or laugh at the ridiculous muscle suit that Vinnie Jones is swathed in as Juggernaut. Other characters are wasted completely. Cyclops? I hope James Marsden got compensated well for the one day he likely spent filming. I was lead to believe that Angel would be a major part of this installment but his "condition" (being born with wings) was only the impetus that spurred his rich father, Warren Worthington II (and a fave actress of mine, Shohreh Aghdashloo as Dr. Kavita Rao) to finding a cure for his son. The X-Men universe has a ton of unique characters to draw from (they totally renege on giving us Psylocke, Jubilee, Siryn and others) and it seems that Ratner's writing squad chose the ones that would make the movie the most visually appealling or do cutsie tricks (Multiple Man inexplicably shows up, all-too-easily joins Magneto's "Brotherhood" and only serves one specific purpose in a not-so-crucial point in the movie) as opposed to ones that would serve the story (what story?) So on and so forth...

Because this is the last stand, a lot of characters really do make their "last stand" and while X3 attempts to give us hope at its conclusion, there is no way there will be a sequel without completely forgetting this one exists or ret-conning it to the point that X4 begins with Patrick Duffy surprising us in one of the mansion's showers. Ratner and his team did just that much irreversible damage and purists are likely to be furious. To put it mildly. This completely and totally trumps Kevin Smith's run on Daredevil and might erase all memory of it.

The fact that this movie had the audacity to create a "cure" for mutants and one that seems to be irreversible and permanent just sat wrong with me. It was way too convenient an idea and an easy way to defeat many a powerful hero or villain. As the army started locking and loading the cure into their plastic rifles (with R. Lee Ermy shouting orders off-screen), gunning down mutants and making them "normal" with each shot, I started to wonder what X-Men's past creators thought of it. I'm sure they rolled their eyes just like I did.

But there is still much to enjoy. Mystique is always a hoot and this might be Rebecca Romijn's most fun and smarmiest portrayal of her yet. You'll fall in love. Pity her perf is so short. Hardcore fans will smile when Collossus (a decidedly un-Russian and returning Daniel Cudmore) and Wolverine team up a few times for the "fastball special." I know they will get a kick out of Beast quoting famous authors in the heat of battle as he pounces around and fights with a ferocity very much unlike his normal everyday calm and cool demeanor but befitting his feral, albeit blue and furry, appearance. Logan even calls him "furball" a few times. I personally got into the rivalry between Iceman and Pryo and Pryo's ascension to Magneto's right-hand acolyte (and the neat hand devices he now wears rather than constantly carrying around a Zippo). Iceman even gets a kiddie version of the Logan/Cyclops/Jean love triangle when it seems he takes a liking to Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat portrayed by probably one of the best young new actresses to emerge in recent years, Ellen Page (Hard Candy). Remember her name. You WILL be seeing it again. Rogue becomes jealous of Kitty and Bobby's budding friendship and curses the fact that she can't touch Bobby. The cure seems a tempting and attractive option for her. I think more than a few people in the theater were surprised at her final decision. Hugh Jackman gets the best one-liner of the movie after battling a mutant who keep regenerating limbs as fast as Wolvie can cut them off. At the risk of spoiling X3 more than I probably already have, there are actually more "holy shit" moments than you can shake a stick at but with so many unexpected surprises and deaths, one would think this movie would move its audience more and for some reason it doesn't. And the moments all do the franchise more harm than good. Why kill this virtual cash cow this way?

I'm sure Halle Berry was pleased with her character's so-called elevation; she constantly complained on past press junkets that Storm wasn't central enough to the stories (i.e. she wanted more lines and screen time). She got her wish this go 'round (perhaps she paid Marsden to take a powder) but it didn't seem to matter. And as much as was made about Jean Grey's return as Dark Phoenix, she wasn't exactly essential to the story, either. Phoenix's inclusion seemed to take place simply to please the fans who figured it was all but a forgone conclusion that she would be back given the ending of X2. Done correctly, her arc would've been beautiful and of course, Shakespearean-ly tragic. In the hands of Ratner and his writers (Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn were also scribes on The Fantastic Four and Elektra), it's an overplayed afterthought and corny, no depth to her character whatsover which shows me that Ratner misses the point about the X-Men entirely and I'd be surprised if he even glanced at one page of source material. The entire movie suffers because of it. It's all CGI, explosions, expensive set pieces and mutants we don't know and don't care about showing off their powers in rapid succession. No angst, no pathos, no real emotion. See it out of curiosity but if you're a hardcore fan, not just a guy who THINKS he is, your head will be spinning in disbelief at the decisions made about MOST of the characters and the way this once-great franchise "ends."