DanViews—X-Men

I’ve tried to write this piece for some time and have not been able to articulate properly, but here goes…

Understand that though I have a brain full of useless pop culture information, I never soaked up comic books as a kid aside from a subscription to the 80s series of Batman Detective Comics, a love for Superman based on the movies, and a few Dark Horse titles, most of them revolving around the ALIENS franchise…

So when I talk about X-men, I’m representing the average moviegoer who must rely only on the films themselves to introduce me to, and seduce me into the world of these characters.


When the first X-Men movie came along, I was only interested in the fact that it looked fun and had an interesting cast, not to mention a suprising choice of director at the helm.

I can’t say how excited I was to find this extraordinary world to be so grounded in its story and performances. It set a bar for “gritty” comic book films. Gone were the days of Judge Dredd and mindless crash-bang adaptations. Not since the original Superman were these films focusing on character development and plot, just as much as the setpieces.

X-Men introduced me to these unique characters in a world that doesn’t accept them — and while there were bad one liners here and there (Storm’s “you know what happens…” line comes to mind, but in retrospect the delivery is what made that line so bad.) the movie had a strong sense of originality, and a healthy dose of character. The actors were strong, as were the dynamics. From the origin of Magneto and his adversarial yet respectful relationship with Professor X, to the tragedy of Rogue’s gift, and above all — the induction of Wolverine (a born loner) into a group atmosphere where, although aloof, he might actually find a sense of family.

These were all great themes, and X2 managed to open the world up even more to the socio-political aspects of the mutants in society, as well as find enough time to develop a character like Nightcrawler, who represented the dark and sad beauty of these people — who have as much potential for evil as for good, depending on where their nurturing comes from. The second film made the world larger, introduced many new characters, played further with the Magneto/Professor X relationship by forming a hostile alliance, etc…. And for all it’s characters, it managed to flesh them all out skillfully (while I’m sure still frustrating fans that each character can’t have their own movie).

Anyway, that’s a real juggling act — to educate people who may not have only not read the comics, but may have not even seen the first film — plus serve SO MANY CHARACTERS with a deft pen, while at the same time keeping enough action coming to satisfy a popcorn audience.

It’s truly a feat that I think Brian Singer has to take most of the credit for. He admits to not having been a fan of the comics, but he was enough of a storyteller as a director to embrace the world and adapt it for the masses.

Brett Ratner isn’t a shitty director by any means, but the best I could say about him is that he seems efficient — he can shoot the script, he can put an action scene together. But this man (who also had little knowledge of the comics to bring to the project) is NOT a storyteller — there is nothing in any of his work to suggest so.

And here, is where this third film really dropped the ball. Any emotion tied to the events of this film is based entirely on one’s love of the comics or the previous films. If you shed a tear for Professor X’s underwhelming death scene, it’s because of the relationships forged in previous scenes, or the lore of the comics. The scene itself, and the context of the movie — is entirely flat.

Case in point, suddenly cutting to Cyclops on the side of his bed, brooding. It’s a total Dawson’s Creek moment. Blatant and without any style or subtlety. And worse, for those who did not see the other movies you have no idea what the fuck is going on. In some ways I think this movie should have opened with the scene from X2 where Jean gives her life to save the others, so at least there would be a little recap, and we could feel that moment all over again. Then we could have done the segue to the flashback scene where we meet Jean as a little girl, which I think WAS a good scene and was absolutely important (not everyone read the comics) to the later scene when Magneto and Professor X face Dark Phoenix.

Anyway, this lack of not putting you in the moment without relying on the previous films makes X3 the “Revenge of the Sith,” of the X-Men franchise. Sure, you got a lump in your throat when Ewan McGregor pleaded with Anakin Skywalker before cutting him down — but not because of the movie itself. It was because of the legacy you brought with you into the theatre that day — your memory and love of the original films and the subsequent years of lore. It’s a magic trick, using your emotion for the previous material to make the current situation more dramatic, because it has little to no merit on its own.

X3 had the potential of themes and ideas that could have been very powerful. The idea of a cure is interesting when you consider that though these mutants are fighting for who they are, they’ve never faced the possiblity that they don’t HAVE to be. No matter what side of the mutant war you are on, certainly each and every one of these characters has once wondered what it would be like to be… “normal.” And it must be tempting on some level that they could bail out of this life altogether… But we never realy see those ideas explored.

The arc with Rogue should have been very touching – she was one of the best and central characters of the first film. Her gift is more a curse than a blessing — she’s been raised at the Academy to love herself and the beauty of her mutant gift, to try and have faith that there is some plan for her, that her curse is worth living for. But when faced with the chance to be “cured,” she is not only tempted — she decides to cross the picket line and undergo a change. That’s a HUGE thematic arc, and this film barely touches on it. The scenes with Rogue are stiff, lame and unsupported. They rely of your knowledge of the first film to even understand what her friggin power is in the first place. The love triangle set up between her and Iceman makes no sense — and worse, it takes a strong female character and just makes her a whiny bitch who wants to be able to kiss her boyfriend before another girl does, so she makes a major life decision (offscreen, no less) in order to make her boyfriend happy. Just stupid.

And while on the subject of weak female characters — Storm decides to take Professor X’s place as a lame afterthought, and pretty much lets Wolverine lead the charges. And worst of all — Dark Phoenix, the most anticipated and central character of this film, spends all her time standing around with a blank stare trying to decide which Daddy she wants a hug from.

Fucking terrible. I love Famke – as an actress and a hottie (I don’t care how old she gets). I nearly clipped another car the first time I saw that gothy billboard of her on Sunset Boulevard. And I’ve always loved the character of Jean Grey, who must largely take a clinical role in the X-Men team while the other suit up and run around being superheroes. For her to be the strongest and most potentially dangerous of them all sets up a major character journey.

So we came to this movie wondering how she was going to be reborn. Well, apparently no reason was given. It just happened one day. She called out mentally to the men she has the most sexual tension with, and in a pathetic attempt at a moving scene, she fries Cyclops (OFFSCREEN!!!?????) and has now become a monster. Why did Professor X not know this was going to happen? Why did he not sense it when it did? We needed a dramatic scene in which Professor X tells Cyclops not to follow the voice in his head — that he must let go of Jean, that she’s gone. It would have been so much better than a 30-second face-off between Cyclops and Wolverine (yawn, been there, seen that) because Professor X would be trying to do what is best for both of them — because he knows that Jean IS gone, and that if Cyclops doesn’t move on, he’s going to help unleash something dangerous. But no. He’s as useless as Yoda.

What is Jean thinking and feeling? Other than a sense of betrayal at having been “held back” (sound familiar?) by Professor X, which is never really explored, she is then taken under the wing of Magneto, who seemingly has no actual use for her, other than to keep her standing around until the climax. It’s clear Jean is so fucked up in the head, she has no care for Magneto’s political grand-standing. So why does she even go with him? Why doesn’t she try to kill BOTH of them? That would have at least been cool – to have some huge fight between Magneto and Phoenix, in which Magneto is able to seduce her? Her switch to the dark side is even more vague than Anakin’s.

What of Beast — Granted, I know nothing about the comics but I would have liked to see some conflict or character developent about him, instead of having the movie assume I already know everything there is to know about him. How does a man who is so clearly a creature capable of primal rage keep it all in check? He was well played by Kelsey Grammar — but wouldn’t it have been interesting if Beast swore he’d never unleash his rage again? He’s been wearing that suit so long, trying so hard to be a model representative of mutants in the political arena, that he’s become something of an “Uncle Tom?” And then to see him let it all loose to join the fight would have been an amazing moment — to know that he HAD to use his rage to fight for what is right, but deep down he was shedding a tear for having to betray his own principles? SOME FUCKING DRAMA, PLEASE!!!!!

I’m aware that this may be totally out of left field for the character of Beast – As I say, I don’t know the character from the comics, so maybe this is the wrong direction — but some conflict would have been appreciated. Once more, a suggestion like the one above (about your destructive nature versus the ability to overcome and pacify it) would have been a good parallel to the Jean/Phoenix storyline…

The one good moment with Beast is when he sees his hand turn normal — and in that silent moment (ironic that the best-written scene had no dialogue) we saw on his face what that meant — that though he is a man who has been fighting for the rights of mutants, there is that pinnochio fantasy of wanting to be “a real boy…” Again, too little, too late.

And the danger room I suppose is a big thing in the comics. Well great, would love to see it someday. But what I saw was a FUCKING GODDAMN HOLODECK, that I’ve seen in countless Sci Fi franchises. And not only that, but the scene with the Sentinel seemed like something out of a Sci Fi Channel original. A big paper mache head and some lights in the fog, great. GIVE ME A GIANT FUCKING ROBOT, RATNER!!!! WHAT THE FUCK???? WHY ARE YOU TEASING US? I didn’t pay 10 bucks for a fucking teaser trailer!!!!!

Magneto makes a point of how much stronger Jean Grey is than him, which raises some cool possibilities. But then he moves an entire bridge with his mind. And while a cool image, I must say it was almost too much. It made him too powerful. Maybe if Magneto needed JEAN to move the bridge, or to help him by forming some psychokinetic mind bond, it would make more sense and make Jean relevant to his plans.

Magneto crushing cars as they approach, brilliant. Mystique being “cured,” amazing. But even there, seeing Mystique be betrayed carries more weight only if you’ve seen the first two films. And of course a better writer could have used the absence of Mystique to create a void in which Magneto wants Jean Grey to fill.

Look, I loved the fight in the house, I thought there were a lot of cool ideas. But mostly this film seemed like a series of tentpole action scenes strung together with silly string. I think these characters and actors deserved better. And I was especially disappointed that the last 10 minutes of the film was spent undoing all the dramatic elements that were set up. Jean is killed off before she can do anything, the cure apparently doesn’t really work, and Professor X is not really dead. Hey I’m all for a sequel, but it just seemed a little too neat and clean for me.

And about Phoenix’s death — again, how stupid is it to take such a powerful female character and undo her by having her achilles’ heel be having some hunk say I love you?

There wasn’t enough in this film to make me think Wolverine had enough of a relationship to reach her in this way, plus the actual moment was poorly handled. Maybe if Wolverine reached into his pocket and put on Cyclops glasses, something — anything. It should have been a huge moment to have Wolverine kill the woman he loves in order to save the world, but unlike Buffy killing Angel in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, there was no preamble to this. It’s a shoulder-shrug idea and it’s plugged into the story clumsily. Total first draft writing.

The scene where Jean asked Wolverine to kill her was a good one, probably even the best one, but it was over before it began. Plus, in some way it actually took away from the ending, because it let Wolverine off the hook. I could see the studio heads insisting that she ask for death, because that way our hero is not doing a bad thing by taking her life. Seriously, you can bet your life this was a big discussion over at Warners. There are arguments for both sides — dramatically it’s good to see Jean in a moment of clarity, realizing what she has become. But the literal request to be killed which is later fulfilled makes Wolverine’s decision a little too clean, and worse — a little too expected.

Maybe if X3 were the first X-Men movie I would have enjoyed it more. And don’t get me wrong, I had fun. But once you’ve tasted the strength of the first films, plus the character development in films like Spiderman and the nearly flawless BATMAN BEGINS, I just can’t eat this hamburger and call it steak.

I don’t want snappy action hero lines about kicking people in the nuts or calling so-and-so a bitch to make the audience laugh (though I hear, “I’m Juggernaut Bitch” is in the comics). Rattner took an A-list franchise and made an eye-popping TV movie out of it.

The only thing missing was commercials for Bruce Campbell movies or a teaser preview for “Mammoth.”

AND – ON THE SUBJECTS OF THIRD MOVIES…

Lethal Weapon 3 fell flat because they felt Riggs needed to settle down and heal his heart with Rene Russo, that Joe Pesci, as briliant as he was in the second film, needed to become part of the team, and that the heroes were now cute enough that they didn’t need to deal with any real drama. It got cutesy and the plot was beyond lame. Worse was Lethal 4, when the characters were reduced to such caricatures of themselves that Riggs is just mean to people in the name of being “funny,” while Murtaugh actually becomes a retarded stooge. Seriously, watch it again and tell me that Riggs isn’t an obnoxious prick and Murtaugh isn’t a drooling idiot.

Alien 3 had atmosphere, an amazing setting and another strong performance by Signourney Weaver, not to mention strong turns by Charles Dance and Charles Dutton. But by throwing out everything that made the ending of Cameron’s ALIENS a triumph, it was a betrayal that could not be recovered from. Ripley put everything on the line to save Newt — and while we could have lost Hicks (but at least had it happen at the end of the first act), the loss of Carrie Henn’s character was just unforgivable. Changing the nature of the Alien was interesting, but since effects were in a period of change (the first introductions of CG) it lost a lot of its bite.

Beverly Hills Cop 3 was by retards for retards.

T3 — you’ll all hate me, but I enjoyed it. Sure it was sub-par compared to Cameron’s films. It simply should not have been made without him. Those are his characters to play with. But, the idea of the TX was not as shitty as it seemed and I thought it was efficiently done, a lot of fun moments, and even the Karen Brewster storyline made some sense. But changing fate as we know it was something of a betrayal of the story we knew and loved. Preventing Judgement Day was a big decision and had a lot of fallout. A lot of people are split on this movie. Basically I thought it was better than I expected, but still should not have ever gone before the lens. It was forgettable.

Return of the Jedi — Ewoks. Special Edition dancers. A second death star???? Well, it’s true Lucas put a lot of filler in there before we finally reached that confrontation in the throne room. There was not as much character development or wry humor as in “Empire.” But man, we ate it up – and those final scenes are just as strong as anything else in the trilogy. (And again, the bearded fuck didn’t direct).

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10 Responses to “DanViews—X-Men”

  1. junktape says:

    Forgot Superman 3.  As a kid, I enjoyed it.  But again, at some point people get a little too cute with their franchise.  The decision to put Richard Pryor into this world worked better than anyone probably could have expected, but made the film even more dated and played it for the wrong kind of laughs.  Still, much better than Superman 4.

  2. junktape says:

    I’m on a roll.  Back to the Future 3… Was it a misfire?

    I’m a fan of both BTTF sequels, but must admit that neither comes close to TOUCHING the brilliance of the original.  But considering that it was a perfect movie that did not warrant any sequels at all, I enjoyed them.

    BTTF 2 was a big experiment in technology for Zemeckis, as well as a love letter to fans who looked for every in-joke and enjoyed all the parallels that were exlored.  Still, it was short on story – the major arc being Marty’s need to suddenly go ballistic when someone calls him “chicken,” which is an amateur concept at best.

    But with BTTF 3 there was a chance to simply give Doc Brown a story, and some conflict about his scientific need to do what is right (get the hell out of the wrong time and not meddle with the past) versus his emotional needs (a sense of belonging, purpose, and love).  The casting of Mary Steenburgen was good, but she played the character with a little too much of a whine and got annoying.  Still, it was at least an emotional story, with more interesting conflict.  I’d say the third film was successful though I think the first movie has remained a timeless classic where the others (with the exception of Cybergosh and myself) have fallen into obscurity, only to remind us they exist with a few TBS late-night reruns…

  3. Roger says:

    Wow, I couldn’t disagree with you more on this review, but the one thing I want to address is this: you make a big issue about how this movie doesn’t do enough to set things up for those who haven’t seen the previous films. In 2006, when movies are available via DVD rentals, Netflix, on-demand cable systems, and not to mention endless reruns on FX, nobody should have seen this movie without seeing the first two.

    (Now you’ve got me going…) I felt the explanation of what the Phoenix was all about was very straightforward, and so was the main conflict of the film that you neglected to mention – Xavier and Wolverine.

    See the comments in my review for the “holodeck” stuff, too. If anything, Star Trek cribbed from the X-Men comics.

    This movie definitely had its flaws, but it wasn’t the complete mess that you’re making it out to be.

  4. Roger says:

    Regarding Beast, I agree that they missed a good opportunity. In the comics his blue-furred appearance was due to him experimenting on himself, trying to “cure” himself of the mutant gene. Originally he was just a really muscular-looking guy, the way he appeared in X-Men 2.

    Who knows, they may have filmed a scene that explained this, but it would have done more to increase the conflict of the character.

    He never had a “bestial” nature, though, the way Wolverine does. Hank McCoy has always been a kind intellectual soul trapped in a monstrous-looking body. That’s what the character has always been about, and I think it worked in this movie.

  5. junktape says:

    It’s just my opinion that although it’s admittedly silly to go see the third installment of a series without having seen the first two, I really think good stories should be self-contained.  X2 was able to do it, why not X3?  But I hear ya. 

    I did think Hank McCoy was the best character in the movie.

    I’m sorry, was there conflict between Professor X and Wolverine?  I must have missed those two lines

    I’m always harsher about details – I did enjoy this movie, but when compared to the first two I felt it was lacking in so many emotional areas.  Seemed like it needed to cook in the oven a lot longer before serving…

    I agree with Chris, that it hurts me to see studios make a big return on movies that they rush into theatres.  It means it’s only gonna get worse for big films with little time for script development.

    PS what was Phoenix all about?  She’s just crazy chaos without Professor X to contain her?  In the comics, does Jean go through anything more than in the movie?  Does she have an agenda or an opinion?  I really wanna read these – if you can recommend some of the best story arcs I will totally pick em up.  If I’m harsh it’s because I do love these characters…

  6. Cybergosh says:

    ATTENTION READERS:

    Every word typed by Junktape about X-men: The Last Stand is 100% Correct.

    Every SW comparison and opinion about Episodes III and VI are incorrect.

    Thank you and Slurpshh,

    Cybergosh

  7. Cybergosh says:

    I don’t think BTTF3 should be lumped into the list since, like SW, they three BTTF’s are one long film.  Three pieces of a larger puzzle.  Sure BTTF 1 is stand-alone, but 2 and 3 figured out the most creative ways to take the story immaginable.  They could not be better.  Well, except if Clara Clayton wasn’t as whiney.  But yeah.  DOC goes down as good as his chicken in the third one.

    Batman III (and IV, of course) need to be added to that list as well.

    Let’s hope that Spidey III doesn’t fins it’s place there as well..although the lack of Elfman is a step in the wrong direction.  Raimi should stop being a pod person.

  8. Roger says:

    I really think good stories should be self-contained. X2 was able to do it, why not X3?

    X2 really wasn’t very self-contained. Jean’s powers were starting to fluctuate due to the events of the movie, Magneto was in prison, and there wasn’t a lot of time spent explaining any of this for the benefit of those who didn’t see the first movie.

    I’m sorry, was there conflict between Professor X and Wolverine? I must have missed those two lines

    I addressed this in the comments after my review, but long story short: Wolvie has had his mind messed with, finds out Xavier has done the same thing with Jean, he defies him and their conflict is pretty much unresolved when Charlie snuffs it.

    PS what was Phoenix all about? She’s just crazy chaos without Professor X to contain her? In the comics, does Jean go through anything more than in the movie?

    This version of Phoenix is pretty much Jean’s superego unchecked, which has a much better command of her powers. It’s part of her that Xavier has locked away.

    In the comics, the Phoenix is something totally different. While the X-Men are returning from a space mission, their shuttle starts falling apart and Jean sacrifices herself to save the team. An alien energy entity thingy that’s just passing through the neighborhood is impressed by Jean’s sacrifice and resurrects her, making her more powerful than before.

    The problem is, the Phoenix force has a really dark side: it’s hungry. To make a long story short, eventually this aspect of it corrupts Jean and turns her into a supervillain (emphasis on the “super” aspect, in one scene it snuffs out an entire solar system, snuffing out a planet of broccoli people).

    The Imperial Guard shows up (think of them as an interstellar version of the Avengers) to put Jean on trial, the X-Men choose to defend her, and she ends up committing suicide during the battle. That’s the original story done during the Chris Claremont/John Byrne run during the 70s, which many consider some of the best X-comics ever.

    Later on they really screwed with things. Later, Cyclops married a girl who looked exactly like Jean (Madelyne) but turned out to be an evil clone. After that they established that the Phoenix was actually a copy of Jean that didn’t know it was a copy, and the original was found and revived.

    And then there’s all sorts of convoluted stuff with their kids from the future, one who is a son of Madelyne and Scott’s (Cable), and a clone of him (Stryfe), and another one that’s a daughter of Scott and Phoenix (Rachel). On top of that, Scott and Jean were actually thrown forward into the future at one point. It’s a real mess.

    You can see why I prefer the simpler Phoenix from the movie – Jean’s messed up in the head. ;p

  9. junktape says:

    I realize now that X2 was not as contained as I’d thought, and I agree that the digest of the Phoenix story to the movie version works better than adapting the comics. 

    I also understand your point about the Wolverine/Professor dynamic—so I hear ya on all these points.

    I just wish the movie fulfilled my expectations, which I do not feel were set too high.  Beyond all the spectacle, effects and stunts (which are a dime a dozen these days—even Emmerich’s Godzilla was gorgeous) I go to the movies for an emotional experience.  I’m character driven, and it’s what I look for.  While this movie had great ideas I just didn’t feel they were fostered to fruition the way the previous movies had.

    I’m front row center for the Magneto and Wolverine movies, I just pray they have different directors.

    Get me Aaronofski!

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