Anger. All I feel is anger right now. Honestly, I can’t believe what I’ve just watched. It’s like I fell asleep in the theatre and had a nightmare about what the X-Men movie might turn out to be in the wrong hands.
Instead, it was no dream. What is it? It’s about these X-Men fans who line up on Friday morning to slap down their $8 only to walk into a theatre in which Brett Ratner stands on stage, whips out his piece and pisses on each fan individually. It’s Fox saying “Hey, thanks for helping to make the first two movies hits, fanbase. Now politely fuck off. We’re done with you.” It’s a group of people, who gave us such great cinematic sex with the second film, rolling us over, doing their back end business, then finishing us off with a Dirty Sanchez of an ending. That’s what X-Men: The Last Stand is.
No. I’m not over reacting. For those of you who aren’t X-Men fans let me point you to the earlier reviews by Vern and Jemma McFatBack. These are pretty much spot on depending upon what you are looking for in the film. As a film, completely separate of any type of fanbase or history – it’s simply mediocre. There are a few moments (and I stress the word moments) of greatness. A few brief glimpses of a good movie shining through the muck and haze that is this flaccid attempt at a sequel.
The rest of the film, however, plays out like the bad pilot for an X-Men TV series, in which they want to briefly introduce you to the cast of characters, while running entirely off the steam of the highly paid actors who will not actually be appearing in the show. Those characters they kill off wholesale, or remove in such a way that maybe if the show is a big enough hit – might make a guest appearance. That pretty much sums up the overall feeling of X3.
And honestly, that’s how I felt up through the final act about this film. It was a lame, pathetic grasp of a third film, not unlike Batman Forever or Superman 3 – never quite achieving the immortal infamy that is the fourth installment of either of those series. Until the last 2 minutes. That’s where it all falls apart, and the lousy writing, the terrible direction that the producers chose for the series and ultimately the canned leadership of Ratner all boil up to the surface. Because not only do you realize that this is it, that’s all they’re doing with this film…but they have the brass cojones to attempt to undo almost every major plot decision they made with the film to begin with. It’s positively surreal – as if they are saying “Heh, sure we did that. But we didn’t really mean it.” But let me address this point by point. Because there’s so much here to hate.
First and foremost - still leaving fandom out of this – the film manages to avoid achieving any emotional connection with the audience at all. Every moment but 3 that should connect emotionally simply doesn’t. Then, as they begin to kill characters off, it never feels like they’re actually killing characters off. It doesn’t matter whether you know these characters from years of comics or simply from the films you’ve seen them in. You do not for an instant feel the impact of their deaths. They just die, as if they were tertiary characters you didn’t expect to make it all the way through the film anyway. And when all is said and done, you simply can’t believe they did it. “Really? They’re dead? Well, that blows.” And that’s all the emotion you can muster.
Frankly, I don’t know where entirely to place the blame here. As the story and writing are incredibly lazy and the screenwriters have such an unbelievable pedigree (between them, they are responsible for xXx: State of the Union, Behind Enemy Lines and Elektra – Elektra alone should have gotten Zak Penn banned from screenwriting for life, I mean, how, for fucks sake, do you write a movie with Ninjas that is that fucking boring?) It feels as if they were simply handed a list of all the characters the producers wanted to show up in the film and they struggled magnificently against their combined lack of talent to find a way to work each one of them in – without actually developing a single one of them. This film, at times, appears to be an endless stream of cameos that WANTS to appeal to the fanbase, without ever getting most of them right in any way, shape or form – thus alienating the fanbase entirely.
But then Ratner comes in with their script and takes what material SHOULD be good and directs it so flat that it almost becomes…no wait, strike that, it actually becomes…melodrama. The film sets up a love triangle without ever bothering to make it remotely emotional or even attempts to resolve it at all – as it rapidly devolves into a charismatic void that three young (and proven talented actors) can’t seem to pull above the level of One Tree Hill. But like I said, he gets a few moments just right. Unfortunately, no one passed on to Ratner the GRAND SECRET OF MAKING A COMIC BOOK MOVIE.
Now here’s where I’m going to begin getting just down right fucking geeky. All the unbiased “I’m not a diehard fan” reviewing is over. From here on out, I’m going to become EXACTLY the kind of nerd Vern was talking about in the beginning of his review. You see, there seems to be a well-kept secret about making super hero films. I say well-kept, because as obvious as it fucking seems, only Singer, Raimi, Nolan, del Toro, Donner (who apparently didn’t tell his wife), McTeigue and the Wachowski’s seem to know it (this secret is also understood in the fantasy world by Jackson and Cuaron.) The secret is this. You can take material with a rabid fanbase – a fanbase so rabid in fact, that they’ll scream over and over again about Canon, quoting it verbatim – then change fundamental parts of that Canon (merging characters, getting histories and events wrong, ignoring backgrounds entirely) if, and only if, you get the soul of the character and the comic book right. There, that’s the secret. It’s out.
You see, Comic books are at its core Mythology. And like any true Mythology it changes over time beyond the scope of the initial creators. In Classical Greek times, stories of the gods sprung up and merged together – often times with lesser gods of local areas being absorbed into the histories of what we know to be the major gods. In Christian Mythology, Hell and Lucifer had very little definition until Dante and Milton came along with their Fiction, and actually added to how people still today perceive these concepts. And people accepted it. Why? Because it made sense. While some of the facts may have been different, it stuck with all the major points people believed about these beings and further defined them in the minds of the audience. Well, it’s the same thing with comic books.
For many of us, Comic Books are our mythology. Here we have stories of deities, beings possessed of great power – each with their own tragic flaw – that stand to represent some ideal and operate entirely within that framework. What is Superman but the nigh indestructible embodiment of true, lawful, Boy Scout-like justice? What is the Batman but the embodiment of brain over brawn – a crafty being dedicated to vigilante justice and yet with a devotion that doesn’t involve killing? And who is Spider-Man but the embodiment of the youthful, dejected spirit granted great power, only to be forced to understand that “with great power comes great responsibility.” Comic books always have and always will be great morality plays, lessons wrapped in entertaining metaphor – just as early mythology and fables were. And to get it right when translating it to the screen, one need not stick to the facts, but rather to the soul, of what you’re adapting.
I mention Superman, Batman and Spider-Man for a reason. Look at the Original Superman. Look at Spider-Man. Look at Batman Begins. All three of them, every single one, ignores VERY IMPORTANT ‘facts’ about the history of each character. Hell, when Superman first came out, fans screamed about how it varied from the established storyline. But after a while, they shut the hell up. Why? First of all, it was a great fucking film. Secondly, and most importantly – they got Supes right. They got Kent right. They got Lane right. It was absolutely, without a doubt, a Superman story. How about Spider-Man? Organic webshooters, a mechanical Green Goblin suit, no Gwen Stacy? Sound familiar? Sure, but why do we love the movie so? Because they got Peter right. They got Spider-Man right. And they focused on what made those two distinctly different (and yet the same) people tick. All three of these films are prime examples of exactly how an adaptation like this should be done. All treat the material as mythology – not simply something with an established fanbase.
Now the X-Men franchise has had a rocky history with this. The first film got a couple of characters VERY wrong (chiefly Rogue, with a smattering of Wolverine) - but then the second film came along, apologized, and got absolutely everything right. All of a sudden Wolverine actually was Wolverine. Nightcrawler was added and was spot on. And despite the changes they made to Canon, they managed to get Rogue back on track (sure, Rogue never dated Iceman – but they got the ill-fated romance angle of her character PERFECT.) Singer got the X-Men right. And just to top it off, as if a perfect X-Men movie weren’t enough…they gave us that final shot of the film. You all know what shot I’m talking about. The PROMISE. The Promise of the single most kick ass X-Men story ever told put in the hands of the people that got the X-Men right. The Dark Phoenix Saga.
The Dark Phoenix Saga is arguably one of the top five best runs of a comic book ever. The thing is EPIC. It has everything. Love, jealousy, betrayal, intrigue, sacrifice. It’s practically Shakespearian in scope. And honestly, it would be an impossible film to do as Canon. No one expected Canon with this film. Fuck the Shi’ar. Hell, fuck the Corsairs and outer space entirely. Frankly, I don’t think there’s a fan out there that expected the classic continuity. But few expected this. I know I sure didn’t. Now I’m not going to say that they did the Phoenix Saga wrong – because they didn’t. In fact, they didn’t do the Phoenix Saga AT ALL. Not a bit of it. No Hellfire Club, no Black King, No White Queen, no corruption of Jean Grey, no possession, nothing of the original storyline at all. Sure, everyone calls Jean Grey The Phoenix – but she’s not. She’s Just SUPER JEAN GREY. The phoenix isn’t some cosmic force or supernatural being. Jean Grey doesn’t possess Earth shattering powers that can consume whole planets. For fucks sake!
We never even for one second see her manifest the Phoenix force. Seriously guys. That shadow we saw underwater at the end of X2? That’s the closest you will ever get to seeing the Phoenix Force. According to X3, Jean Grey is just really powerful, and despite having the ability to read the minds of anyone at all, while possessing the ability to disintegrate people with a thought – she’s more than happy to simply follow around Magneto and be his goon for no apparent reason. In fact, for most of the second half of the film, all she does is stand around and look menacing while Magneto keeps dropping hints that she is his secret weapon (that she seems far too oblivious to pick up on.) That’s your precious Phoenix Saga. That’s as close as you’re ever going get to it on the screen.
And that’s what absolutely pissed me the hell off. What began as simply a mediocre comic book movie ended when I realized “Holy shit! We’re never actually going to get The Phoenix. The promise will never be fulfilled.” Consider this the beginning of another in a long line of cinematic ‘what ifs?’ “What if Bryan Singer had been allowed to do his Phoenix Saga film? What would that have been like?” Sadly, we’ll never know.
What makes matters worse is that as the film draws to a close, you realize how much of what happened - but didn’t ever feel real - actually was real. Those characters were really dead. Other characters really lost their powers. Several storylines were all done at once ensuring they could never be done properly. That was it. That’s all we got. But remember my Dirty Sanchez statement? No, that wasn’t just an insult to the filmmakers. No, instead, we’re treated to a wrap up that begins to unravel virtually everything – that only adds insult to injury. It begins to say “Hey, remember that dead character. Maybe they’re not really dead. Remember all those people who lost their powers. Maybe the powers will come back.” What? Seriously? You hit us with lame emotional resonance, making decisions that will piss off fandom…and then you don’t even have the balls to stick to it. Jesus Christ. You managed to make a film where the only definitives are the people you don’t want to bring back past their 3 picture deal. Yes, not only do they manage to make a spectacularly crappy movie – but then they can’t even own up to their crap.
Ultimately, X-Men: The Last Stand proves to be a colossal waste of time, effort and money. All they accomplish is removing certain actors from the cast list and certain storylines from the pool they can draw from if they ever choose to continue the series. And while that might bode well for the series as a whole (as thankfully, there are easily a dozen other X-Men stories that can be told), it makes for shitty filmmaking and a depressing end for several great characters. Were this simply the first of the X-Men series, I might have simply disliked this film – or maybe even felt it mediocre. But it’s not. It comes on the heels of a perfect X-Men movie. We’ve seen that it can be done. This time it just wasn’t. Not even close.
But who the fuck am I kidding? I’m talking to X-Men fans. And as fans, you’re going to see this no matter how many people tell you it’s bad. You’ve gotta know for yourselves. And believe me. I understand – I’m the same way. Just do the ole Wyrm a favor, friends. Brace yourselves. It isn’t going to be pretty.
Until next time friends, smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em. I know I will.