Friday, May 26, 2006

"X-Men: The Last Stand" - Movie Review

X-Men: The Last Stand 2006

Or, this is the way to ruin a movie franchise. Back in 1963, when the world was young and gay, comic book legends Stan Lee and Jack “King” Kirby co-created a superhero group comprised of a group of teenagers ostracized by a society that feared their differences. And how where they different?

Well, one shot laserbeams out his eyes, one turned to ice, one flew on a pair of giant wings, one crawled around on all fours and the sole gal of the team read minds and levitated objects. They were gathered together by an egghead telepath confined to a wheelchair and they vowed to make their people proud by defending the world from evil doers.

The “X-Men” as they came to be known, fought mutated super-villains like Magneto and his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (Nice name for a coterie of super-villains, don’t you think? Subtle.) and their own second rate status which brought diminishing sales figures throughout the years, never rivaling their more famous Marvel Comics brethren: The Fantastic Four, The Avengers or their high flying solo heroes, Spider-man, Daredevil, etc.

Faced with near cancellation, they reinvigorated their comic book franchise in the early 1970s by restructuring the group with a new band of mutant misfits, seemingly plucked from a Junior UN assembly. Suddenly we encountered mutants who not only had extraordinary powers, but who hailed from . . . gasp! Abroad. Storm, from Africa with her control over the elements. Nightcrawler, from Germany whose outwardly demonic appearance belied his fun loving interior. Thunderbird, a proud Native American mutant powerhouse who lasted all of two missions prior to being blown up. And of course, the hero who soon grew to become one of the most popular of comic book icons, Wolverine from Canada, a crusty beer swilling sociopath with an Adamantium skeleton and razor sharp claws ready to disembowel anybody who got in his way.

When the movies decided to visit the “X-Men”, they found their savior in the talents of Bryan Singer, whose success with “The Usual Suspects” brought him at the tender age of thirty international acclaim. Overhyped acclaim in our opinion, but there it was. After originally rejecting the offer to bring the superhero mutants to the silver screen, Mr. Singer did a little research and realized that they were indeed a worthwhile subject to play with. The only problem was that the studio didn’t want to invest too much money into the project, so they slashed the budget to a paltry $60M, and bid him good luck.

Opting to focus on a strong cast of below the marquee name actors, and relying on mood and characterization – Bryan Singer pulled off the near impossible. An entertaining, action adventure based on a comic book that indeed managed to tell a good story without resorting to overkill action sequences and a preponderance of special effects. The sequel “X2” was an even bigger success. And then came the third part of the trilogy. Bryan was all set to direct, but an offer to go play with the big boys over at the re-imagining of the Superman franchise was too good to pass up. So who did the studio turn to as a replacement?

Brett Ratner. Now, if some of you don’t know who Brett Ratner is, you should stand up and pat yourself on the back. For this sixth tier hack is the director of “Rush Hour” and “Rush Hour 2” – and of course, the upcoming “Rush Hour 3”.

What Brett Ratner does to the ingenuity and loving care lavished on the muties by Bryan Singer on the first two X-Men films, is cinematically parallel to a slow and grisly rape, torture dismembering and murder. Whatever hope we had upon entering the theatre was killed within the first ten minutes of his slapdash filmmaking. Here is a film that is so overripe with false atmosphere, truncated characterizations, cheap theatrics, below the borscht belt humor and noisy trainwreck fight scenes it makes you long for the artistry of “Poseidon”.

The major plot point which is workable enough is the government’s paranoia over “the mutant issue”, exacerbated by the discovery of a new mutant, codenamed Leech who has the power to drain the mutant gene into nonexistence. Although this point isn’t articulated or displayed in a very consistent manner. And unfortunately for the young actor, Cameron Bright of “Birth” fame, Leech has very little to do but look perplexed at his clinical prison surroundings on the refurbished Alcatraz.

Now much has been made of the parallels between “mutants” and other undesirables of society. Namely the Gays. Yes, we suppose one could drive home a distinct comparison between being born different into a homogenized world that fails to recognize the inherent naturalness of being an “other”. We also suppose that “mutants” could stand in for biker culture, as displayed by the wandering band of evil mutants that the main villain, Magneto has gathered around him. Gay biker mutants? Where’s that film?!

Amongst the cast of thousands, a few of the returning players manage to avoid getting completely buried in the celluloid dungheap. Dame Ian McKellen (who valiantly attempted to save “The Da Vinci Code” from its withering drudgery) returns as Magneto, the evil master of magnetism.

Patrick Stewart’s substantial acting chops are again on display as the mentor to the good mutants, Professor Charles Xavier.

Famke Janssen, who deserves better material is resurrected from her untimely death in the second film to emerge as a psychotic power mad re-mutated mutant . . . whew, try typing that kids! Not so subtly renamed Phoenix. Apparently, returning from the dead as the most powerful mutant in existence makes a gal rather horny.

As for the new mutants on the block, Ben Foster clearly has spent some time at Crunch preparing for his debut of the Angel character. More is the pity that his role pretty much ends up on the cutting room floor.

Ellen Page, who cleverly and manipulatively fought off a charming child molester in the interesting "Hard Candy" recently, is the third actress to portray the intangible Kitty Pryde. Credit her for at least attempting to bring some sparkle and humor to the thankless role.

And as the ridiculously hirsute, blue toned to be specific - Beast - a character that is both brawn and brains, TV's own Dr. Frasier Crane emerges as one of the more interesting new mutants. He bravely attempts to ground his laughably outfitted character and damn near succeeds. If it weren't for the poisoned lens of Brett Ratner, he might have.

But by far the most interesting "new" character is one glimpsed briefly in the last X-episode, Daniel Cudmore as the metallic-skinned-morphing-muscleman Colossus. Whew! What a slab of metalloid hunk! We'd gladly take a shine to his bumper grill anyday. Yowza.

Of the returning heroes, Hugh Jackman as Wolverine and Halle Berry as Storm form the backbone to the mutant family. And you know when your film relies on the acting talents of Halle Berry and the masculinity of Hugh Jackman, you’re already in trouble. At least her wig is slightly better this time around. Less High School production, more Raquel Welch.

Perhaps part of the problem with the “X-Men” franchise, is that unless you are one of the ten fanboys in the audience that have memorized the past forty plus years of comic book storylines, it is near impossible to understand or care about the many mutants paraded in front of you. As we understand it, the “Dark Phoenix” storyline involving the death, resurrection and ultimate sacrifice of the telepath cum powerhouse Jean Grey character is amongst the most famed and revered of superhero tales. Here, it is sandwiched into the proceedings with all the care and reverence of a throwaway gay-teen-contemplates-suicide subplot on “Days of Our Lives”.

The film has so many moments of needlessly throwaway scenes that even simple continuity errors like a climactic battle scene suddenly going from day to night in a split second only serve to wake us from our stupor with a casual giggle. In a better movie, we might have forgiven the mistake. In this trashpile, it only serves to underscore the limited vision and utter lack of talent on the director’s part.

By attempting to introduce at least a dozen new mutants into the latest X-tale all the while maintaining that this episode will be the last one, the moviemakers – and we use the term loosely – fail to focus on any of them long enough for us to give a shit. Of course if you stay long enough for the end credits, a not so subtle coda makes it explicitly clear that not even death can keep the mutants down. “Last Stand”, our collective asses! By this point, we were so weary from the amateur goings on that we honestly viewed any possibility of another X-film as a direct threat on our shattered cinematic sensibilities. Dear Brett Ratner, go to hell and stay there. Bless you all!

Directed by Brett Ratner
Written by Simon Kinberg & Zak Penn

Hugh Jackman as Wolverine / Logan
Halle Berry as Storm / Ororo Munroe
Ian McKellen as Magneto / Eric Lensherr
Famke Janssen as Phoenix / Dr. Jean Grey
Anna Paquin as Rogue / Marie
Kelsey Grammer as Beast / Dr. Hank McCoy
Rebecca Romijn as Mystique / Raven Darkholme
James Marsden as Cyclops / Scott Summers
Shawn Ashmore as Iceman / Bobby Drake
Ben Foster as Angel / Warren Worthington III
Patrick Stewart as Professor Charles Xavier
Shohreh Aghdashloo as Dr. Kavita Rao
Aaron Stanford as Pyro / John Allerdyce
Ellen Page as Kitty Pryde
Dania Ramirez as Callisto
Michael Murphy as Warren Worthington II
Vinnie Jones as Juggernaut / Cain Marko
Josef Sommer as The President
Daniel Cudmore as Colossus / Peter Rasputin
Kea Wong as Jubilee / Jubilation Lee
Eric Dane as Multiple Man
Cameron Bright as Leech / Jimmy
Olivia Williams as Dr. Moira MacTaggart

Cinematography by Philippe Rousselot & Dante Spinotti
Film Editing by Mark Goldblatt, Mark Helfrich & Julia Wong
Original Music by John Powell
Production Design by Edward Verreaux
Art Direction by Chad S. Frey, Geoff Hubbard, Helen Jarvis & Sandi Tanaka
Set Decoration by Elizabeth Wilcox
Costume Design by Judianna Makovsky & Lisa Tomczeszyn


Post a Comment

<< Home