Sunday, May 28, 2006

X3: The Long Review

You should probably not read this review.

There are multiple reasons for this – first, it proves that I have no real taste. That’s surely enough of a reason to turn away from this and never set eyes upon it again. Second, I’m going to spoil some of the movie’s story as I discuss it. So, unless you’ve already seen the film, or you don’t care about being surprised, it’s best to click on down to the next article. Also, this is long. You know me – I ramble.

Before I started writing, I read a bunch of the X3 reviews on the web. I like to read reviews after I’ve seen the movie, because what I think is interesting about movie reviews tends to center around how their opinion differs or agrees with my own.

And apparently, X3 isn’t a very good movie. How not-very-good it is varies from reviewer to reviewer, but they all seem to agree that the film is a step down from its predecessor.

Me? I loved it - with almost no reservations or caveats. See? No taste.

In the months leading up to this film’s release, the internet’s been thick with proclamations of doom – Brett Ratner, the film’s director, has inspired the sort of verbal shit-slinging festival that one normally reserves for tyrannical dictators and the elderly. Everything about the movie was broken down and dissected by teams of people armed with endlessly snarky put-downs and far too much free time at the office.

Perhaps lowered expectations played a part in my enjoyment of the film. Considering that I’d been warned - literally hundreds of times - that Ratner’s film would steal the souls of my future children and use them to fuel Hollywood’s blood-soaked child labor machine, that’s not an impossible scenario.

But frankly, X3’s a hoot; a big, fun, overstuffed party piñata of a movie that somehow manages to keep the tone and relative intelligence of the first two films.

After two films worth of terrific characterization and quieter moments, X3 pulls the cork outta the bottle and just let’s ‘er rip. And it works. In part, because we’ve gotten to know these characters so well in the first two, we don’t need the emphasis on interaction. Viewed as a trilogy, the X films build to a stirring climax in the third film, and the bigness of it is an asset, not a hindrance.

Ratner does an impressive job overall of using small moments to make large statements about each of the mutants and homo-sapiens we meet, and they’re enough. Callisto’s puzzlingly upset face during her fights, The Multiple Man’s bewilderingly-good casting and cocky, fuck-you attitude, the utterance of a classic Beast line, the way Iceman romances Kitty, Kitty’s undeniably badass takedown of the Juggernaut, the Juggernaut’s gloriously over-the-top reaction, that final, quiet after-the-credits shocker – all these little touches lend a sense of the epic- of scale – to the proceedings.

That bigness takes some of the focus off of Wolverine, and that’s a plus for me. Jackman’s performance is iconic, and it’s not that I don’t enjoy watching him, but after two Wolvy-centric X-films, it’s good to spend some time with other players. What we get this time around is a sense of the X-Men as a team. It isn’t the Wolverine and his Amazing Friends show.

What’s also nice about this approach is how it shifts attention to my all-time favorite character – Hank McCoy. I’m not sure why I loved the Beast so much as a kid. Part of it was his million-dollar vocabulary (something I’ve obviously not attempted to emulate at all), part of it was his agility, part of it was the fact that he was blue and hairy and monstrous, yet still heroic. Most of all, I think, it was his manic, cheerful energy. Everyone in the X-Men seemed to brood constantly, but Beast seemed genuinely jazzed to be a superhero. He was a goofball with a brain and enviable athletic abilities.

It’s been a looooooong time since I’ve read X-Men (not counting Joss Whedon’s run – I’ll read anything that man writes. Pity me), but I retain enormous and obvious affection for the bouncin’ blue Beast, and to my surprise and pleasure, the movie spends a good chunk of time on him.

Better, Kelsey Grammer nails the character almost perfectly. What a genuine, adolescent joy.
It’s through the Beast that we learn of the film’s Cure. It’s through him that we see what the source of it is. He’s front and center for a good portion of the movie, and had Grammer not found Hank McCoy’s distinctively erudite, good humored voice, that would have been deadly to the film. We need to invest in, and care about, the character Grammer inhabits in order to buy into the Cure as a plot device. Certainly, Halle Berry’s “There’s nothin’ wrong with us!” speech doesn’t do the job. Grammer seems immensely comfortable in the role and despite the limitations of his suit and makeup, the Beast is one of the most fully realized characters on the screen.

But everyone acquits themselves fairly well here. James Marsden’s Cyclops, given virtually nothing to do in either of the previous X films, is shuffled off to heavenly Buffalo at X3’s start, and I thought the handling of it was actually fairly chilling. Halle Berry, a source of much grievous shaking-of-fists for me in the first two films, manages to be less-than-horrible here. Hooray for her.

Patrick Stewart believably darkens the character of Xavier a little, adding shades of moral ambiguity lacking in the first two films. Ian McKellan continues to prove that he is Hollywood’s greatest living “genre” actor. His Magneto goes through enormous shifts in the film, and he sells each of those turning points with the gravitas and confidence of a true Movie Star.

Rebecca Romjin has virtually no screen time, but her interrogation scene is great stuff. It’s good action, it’s a great exchange (“I don’t answer to my slave name” is a terrific line, terrifically delivered), and her character’s fate serves as a shocker, and a damning nail in Magneto’s ideological coffin. We see Magneto’s true face in his scene with Romjin, and we see why he is, in his way, as terrible as the Nazis he was imprisoned by.

Not to say that X3 is a perfect film. Did the screenwriters change the story of Dark Phoenix radically? Yes. But then, Singer changed Claremont’s “God Loves, Man Kills” into X2, and frankly, the original graphic novel is superior. Does that make X2 a lesser movie? Not in my eyes.

The changes to the Phoenix plotline don’t make X3 less of a film, either, unless you're the sort of person to cry over these sorts of things. And if you’re a casual fan of the X-Men films, not a former reader of the comics, you won’t know what all the hubbub is about, anyway.

A big complaint seems to have been that after damning the use of the Cure as a weapon; the X-Men go ahead and use it as one. I’d argue that this is not a “plot-hole” or a stupid mistake. It’s a further graying of the moral and ethical world these characters inhabit. And conservatives in particular should enjoy this aspect of the film, because it admits to something they argue often: for all the "Why can't we all just get along" talk, sometimes violence is the answer. Sometimes, to prevent destruction, you have to cross lines you don't want to cross.

There are other faults to be found: The film has so much narrative potential packed into both its storylines that it seems a shame to squander them both at once. It’s got a few groaners for lines. It’s a little less emotionally resonant than the previous films. But again, viewed as the last chapter in a trilogy, it works like gangbusters as far as I’m concerned.

And I’m frankly glad that future X films may share a more colorful tone. I adored Singer’s films. The first X Men was like a 70’s sci-fi film crossed with a drama. The second was a coldly propulsive Empire Strikes Back riff, and still the best modern-day comic book film in my eyes. But that vision for the series to some extent precluded some of the X-Men’s more fantastical adventures and villains. Thanks to Ratner’s film, I can imagine future X-flicks dealing with the Alien-esque threat of the Brood – directed by Guillermo Del Toro. I can see the team encountering the Shi’ar empire – directed by James Cameron. I can see them fighting Apocalypse and his Horsemen, directed by, say, Ridley Scott. I can see the Mutant Massacre storyline, directed by Paul Greengrass.

In short, I was entertained. Verily, I was enthused and entertained and am looking forward to seeing it again.

But if I can make a request, I think we need a solo Beast film, ASAP.

Edit: Ebert liked it, too. His review is much better than mine.


At 7:48 PM, Blogger Scott Roche said...

Dang son... I haven't read your spiel there as I'm going to see this tonight, but knowing that you enjoyed it (okay I did peak) means than I'm probably gonna have a geekgasm right there in teh theater.

At 8:45 AM, Blogger Scott Roche said...

Okay, saw it and crafting my review. BUt I regret that I missed the post credits shocker as it was late adn I was in too much of a hurry to seek my bed. What was it?

At 12:31 PM, Blogger codemorse said...

We see Dr. MacTaggert walking around the hospital room of the comatose man from earlier in the picture.

Suddenly, he wakes up. In the voice of Patrick Stewart, he croaks, "Moira?" and she looks at him and whispers, "Charles?"

At 12:49 PM, Blogger Scott Roche said...

Hmmmm. Sounds a little cheesy. Still wiosh I had seen it though.

At 1:01 PM, Blogger codemorse said...

Well, it was. But in an excellent, comic book sort of way.

Which was one of the reasons I think I enjoyed the film so much. It felt like a 4D XMen comic, warts and all.

At 1:41 PM, Blogger Healthystuffguy said...

"Me? I loved it - with almost no reservations or caveats."

I loved it too (My own pathetic X3 review .

And I agree. They never really did anything with Cyclops. Real waste.

At 2:41 PM, Blogger Scott Roche said...

Was it just me or did the youth-ified professor X in the flashback have skin that looked like molded plastic? I swear "It puts the lotion on its skin" went through my head during that scene.

At 3:23 PM, Blogger codemorse said...

It wasn't just you. So many people had remarked upon the effect that when I saw it I thought "Well, that's cool...but they look all...plasticky."

Healthystuffguy - Enjoyed the review.


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