Saturday, May 14, 2011

Standing Again Yields Little New, But Is Still Enjoyable :X-Men III: The Last Stand

The Good: Fun, Excellent casting, Generally good acting, Decent plot
The Bad: Plot intensive, Lack of character development, Nothing especially new
The Basics: When the X-Men return to the big screen, the plot muscles out all attempts at character development, leaving little chance for the actors to shine.

I'm often told that it takes too long for me to get to my final evaluation of a work, so with X-Men III: The Last Stand, I shall start with the bottom line. This is a fun movie, but it's nothing we haven't seen before as viewers of X-Men and X-Men 2.

Picking up where X-Men United left off, save that Nightcrawler has disappeared, the X-Men team is recovering from the loss of Jean Grey. The love of her life, Cyclops, runs off to where she died only to discover he has the ability to resurrect her. Poor Cyclops. Jean isn't well following her return and it is at this inconvenient junction that Professor Xavier informs everyone that Jean led a troubled childhood suffering from something much like multiple personality disorder where she battled for control of herself with an alternate persona known as Phoenix. Well, the Phoenix has come home to roost and after a fairly violent battle, she joins Magneto and his Brotherhood in his war against normal humans.

And what's the bug up Magneto's butt this time around? Well, it seems an incredibly rich human has managed to concoct a "cure" for mutantism. He's giving every mutant a chance to become mundane and this causes some conflict within the X-Men, but brings Magneto throngs of supporters who want to destroy the cure and wipe out humanity. Storm and Wolverine lead the X-Men into battle to defend the humans and it's all pretty extraordinary in a summer blockbuster, special effects kind of way.

X-Men: The Last Stand suffers almost exclusively through its attempt to take on too much, without actually giving the viewers anything new. In the past two installments, the storylines have dealt with alienation and prejudice. There's not much more to do with it, so the "cure" problem is simply a minor variation on the old theme, albeit a clever one.

Worse, though, is that the bloodbath ensues as the plot executes itself is certainly nothing we have not seen before. Following the big fight in X-Men, which seemed to kill off Toad and Sabretooth, X-Men United had giant battles that brought an end to Deathstryke and Jean Gray as well as other antagonists. So, while the scale of the assault on Alcatraz is bigger than the Alkalai Lake or Statue of Liberty battles, it is not fundamentally anything different. And because so many of the mutants involved are new and underdeveloped, there is a severe lack of emotional resonance to the scenes. Indeed, the most significant death in X-Men The Last Stand's climactic battles leads to an extreme "ho-hum, I know I've seen that before!" reaction.

It's not all bad, though. Indeed, outside the feeling that this is a movie we've already seen, there is much to recommend X-Men: The Last Stand. Fortunately, it's a movie we have already seen that we enjoyed. The whole concept of a cure to mutantism is a compelling one and part of the problem with the movie is that it undervalues the emotional resonance of such an idea. And while there is outrage over the cure being used as a weapon against mutants, which is very real and intriguing, the idea then of voluntarily taking the cure is subjugated.

And the effects are quite cool. The make-up for Beast is absolutely brilliant. And in many of the big battle scenes, the special effects are flawless and bring the viewer in, which is what special effects ought to do. Special effects ought to support, not dominate. With Beast, they certainly do that. With some of the other mutants, they succeed as well.

The problems, then, are that the plots motivate the story and move it, not the characters. It is, for example, laughable to me that actress Halle Berry appears in this movie as Storm, given her public declarations after X-Men 2 that she would not return unless her character was given character. Berry and Storm certainly appear in more scenes in this movie, but not with more character. She becomes an appendage, an accessory to Hugh Jackman's Wolverine.

Similarly, the wonderful Anna Paquin, who was given such a compelling role in the first two installments, is neglected and shoved under a rug for most of the movie, leaving newcomer Ellen Page to take her place. And Page is not given much to work with, either. Come to think of it, the only new mutant presented that has a decent role is Beast.

It's hard not to love Beast, played adeptly by actor Kelsey Grammer. Grammer is genius casting for the role and he lives up to it. He shines in every scene he is in.

Alas, he is the acting bright spot here. Patrick Stewart and Anna Paquin who are usually powerhouses on the screen are given almost no screentime. Famke Janssen's part is reduced too often to blinking and Sir Ian McKellen is challenged to show us nothing new and he lives up to the challenge. Ben Foster, who ruled the third season of Six Feet Under is a wet noodle in X-Men 3, being given a character with serious and difficult concepts to express and have those challenges brushed aside ridiculously quickly.

Sigh. It's hard to remember why I liked this movie now. Oh yes, it was fun. For once, I'll let that be enough. Sadly, it did not improve with subsequent viewings.

For other works featuring characters with super powers in the process of becoming, please check out my reviews of:
I Am Number Four
Kick Ass


For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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