02 June 2006

I Geek Out Sometimes: X-Men 3: The Final Movie

[I assume you've seen the film. If not, I solemnly swear to take no prisoners and to spare no plot points. This is not a review so much as it's a sort of... "assessment." An annoyed one.]

X-Men 3: The Final Movie

Or we pray it is the final installment in this stalled series. Where to begin with the list of grievances and missed opportunities? Where to begin....

I should start by saying that I really liked the first two movies. Or I should say I loved the first one, and enjoyed the second. When I learned Singer was leaving the franchise, I did not ask for whom the bell tolled (I could hear it in the distance). The tolling became deafening when I read the auteur responsible for Rush Hour, Rush Hour 2, and Red Dragon was the new man at the helm. After seeing the final product, I was not let down by what I found.

X-Men 3 is NOT saved by Jackman, McKellen, and Stewart--whom, I might point out, are all non-American actresses. They do the best job they can with weak material, but the dialogue is just shit, and each of them says some truly stoooopit, out-of-character stuff. Stewart has to snit at Jackman--after the living hell of explaining the film's version of the Phoenix; McKellen does the best he can with, "WHAT HAVE I DONE?!"; and Jackman comports himself well with his "JEEEEAN!!!!"

Nothing can save the film from the awfully idiotic choice of writing Magneto to go off the callous deep end: his egging Joenix on, his heartless dropping of Mystique after she saved his ass and as a result lost her powers ("DAMN. That shit is COLD," I actually said out loud), his decision to use the mutant "cure" against other mutants, and most egregious his sending the Morlocks to their deaths in the final battle sequence, dismissing them with a gloating smile as "pawns." Nice brotherhood you got going there, Magneto. After the first two films spent so much time presenting Magneto as a textured, complex character, this latest edition pulls no punches and displays him in full fascist--Holy Richard the III, Batman--mode. Too easy. And lame. Did I mention lazy?

Now to pile up the corpses.

Halle Berry
Thank god they got Tina Turner to lend Halle one of her old wigs from the 80s.

"It's okay, Jackie!"

I mean, the wig in the first film was AWFUL, the second wig was a slight improvement, but this one is an affront to humanity (the filmmakers even refer to it directly in an icky moment between Storm and the Beast when Berry squeals, "You've changed your hair!" And the Beast notes, "So have you." Not enough). Anyway, Storm has a larger--a much larger--role in "Final," and it becomes eminently clear why Singer kept her lines down to a minimum in the first two films: the woman can't act. Compare the cut scene on the first X-Men DVD in which Storm teaches a class of mutants. Awful. Every word she utters is a lie, including "a" and "the." No, that implies too much intention--she doesn't know what the fuck she's doing. Okay, Halle. HALLE! Repeat after me: Storm is a what? A what? You don't know? Storm is an African Weather Goddess. She is regal. English is not her first language. I know, honey, I know, don't cry, baby. I know, accents are hard. But you're getting paid. You are a professional actress. Get to work.

Berry is so laughable with almost every syllable she utters. She's made Storm all sassy 'n' shit--watch her tell off Wolverine. You go, girl! Snap! Snap! She does Storm like she's just this side of white from Kim and Cookie. And every time she uses her "weather-witch" powers she goes all slack jawed like she's having a seizure (the whited-out, Little Orphan, Annie Eyes don't help). Ok, remember in the first film when Sabretooth is chocking the goddamn out of her in the train station, and she goes all slack and mouth-breathery in the face, and you think she's dying, then her eyes go all white and she calls down lightening from the heavens? It's like that every time in this movie. Oh, I'll vomit if I go on. Fire her.

Why hire Kelsey Grammer to do Hank McCoy? I dunno, because no one's looking to hire him to do Shakespeare again any time soon, and maybe he needed the work. But he's okay more or less. It's the atrocious make-up they've saddled him in that hurts the soul so. Okay, he's BLUE. He's fucking blue.... I can't help thinking Singer would not have been so literal. Just see for yourself.
The image “http://www.evilhippy.net/images/beast.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
Dr Jekyll or Papa Smurf, I presume.

Now, this is what the Beast is supposed to look like, as rendered back in the day by John Byrne at his prime (inks by Terry Austin).

First of all, the Beast is kinda sexy, even covered in fur. But come on people, make him blue-black or something. Whatever.

The Morlocks
Some genius working on this movie thought it would be way cool if the living-in-the-sewers, outcast, underground mutants, known as the Morlocks should all be various ethnic minorities, and dressed like some horrible, post-apocalyptic, fashion mistakes, fresh as hell from the 80s. I mean, honestly, they look like characters visiting from the set of a Pat Benatar music video. It's sorta analogous to the S and M themed costumes for Two-Face's gang in the Val Kilmer Batman Forever fiasco. Remember them? Someone who has no idea what they're doing thinks something they know nothing about looks cool, so that over-determined design makes it into the movie. The image resonates, that's enough; it doesn't really matter what it might mean. Hey! In a mutants-as-queer franchise, let's make the Morlocks all Latin or sorta Asian or sorta androgynous. What a great idea! There's such a misguided, bad-faith race, class vibe about this choice that my skin crawls. Except for Halle (and, let's not kid ourselves too much about her, anyway), all the major players are white white white. Then having Magneto send these "pawns" to their deaths for his cause--which superficially includes them--is simply repugnant. And this from a Holocaust survivor.... Yeah, bigoted Magneto's all about the end-justifies-the-means. This move drains all the nuance out of the character--it's just sad to see McKellen put through his paces this way. It doesn't serve the narrative or the character, it just makes him into the easy villain of the piece. Why make his morally complicated decisions interesting or even intelligible when he can just be a dick?

Okay, this is where the serious geek factor enters the conversation: Yes, I was a big X-Men fan back in the day when the Phoenix/Dark Phoenix saga was first published. X-Men writers since then have hopelessly muddled it--I gave up trying to follow the latest convoluted explanation for Phoenix long ago, having lost all desire to know or care. But when the story first came out, it was clean and relatively simple: Jean Grey, selflessly saving her teammates, perished in a radiation storm while piloting their ship back into the earth's atmosphere. The ship crashed and she emerged with much greater powers, a new costume, and a new name, "Phoenix." In a major, very cool plotline, an old X-Men villain, named Mastermind (he's an illusion-caster, and was re-tooled as Jason Stryker in the second X-Men movie), was able to enter her mind, and essentially alter her personality, making her the Black Queen of the Hellfire Club (don't ask, just know it's as bad as it sounds). Thanks to Scott (Cyclops) she came to her senses, but the damage was done. Mastermind's manipulation had unleashed a power-hungry side of herself that manifested, just as soon as they defeated the Hellfire Club, as the ridiculously powerful Dark Phoenix. She flew off into space, consumed a star (yes, you read that right), which had the unfortunate side-effect of destroying a planet of asparagus people. That's right, asparagus people. Dark Phoenix returned to earth, fought the X-Men, and with Xavier's help, Jean was able to reassert her personality and place "psychic blocks" which would keep her extraordinary, cosmic-level psychic abilities under wraps. All seemed good until a race of aliens arrived to claim justice for the poor dead asparagus people. In a fight with the aliens (on the moon, no less), Jean reverted to Phoenix, and knowing she couldn't control her power indefinitely, telekinetically triggered a space cannon to blast herself into smithereens.

She's dead, Jim.

As you can see, only a small handful of these elements found their way into the screenplay for X-Men 3. What Bryan Singer had in mind when he decided at the last minute to re-shoot the ending of X-Men 2, so that Jean died, complete with a "Phoenix Effect" in the water at the very end, is any one's guess. He had clearly decided to do the Phoenix story in the third film, but who knows what of his intentions actually made it to the screen. In fact, the Phoenix Saga is exactly what we do not get. Instead, Jean-Grey-as-God is a measly subplot in the much less interesting and far less operatic main plot of the mutant "cure" and Magneto's full-scale war against it. The lame and perfunctory Rogue-Iceman-Kitty love triangle got more freakin' screen time.

What-we-wanted vs. What-we-got

The movie should have been about Jean, the Phoenix, and the X-Men. I'm not an adaptation literalist by any means; in fact, I believe what was so admirable about Singer's two X-Men movies is that they departed from the comic to a significant degree, had their own internal coherence, satisfied fans and newcomers alike, and were sophisticated, well-crafted, superhero action films with a serious ethical undertone. Not easy, people. The Harry Potter movies actually got better as they went probably because J.K. Rowling was around to control quality and because after Chris Columbus left, the franchise finally got good directors on board, ones who have this thing called "vision" and the wherewithal to carry it out. But I digress.

Back to Phoenix in X-Men 3. I enjoyed the references to Carrie and The Exorcist--it's too bad that the cleverness regarding this character was relegated to a series of visual cues, but what can you do? Jean (or Phoenix) "wakes up" from under the lake, kills Scott immediately with a vampire kiss, lapses into a coma long enough to be discovered by Halle and Hugh and brought back to the mansion, wakes up, comes on to Hugh, leaves, kills the professor (in a mostly cool scene, effects-wise), joins Ian McKellen, and spends the rest of the movie standing there in a red dominatrix outfit, looking peevish. That's it! Sure, at the very end, she gets all scary, pretty much for no reason, so Hugh pops his claws into her. The End. This is the Phoenix Saga? This is a story? The original comic version told an epic and tragic tale of ambivalence, madness, loneliness, love, redemption, and finally death. I tell you, you hand Hollywood gold on a silver platter, and they still find a way not to get it. This thing had no-brainer written all over it from the get-go. But last and not least, where was the Phoenix Effect I ordered?? I'll tell you where: superimposed on a lake surface at the end of the last film.

One last thing: I like Famke Janssen--she seems smart, she played a mean transsexual on Nip/Tuck, she speaks four languages, and provides the Dutch-language narration for the Studio Tram Tour at Disney parks. I just wish she's had something to do in her last outing as Jean Grey. Oh. And I wish they hadn't dyed her hair that absurd magenta-orange too.

Rant over.

All that said, X-Men 3 isn't a steaming pile of shit. It's an engaging summer blockbuster, and the special effects with the Golden Gate Bridge are kinda breathtaking. The problem is just that except for having the same actors playing the same characters, it bears almost no relationship to what Bryan Singer did before it. I'm not saying don't see it, I'm saying it is a weak, empty-headed, by-the-numbers follow-up to a couple of movies that managed to achieve something pretty special. (Did you like how I saved anything nice to say till the end?)

Now, one last thing. People always wanna know why so many gay guys like comic books. It's because the artists draw men like this:

This is SO eighth-grade jack-off material. Thank you, John Byrne!


GayProf said...

Wow – I am glad that you are back and with a review of X-3. I also found disappointment in this film. I don’t expect them to be slaves to the comics. The film versions are a retelling, not a verbatim translation of the comics onto celluloid. I can live with that.

Still, this film had some many glitches and character flaws. Why would Professor X suddenly become Professor I-Have-Many-Secrets-And-Probably-Am-Fucking-With-Your-Mind-Right-Now?

Here is my take:

The good:

Bobby Drake finally gets his ice-armor. We like this.

Any chance to see Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan work together is great.

Any scenes of Colossus and Hugh Jackman without their shirts are great.

Angel finally got into a movie.

The Bad:

The movie was kinda boring. I mean, it just didn’t do much. At times, I just wanted it to end. Not because it was awful, just boring.

Why would the X-Men use the anti-gay, er, I mean anti-mutant “cure” on fellow mutants without any thought of ethics?

Angel’s story seemed incidental and undeveloped.

Not enough scenes with Colossus and Hugh Jackman without their shirts.

The Confusing:

The guns might have been plastic, but all the needles with the “cure” clearly had metal tips. Thus, couldn’t Magneto have stopped them?

Why would they even talk about closing the school when, not 10 minutes earlier, Professor X told Storm a) He wanted the school to stay open after he died and b) He wanted her to be in charge of the school?

Jean Grey’s hair: I have never been a level-5 mutant, but if I were, I probably would use some of those strange powers to condition my hair.

Why did all the important characters die or drop out of this movie in the first 30 minutes? It was almost like watching a family reunion, except half the family only came for the salad and left. Prof. X, Cyclops, Mystique, and Rogue hardly had any screen time. Nightcrawler was nowhere to be found (after his story had been pumped up for X2).

Why was Halle Berry cast as Storm in the first place?

Those are some of my issues.

e.v.jose said...

This is so sad, but I totally remember fixating on that panel of Scott's hairy chest and his huge forearms. That whole Savage Land issue came ahead of the International Male catalogs in terms of boner-popping intensity. John Byrne is good at the huge and hairy forearms thing. They appear a lot in is work, I've noticed.

Re. Halle's wigs: Do you remember in the comics how Storm had that bangin' mohawk and the leather biker outfit. It might be a little dated now, but in the 80s I remember thinking that she was the shit with that look! When the news came along about the first X-Men film, I kept wishing that her 'hawk would make a reappearance. Storm carried off this world-weary, post-modern sensibility that made her seem very powerful and wise. Yeah, Halle kind of missed that about her.

I appreciate you pointing out those inconsistencies in the scripting of the characters. The end scene on the island was kind of contrived and bogus, but I can't lie--the effects had me. I too also think that the costuming choice for the Morlocks could have been more inspired than going the pseudo-goth/90s graver look. I felt cheated by the fact that Psylocke, a major character in the books, was such an afterthought in this one. I didn't even know she was actually in the movie until the credits rolled.

I think the one thing that appeals very much to people about the X-Men is how much of a family they are. They've never been able to bring that home in the films, I think. You always get a sense of how they knew each other intimately and were real friends. I think there were even a couple of issues where Claremont wrote scenes in which Storm and Rogue went shopping together!

bstewart23 said...

Does it really take that long to walk from the middle of the Golden Gate Bridge to one end, long enough for broad-daylight to turn to blackest-midnight?

No. No, it does not.

Also, may I ask how sensible it is to have a mutation-quashing mutant at a school where mutants are supposed to be honing their powers?

Not sensible. Not sensible at all.

Peter said...

I think I echo gayprof some, but my basic problem with the movie was that within ten minutes of leaving the screening, the three of us who went were done any discussion of it; by two days later I couldn't really remember it at all. Mr. Ratner can toy with the canon all he wants, but he does us a disservice by doing so in such a thoroughly dull and forgettable manner.

As for what e.v. jose says: psylocke was in the movie? And as for hairy chests and strong arms provoking boners: isn't that a normal, healthy, manly reaction to them?

STBD said...

I agree with all of it. The movie was painful precisely because it was so pedestrian. No characterization (or bad characterization) = nobody cares about the plot, no matter how big it gets, because it's being stapled to cardboard characters.

And thanks to bstewart23 for pointing out that time lapse on the bridge. I remember commenting on that mid-film as well.

Was I the only person who groaned audibly at the "I'm the Juggernaut, bitch!" line that was obviously added solely to create a catchphrase?

Incidentally, while I spent my adolescence feeling awkwardly aroused by comic images of Rogue prancing through the Savage Land in next to nothing (thanks, Jim Lee), it never occurred to me that the coin flipped the other way at the time. Now that you mention it, I completely understand why Ka-Zar would have been essentially as popular as Shanna...

Luciferus said...


Agreed seeing the Iceman armor did allow for some late-breaking joy. I too liked seeing Stewart and McKellen working together, especially at the beginning when they've been CGIed into younger versions of themselves to visit the young and petulant Jean Grey (though I could have done without McKellen/Magneto's purple suit, and by that I mean suit and tie. He lookoed like a conservatively dressed Riddler or Joker). I wish Daniel Cudmore was a s buff as he was in X-2 and not sorta puffy--and the lame "armor" they new movie gives him makes him look like a Micronaut action figure, frankly.

The needles could have been plastic too, and very painful at that. But, you know, Magneto has pulled metal from the air and from below the earth's crust in the comic, so I don't see why plastic should ever have been such an issue in the movies. And yes, it was just laughable that Storm and the Beast were all about closing down the school, which is a testament to the lameness and inconsistency of this film as a rule.

I liked Storm's Paul Smith mohawk phase as well, especially because it was such a dramatic shift for her, and one that was treated as a makeover to move beyond the past than as Storm going all punk. But I don't think I want to see Berry in a mohawk, in fact I don't think I want to see Halle Berry ever again.

Yes, it takes about seven hours to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge--everyone knows that. So, if you walk from the one end starting at anytime after noon, the sun will probably be down by the time you reach the other side.

And the mutant-quashing-mutant boy, from whom you can somehow "distill" a mutant/queer "cure," could be just kept in his own cell by himself, never having any interaction with other mutants or any living thing. There, that solves that problem. Also, wouldn't his own presence to himself remove his own "power"? And if the "cure" were given to him, what would happen?

And lastly, in a series that makes a metaphor out of the uniqueness of the individual and the pride one should have in that, does it make any sense to have Rogue get the "cure"? That kind of creeped me out. I mean, Scott can never take off his glasses, but I don't see him rushing to get the cure. Oh wait. He's dead.

If Rogue wanted to mack on Iceman, couldn't she just have hidden Toby-the-mutant-power-removing-mtant-boy under the bed or in the next room or something? You have to be creative about these things.... Ooops, I just asked too much!

Luciferus said...

How could I neglect to thank you for marking that little gay boys and little straight boys have a similar erotic fixation on comics, just on different objects (and undoubtedly some little lesbians and straight girls, when they read the comics). Thank god for everyone that the code is gone, more or less.

Laurel said...

Um... I know this isn't the MAIN point, but I've lived in the bay area for almost 15 years and the Golden Gate bridge is less than two miles across. If you're taking a leisurely stroll and stopping to take pictures (or dodge tourists) it still takes less than an hour... if you're a mutant with a purpose I'd guess they could cover the 2/3 or so of the bridge they walked in a half hour, easy. So the all of the sudden it was dark WAS totally just "okay it looks cool to have them striding across in the afternoon but attacking Alcatraz at night" decision. a lame-ass CRAP decision.

That said, we left during the credits to escape the crying three year old behind us (occasional crying throughout the whole move and pretty much constant crying once Patrick Stewart bit it) and then I find out from the reviews I avoided reading before the movie that I needed to stay to the END of the credits because there was a THING! What was the thing?

Laurel said...

Um... I know this isn't the MAIN point, but I've lived in the bay area for almost 15 years and the Golden Gate bridge is less than two miles across. If you're taking a leisurely stroll and stopping to take pictures (or dodge tourists) it still takes less than an hour... if you're a mutant with a purpose I'd guess they could cover the 2/3 or so of the bridge they walked in a half hour, easy. So the all of the sudden it was dark WAS totally just "okay it looks cool to have them striding across in the afternoon but attacking Alcatraz at night" decision. a lame-ass CRAP decision.

That said, we left during the credits to escape the crying three year old behind us (occasional crying throughout the whole move and pretty much constant crying as soon as Patrick Stewart bit) and then I find out from the reviews I avoided reading before the movie that I needed to stay to the END of the credits because there was a THING! What was the thing?

Luciferus said...

The thing was Moira McTaggert (MacTaggart?) looking in on the heavily-handedly inserted brain-dead guy--whom Xavier suggested it was unethical to take over, if one had mental powers--and hearing him say something, and (her) saying: "Charles??" Oh, just let the pain end already.

And apologies for late-night typos in earlier comments.

ohnochriso said...

I just found your blog through some links and devoured this faster than a planet full of asparagus people. What Ratner did with X3 made me so furious. Yes, there were scenes that were good (I loved Kitty Pryde as much as I've always loved her in the comics and despite how crap Halle Berry is as Storm, it was at least nice to see her be more powerful) I hated it overall. I saw it a few times close together owing that I told a few friends I'd go with them and each time it got worse. My bf and I went to see the midnight premiere and so many people were screaming "WHERE'S THE PHOENIX EFFECT!" at the end. I can't really understand why Ratner wouldn't include it when it was so heavily hinted at in X2. And now he's ruined the Jean/Dark Phoenix story from ever being told well in movies. For that alone he should get kicked in the nuts 10 times a day.

But also, as much as I loved his first two X-movies, Singer deserves a swift kick in the jewels as well. Because while I did actually enjoy Superman Returns, I was pissed as all hell to see that it took him away from the X-Men movies and the possibility that X3 could've actually been a fantastic movie in his hands.