Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Good, the Bad, and The Last Stand

X-Men: The Last Stand was better than I was expecting. Quite a bit better, actually. Unfortunately, there was one glaring problem with it, and it was exactly what I'd feared.

Here there be spoilers.
Just how many plot threads were there in X-Men III?
1. Phoenix/Dark Phoenix
2. The Mutant Cure
3. Xavier vs. Magneto
4. Pyro vs. Iceman
5. The Rogue-Iceman-Shadowcat love triangle
6. The Cyclops-Jean Grey-Wolverine love triangle
7. Storm's ascension to leadership
8. Angel's issues with his father
9. Leech
10. Teamwork and the morality of the cure
11. Magneto's betrayal of Mystique

And I could probably include Moira MacTaggart in there as well. I think the problem here should be obvious: X3 tried to do too many things all at once, and all the plots suffered because of that lack of focus. Angel's plot thread fizzled out without much buildup or resolution, Phoenix was just completely gone for a good twenty minutes or so when she was Magneto's secret weapon, Moira MacTaggart's relationship with Xavier was never explained, one love triangle lost a corner early on without much fanfare, the other died away without any resolution or confrontation, and we really learned absolutely nothing about Leech. The only plot thread I felt closure with was the Pyro/Iceman rivalry, and that's mainly because it built up in the previous movie. It's a shame, too, because it felt like this was a 2.5-hour movie trimmed down to just under two hours, and that extra 40 minutes or so would have helped greatly. Perhaps we could have seen more reaction to Scott's death, more internal conflict between Jean's personalities, more impact to Xavier's death, more introductions and character development; instead it feels like this was a little too rushed, a little too unfocused.

All that could have been fixed by dropping the Phoenix plotline. I realize the last movie made it seem like this needed to be X-Men III: Rise of the Phoenix, but there was enough material in the cure storyline to fll this whole movie, and it should have. The Phoenix story, however they want to play it, is deep enough and complex enough and epic enough that it deserved its own film as well. If this had been X-Men III: Rise of the Phoenix and X-Men IV: The Last Stand, it would have been fantastic. Both storylines could have gotten the attention they deserved; the moral implications of the Mutant Cure could be more thoroughly explored, and the deaths of Xavier and Cyclops would have carried much more emotional weight. Trying to cram both into the same film forced focus to be diverted away from both plotlines, and really short-changed every one of the movie's stories as a result.

I only had three other problems that couldn't be fixed by splitting the plotlines. First, Halle Berry proves here why she didn't have much screen time in the last two films. Ye gods, she is a terrible actress, and she milks every scene she's in. It's like she bludgeoned the director with her Oscar until he agreed to make her a major focal point, even though none of the main plots really had anything to do with her. She chewed, swallowed, and regurgitated the scenery. Apparently she plans on hanging up the leather and cape, which means that we can all breathe a heavy sigh of relief.
The other major problem was that, despite the huge number of characters we had here, the cast didn't feel nearly as ensemble-ish as it did previously. Maybe it's because the new villains didn't get any real development, maybe it's because there were less than a dozen X-Men, of whom Colossus got very few lines and Rogue disappeared halfway through, missing any battle sequences entirely.
My minor nitpick has to do with those state-of-the-art effects in the opening sequence. The computer work was well done, but Charles and Erik's faces seemed far too flat and stiff, as if they'd both had recent Botox injections. They needed a bit more movement, I'd say.

Other things: where is Kitty supposed to be from that it's having its first snow while upstate New York is still in spring/summer weather? There's no way that the Chicagoland area would get hit while Westchester was sunny and green. Did Xavier's pre-death eye contact with Logan make anyone else think that he was going to pull a "Search for Spock" and store his mind inside Wolverine?

I don't want to seem like I didn't enjoy it, nor do I want to sound like a whiny, nitpicky fanboy; I certainly didn't feel like I'd wasted my money. I thought Hugh Jackman, Shawn Ashmore, Patrick Stewart, and Ian McKellen were all on their A-game the whole way through. I thought from the previews that Beast looked pretty goofy, but Kelsey Grammer pulled it off fantastically. I couldn't believe that Angel was the kid from "Flash Forward;" I loved that show! And seeing Anthony Heald (Dr. Chilton from The Silence of the Lambs) get his ass handed to him by Mystique was great. The special effects were top-notch, and they did some interesting things with the plotlines, which I only wish they could have expanded. It was a decent, though somewhat mediocre, movie. Its main failing was that it should have been two really good ones.

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Anonymous said...

Did Xavier's pre-death eye contact with Logan make anyone else think that he was going to pull a "Search for Spock" and store his mind inside Wolverine?

Okay, *phew* glad I wasn't the only one thinking that...
Especially since the flashback footage reminded me of how much Stewart looked like first season TNG.

Jon said...

I seriously thought he'd Search for Spocked Magneto, myself. I figured Chuck was in Eric's head, playing the white half of the chessboard at the end, there.

There were holes in the logic I could shoot a three-pointer through, but it was a solid, if a bit silly, action movie.

Jim Roeg said...

Great review. I wasn't a fan of Grammer's Beast, but aside from that I couldn't agree more. Waaayyyy too many plotlines, not to mention too much Storm. If only they could have done four films instead of three...