Friday, June 02, 2006

EVill Films: X-Men 3: The Last Stand

Anatomy of an Atrocity

After the box office on X2: X Men United, Fox knew the market would bear multiple sequels. Certainly, the franchise had been designed by Bryan Singer to go on for half a dozen or more installments.

There’s a reason the first movie resembles nothing so much as an expensive TV pilot, and why the second one is so much better than the first: it’s paying off two films, and serving as the set-up for the next two—Just the way a good TV series would do it, only compressed into concentrated hits. (…If that’s the term...)

Which is so much better as an approach than the old way movie sequels used to be made: in media res. With no inkling of, or preparation for, the next chapter. “The Final Battle” begets “The New Beginning.” With characters we were never supposed to know for more than two hours coming back to go through the same motions—with minimal variations--again and again.


But, despite the profitability of X-Men in the first two installments—and the second one was quite a bit more successful than the first—Fox Chief Tom Rothman apparently… allegedly… didn't fancy the idea of X-Men as a tentpole franchise, an ongoing series of features around which the studio would build its Brand Identity for years, possibly decades, to come.

His problem was the size of the cast.

Most of the actors were signed to a three-picture deal, so after X3, expensive renegotiations would have to commence, which probably would’ve doubled the overhead. At minimum (since the actual cost of making the films would also be rising).

So maybe that’s why he spent a year faffing Bryan Singer around about his deal to make X3: he was trying to make up his mind what to do about this problem of a hit movie series’ precipitously declining profitability.

Which is definitely what you’d have to call a “high class” problem. (Oh, gee, it’ll only make 1 billion dollars instead of 1.25? Man. Bummer, dude.)

That’s where Warner Brothers came in, and snaked the architect of all this right out from under them for their (long gestating) attempt to revive the slumbering Superman Brand.

And now, Fox had a real problem.

Rothman was so enraged—again, allegedly—by this “betrayal” that he had Singer and his entire production company physically removed from the Fox lot. Ironically, this had to be reversed just days later so Singer could begin production on the House pilot. (I love this industry.)

And that’s when it got really nasty.

Knowing that Singer had formed relationships with many of the cast members, and would want to use some of them, Rothman threatened to sack any member of the X-Men company who agreed to appear in Superman Returns.

James Marsden defied Rothman and took a significant part in SR. So Rothman ordered him killed off in the first act; off-camera, no less. (Wouldn’t even give him a death scene—That’s low.)

So the problem the new writers and director would now face was: how do you continue to tell the story of the tragic love affair of Jean Grey and Cyclops without freakin Cyclops? Not to mention: how do you continue to work the Wolverine-Jean Grey-Cyclops triangle, which had been central to the series, without freakin Cyclops?

The answer to both, of course, is: you can’t.

And that’s when the wheels came off the wagon. If there were any left by that point.

With the center of the series gutted by Rothman’s Revenge, he solved his financial quandary by making this the last X-Men movie, so Ratner, Kinberg and Penn could blow their wad, story-wise. Bring it all down. Don’t worry about setting up the next one, or even keeping the premise viable.

They’d continue to milk this pig, fer sure, but with single-character spin-offs (Wolverine, Magneto, Storm).

As far as the team was concerned, the school, the politics, the world (in a macro sense)—AKA, the stuff that made the series interesting in the first place—That shit was over.

So they would not just reintroduce Jean Grey as Phoenix—they would resolve the character. Forget absolute power corrupting Jean Grey absolutely. She’d start out that way. Never mind that they were skipping over the meat of the story, and (again) the only part that made the story interesting in the first place.

They also decided to kill off Xavier (sort of), but they did it in the first act, not long after Cyclops bought it. Talk about premature climax!

You don’t kill the guy the whole show is named after in the first act. Not only was it not time to be resolving all these characters and storylines, they were going about it really badly.

If Xavier’s beloved protégé kills her father figure, for God's sake, have a heart: let her react to it!

Then again, Famke Janssen did shoot a cameo for Superman Returns. So maybe that helps explain why she was forced to go through this film like the walking dead, with almost no dialogue, certainly no inner struggle. No nuance. We’re just meant to understand that she does what she does in this film because she’s one of the bad guys now.

In short, this was not Jean Grey. Not only was there no resemblance whatsoever to the character we had come to know, this new character—this heavy—doesn’t even get to twirl her moustache. She just stares vacuously at the camera and occasionally blows people away with her brain.


Xavier was also not Xavier for the short time he was in the film. They basically turned him into a child molester, revealing that he had violated Jean’s mind when she was under 10, and that this resulted in the development of an evil dual personality, which he’d kept secret all this time.

And—absurdly—so had Magneto, despite the fact that he could’ve used that information to his advantage several times in the earlier films. (I’m not opposed to retconning—I’m opposed to doing it badly.)

Course, the same process of simplifying to the least common denominator was repeated across the board, affecting all the heretofore smart and richly textured characters and plot lines.

At least, the characters and plot lines that weren’t dropped altogether, e.g., Nightcrawler, the Rogue/Iceman/Pyro triangle, Mystique’s infiltration of the highest levels of the government (posing as Senator Kelly/Bruce Davison), etc., etc.

One bright spot, I thought, was Kitty. I liked the actress. I liked her part in the final battle. That was *totally* Kitty Pryde. With about three minutes, thirty seconds worth of screen time, max. Another bright spot was the bit with young Warren Worthington, where shame leads him to slice off his budding wings and he ends up outed to his father. OK, maybe a bit too sledge-hammery with the symbolism, but I bought it (even though they went precisely nowhere with it, on a chaacter level).

That left about 98 minutes to suffer through. And I'll never get 'em back.


Blogger dirk.mancuso said...

As a confirmed Cyclops (and Marsden) fan, this was jaw droppingly stupid on every level.

And ditto the complete effing up of the Dark Phoenix story, probably THE greatest X-Men story of all time.

But Kelsey Grammer made a much better Beast than I would've thought.

As far as SUPERMAN RETURNS, I don't know. I think Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth are miscast and Lex is going to be a tad too campy with the ever delightful Parker Posey as his co-hort. But you can bet I'll be there opening day...

6/8/06, 4:15 PM  

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