Friday, May 26, 2006

Looking To The Stars - X3, The Search For More Money

There’s a lot of different ways to look at a comic book movie.

There are some purists in fandom that will compare it, panel by panel, to the comics from whom they were inspired. These are the people who threw a hissy fit when they found out that Spider-Man had organic web-shooters and Wolverine was taller than Storm.

Then there are those who don’t mind a little bit of reworking of the legend, so long as the basic core ideas behind the characters are kept true. These are the people who didn’t mind the organic web-shooters, being thankful that Peter Parker was kept as a shy, quiet geek rather than the outspoken jock Freddie Prinze Jr. wanted to play when he was up for the role.

(Slight pause while we all say silent prayers to various deities that Sam Raimi said “No.” to that and to Freddy Prinze coming anywhere near the set.)

Then there are those who don’t care how bad the characters and acting are, as long as there’s a good story behind the thrust of the action. And others still are content with some flashy special effects. And yet others are mostly concerned with the bottom line of all the elements and “is it any good?”

Well, rather than bore everyone with a reasoned, balanced mix of all these elements in a single narrative, I’m going to cover all of them in separate paragraphs. So you can just skip right to the points you care about, read my description of those elements and decided for yourself if the movie is worth seeing.

For what my opinion is worth, I’d say ignore all the critics and see it just to see it. But that’s just me. If you’d really like a second opinion before deciding to commit your nine bucks American, I’ll be all too happy to offer you mine.

But first, a definition of our terms and categories.

PLOT: The SPOILERS BEWARE part. A basic summation of the story.

INFLUENCES: What are the comics that this movie was inspired by and/or ripped off of?

CHARACTERS: Are the characters written well and true to form?

ACTING: Separate from Characters, this is a measure of how skilled the acting is regardless of how “true” it is to the comic book personality of the character.

ARTFULNESS: Nice touches and beautiful artistic shots in the cinematography.

FX: The flashy whiz-bang material and how it looks.

COMIC BOOK GUY QUOTIENT: Another SPOILERS BEWARE section. Nit-picking over anything relating to “how it SHOULD have been done” and general Monday Morning Quarterbacking.

OVERALL: The broad summary of how I felt about the movie in general.

PLOT: Worthington Enterprises, using a young mutant with the power to block other mutant powers, develops a cure for the X-Gene. The mutant community is split, with some wanting to be normal and others fearing a mass-extermination of mutantkind. The later camp, led by Magneto, begin a war of terrorism against the makers and distributors of “The Cure”. The X-Men must deal with this threat as well as their own dwindling numbers following the defection of team members who want to be normal, the death of some friends and the return of some others.

The plot is a 5. Strictly the usual X-Men “let’s stop Magneto” story with a few other subplots grafted on.

INFLUENCES: The major influence is obviously Joss Whedon’s “Gifted” story arc from the first six issues of Astonishing X-Men, which dealt with the idea of a chemical cure for mutation. There are some elements of losing Mutant powers that are borrowed from House of M (particularly the ending) and a little bit of Claremont’s writing of Rogue. There’s also quite a bit borrowed from the portrayals of certain characters in Ultimate X-Men, but I’ll leave it to you to pick out the scenes. And of course, the biggest X-Men story of all time is borrowed for one key moment… and if you have to ask, you don’t need to know until you see it.

If you’re going to steal, steal big. Let’s give them a 7 for picking quality material on which to base the script.

CHARACTERS: Shall we just assume that Magneto and Xavier are pretty much spot on? Yes? Good. All I shall say is that we do get two surprise moments where it is revealed that Xavier is not nearly as good as we like to think and that Magneto, for all his extremism, still is not ready to cross some lines where his friends are concerned.

Wolverine? He’s there for the most part. But there is one bit where I had to ask “when did you become such a whinny little bitch?”

Storm? She gets to lead the team and becomes the dominant leader of the pack, which is very fitting.

Quite honestly, everyone else is so limited in their screen time there’s not much else to say about the characters. Let’s give it an 8 for the characterization in the script. Most of the flaws with how this stacks up to the books lies in the acting, not the writing.

ACTING: Character by character, focusing first on those who were in the first movie.

Magneto – perfect. McKellen once again achieves the balance between the zealot and the hurt man who is trying to save the world by hurting everyone else before he, and his people, are hurt again.

Xavier- Again, perfect. Stewart is underused, again, but he shines for what time he is on the screen.

Wolverine- Jackman could have easily phoned this in, but didn’t. He gives the character a lot more heart and soul than most of his more prominent writers ever managed.

Storm – Many fans were worried that Berry was coming back for this role, given Berry’s comments about considering a superhero movie beneath her during the filming of X-Men 1 and speculation that it was her prima donna attitude that drove Singer off of X3. Still, her fans insisted that any flaw in her performance was due to her not being given enough room to shine as a performer in the first two movies. Well, the Berry fans can kindly shut their mouths now as a bigger role has done nothing to improve Berry’s monotone delivery as Storm. She is quite content to let the effects do the acting for her and uses the same tone of voice for anger, concern and every emotion she is asked to show.

Rogue – Paquin gets even less to do this time than in X2. There’s a bit of a conspiracy theory going around that the actors who were pondering jumping ship to join Singer in the production of Superman were short-changed when it came to screen time on this film. I don’t know if Paquin was among this group, but it would explain why Rogue seems to be limited to sitting on her bed being mopey about not being able to touch her boyfriend and considering taking The Cure for this reason.

Cyclops – the major case to site for the “people who ask Singer for a job on Superman will be screwed” conspiracy theory. He quite literally has only three scenes in the movie, and one of them got shown in the previews.

Jean Grey – a major player and McGuffin in the plot, and yet Janssen doesn’t seem to do much but stand around looking stoned for most of the film.

Mystique – Another blink and you’ll miss it performance, Romijn shines for her brief time on screen proving that there are some models whom have the ability to act.

Beast – They put Frasier in a furry fetish suit and painted him blue. Oddly, Grammar seems to be stuck in the place Berry as in the first X-Men movie. There are some scenes where he seems to be making an effort to change his usual voice so it doesn’t sound like the character he played for 20 years. And other times, there’s no effort and the illusion that he is not in fact, Sideshow Bob in a furry fetish suit, is completely destroyed. I think they would have been better off getting a lesser known actor for the part or going totally CGI with the appearance but for the most part, Grammar is a serviceable Hank McCoy.

Iceman & Shadowcat – except for one scene, the two don’t get much development at all. And the one scene is directly tied into Rogue’s subplot so…

Colossus, Pyro, Angel and Juggernaut – quite literally not worth discussing given how little time and character they are all given.

Call this one a 5 overall.

ARTFULNESS: The former subtlety of Singer’s script and direction is gone. Whereas before the parallels between mutants and the minority of your choice was kept unstated, this movie all but hits us over the head with comparisons between the Mutant Cure and those who claim to be able to “cure” homosexuality.

There’s a few artful shots here and there, but for the most part the camerawork is clumsy and filmed too closely in the personal scenes and the fights.

And honestly, did all the “evil” mutants need to be punks with tattoos?

Give this a 2.

FX: I’d have to watch them all again to be sure, but I suspect we got more special effects in this movie than in the first two X-Men movies combined. While this does work well in some respects – like how we finally get a measure of just how powerful Storm is – the special effects are, for the most part, more obtrusive than in the previous installments. I don’t know if it was Singer’s direction of a lack of time to edit in post-production but the effects in X3 are for the most part, clearly CGI effects. There are far too many moments where the actor’s appear to be reacting to empty air rather than something that is actually there with them. Still, there are some moments that work well… such as the mutant with retractable porcupine quills and Magneto’s solution to creating a bridge to Alcatraz…

On a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being the Roger Corman Fantastic Four movie and 10 being the first Superman movie, I’ll give this an 6. Some of the best effects ever to touch a Marvel movie, but not generally very well blended into the reality or physics of the world.

COMIC BOOK GUY QUOTIENT: My first big complaint is this; why bother having the Dark Phoenix storyline if you’re going to half-ass it?

I realize that there’s no way to work in the Shi’ar, the Omicron crystal, the Blue Zone of the moon, The Watcher and all the other bits and pieces of the full original story. And that’s fine. But there’s still enough material in the basic plot for it to be its own full story. Such a story is too huge to be a mere subplot and its’ execution here leaves a lot to be desired. Particularly since Famkee Janssen literally spends most of the movie standing around and not doing anything.

One scene I was expecting but didn’t see. Magneto is ready to kill the mutant responsible for handing humanity an anti-mutation serum. Said mutant is a scared, shaven headed, pale pre-teen boy who looks suspiciously like an Auschwitz prisoner. I would have loved to have seen a moment where Magneto sees who he has been trying to kill and then realizes that he’s become everything he hates.

There’s a lot of problems with how quickly people are able to move around and the flow of time. We never DO find out exactly where Magneto and his followers are hiding out, but it is presumably somewhere close enough for his whole army to walk to San Francisco. And yet Wolverine seems to have no trouble going there and then getting back to the school in New York. Suddenly, I’m having flashbacks to the Flash cartoon where Wolverine apparently runs to join a fight at the mansion from being in a fight with “Team C, over in Europe or somewhere!”

Not to mention that night falls AWFULLY quickly as Magneto and his followers are crossing the new bridge to Alcatraz…

The ending is way too pat. Did the events on Alcatraz solve the problem of a mutation cure? No. Even with Leech now apparently in the custody of the good guys, will it stop them from using the “Cure guns” they already have in the wake of the massive mutant army that rose up once already? No.

And I know I’ll get yelled at for not mentioning this, even though I’m pretty sure that they were using the Ultimate version who IS a mutant but…

JUGGERNAUT IS NOT A MUTANT! So Leech wouldn’t affect him.

Give this one a 4 as far as Pleasing the Fanboys goes.

OVERALL: It doesn’t suck and is worth seeing, but it is definitely the weakest of the three X-Men movies and is worth seeing only once. This movie looks like what it is – a hodgepodge of what ideas and actors were leftover when Bryan Singer left to make Superman. The FX are improved but even the skillful acting of a few major players can’t make up for the fact that nobody else gets to do much and that the new characters are pretty much cannon fodder.

Give it a 5 out of 10 and a strict C grade. It’s okay for what it is, but a definite step-down from X2.

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt website.

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1 comment:

  1. In reference to Magneto seeing himself in Leech... y'know, I can't help wondering if that's something that ended up on the cutting room floor either during scripting or filming because it does seem like a really obvious thing. And Jean did seem kinda stoned now that you mention it. At least she's a hot stoner. We all wanted to see more on Dark Phoenix, I think. It was just a better story in the comics. They could have just not touched it at all, stuck with the mutant cure thing, and been fine... unfortunately it was necessary after the ending of the last flick if they wanted to have Jean in (though, frankly, it wouldn't have killed me to have one film without her). Ah well. I'd still give it a B instead of a C since it's good viewing overall, but it's definitely flawed and didn't move me the way the first two did outside of Ian McKellen. Pretty sure he could make me really *CARE* about a used car commercial if he wanted to.