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2006-05-29 22:13:40 (link)
X-Men 3: The Last Stand

The first two X-Men movies were remarkably balanced. They offered great action thrills, but did it alongside compelling storylines and strong character development. As a result, they were not only two of the most exciting blockbusters of the decade, but also two of the most soulful. Perhaps X-Men: The Last Stand wouldn’t seem so dreadful if it weren’t trying to fill those shoes. But with the departure of director Bryan Singer and his writing team, so too departed the sense of balance, depth, and nuance that until now defined the franchise.

Wolverine: The reason we're all here.

Under new director Brett Ratner (Rush Hour, Red Dragon), the movie focuses on the creation of a “cure” for mutation created by the government. As the treatment is distributed, and the mutant community debates its implications, Magneto (Ian McKellan) recruits angered mutants to a holy war against the humans. This war is further complicated by the resurrection of Jean Gray, with her considerable powers intact but her mental state less stable.

The latest X-outing suffers from adding undeveloped characters, while eliminating or marginalizing the franchise’s most interesting characters. Mystique, Cyclops, and Xavier himself are quickly shunted, while Rogue’s role is chopped down to little more than a bit part. The first two installments depended heavily on the bonds and shared experiences of Rogue and Wolverine, and on the presence and philosophical differences of Xavier and Magneto. With Rogue and Xavier cast aside, and Wolverine reduced to tough-talk and posturing, Ratner attempts to centralize Storm. But Storm’s character has never been made interesting, and Halle Berry has never played her well. This leaves a dead space where the movie’s heart should be, and leaves Magneto alone to provide all character depth in an overqualified performance from Ian McKellan.

Beast: Because you would rather have seen Gambit, and this movie wants to keep your expectations in check.

Instead of building through back-story and character, X3 builds through scale, upping the ante at every turn. Where the first two movies featured battles and struggles, the new one turns to full-on war. And where just a few characters dominated earlier work, a flood of new characters now compete for attention on both sides of the battle. Vinnie Jones steps in as evil giant Juggernaut, while Hard Candy’s Ellen Page makes a magnetic Kitty Pryde. But none of them comes with more than a sentence or two of story. While they provide fun new powers, every bit of attention to new figures means emphasis on flash over story.

It’s this lack of subtlety and balance, and a “bigger is better” mentality, that ruins the movie. The movie raises the stakes so high when it comes to some of the mutants’ powers that it feels like a childishly-conceived battle between infinity and infinity-plus-one. Aiming for excess provides some fun moments, but every step forward comes with two steps back. Aaron Stanford’s brooding charisma as Pyro doesn’t justify focusing on the rivalry between him and Shawn Ashmore’s Iceman, particularly when it culminates in the truly stupid climactic battle between fire and ice. And a chase scene between Kitty Pryde and Juggernaut is exhilarating and funny, but more often Ratner’s expanded sense of humor is needlessly lowbrow.

by Amos Posner


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