I’ll say it right now: the X-Men are my favorite team of superheroes ever. Avengers? Fuck them, they’re only interesting when Spider-Man or one of the X-Men slips onto the roster. Besides, can you name any major members besides Thor, Captain America and Iron Man? Hell, before his new live-action picture started getting steam, did you even know who Iron Man was?! And what about the Justice League? Sure, you’ve got legends like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash… but it’s like a superhero team consisting of a bunch of cub scout leaders.
X-Men, though. They’re something special to me. I’m sure it has everything to do with the fact that they starred in a surprisingly faithful and engaging FOX animated series, much like their buddy Spider-Man, during my childhood, and maybe yours, too. Remember getting up eagerly every Saturday morning to see what would happen? And when the Phoenix story arc was a fuckin’ EVENT that actually got to air during prime time? Then again, the 90s certainly were X-Men’s decade more than any other before it. Rob Liefeld and tacky foil covers drove the comic industry’s profile and sales higher than ever before, and X-Men was at the top of the heap.
But even this doesn’t really get at why the X-Men are so cool. ANOTHER reason why I think they’re awesome is because their powers had some thought and creativity put into them. Yeah, Superman is super and all that, but how many powers does he share with Wonder Woman? And Martian Manhunter? And any of the squintillion other secondary and tertiary League members? Not only are Superman’s powers generic, but they make several members of the team completely obsolete. But then, he’s the prototypical superhero. That doesn’t really happen with X-Men. Few characters are broken to the point where they’re nigh-unbeatable. Cyclops fires awesome beams of pure energy from his eyes, but is unable to control it without his visor. Gambit has the power to imbue anything he touches with explosive energy, most famously his playing cards. Storm can manipulate the fucking weather, bitch, but has claustrophobia. Rogue can actually STEAL other mutants’ powers, but even this potentially too-awesome power is tempered by the fact that she can’t even touch another human being without nearly killing him. Hell, Wolverine has an unbreakable adamantium skeleton, advanced regenerative capabilities and fucking CLAWS that can slice through anything, and he… uh… has a crappy personality?
Needless to say, even though powers like flying or super-strength could sometimes overlap, you’d be hard pressed to mistake one member for another, especially with their often tempestuous personalities. Cyclops is the goody-two-shoe leader with daddy and abandonment issues up to wazoo. Rogue is a fiery Southern belle who’s hotter than fuck and knows it. Beast is a placid intellectual often in conflict with his primitive, increasingly cat-like appearance. And then there’s Jubilee, who has to struggle every day with the fact that she’s uninteresting and useless.
The only reason I could think of Hollywood taking so long to pull the trigger on making an X-Men movie would be the prohibitive cost of actually filming all of these spectacular powers and a general lack of faith in superhero movies. Yeah, Dolph Lundgren’s Punisher and those last few Superman movies would do that anyone, I guess. But even after Tim Burton gothed up Batman for the big screen, X-Men lay fallow. WTF?! But finally (finally!), after Blade resurrected the Marvel brand at the multiplex, X-Men got their big screen debut!
In the good tradition of Batman, the studio handed the property off to a director with some actual good movies to his name. Bryan Singer, he of The Usual Suspects, took X-Men and ran with it for two movies. Waiting for the first was enough to make any fan curious and anxious. How the HELL do you introduce something as sprawling as X-Men? Would Singer grasp all of the legitimate social issues that they represent? Would he dare to have them on screen in their garish costumes? Would he actually cast Wolverine as the hairy little canuck midget that he is?!
Well, starting off, it’s easy to see that Singer wanted X-Men to be viewed as a Serious Film™. You can tell this by the way he slaps the Holocaust into your face not even five minutes in. Seriously, if it wasn’t for the borderline “duh” opening monologue by Patrick Stewart explaining what mutants were, you’d think you were watching Schindler’s List or some shit. Sheesh. But this is a pretty decent frame of reference for what comes later on. And we get to see the origins of Magneto ~MASTER OF MAGNETISM~ being clubbed on the head by mean ol’ Nazis. And then we get whisked away to… the modern South, where Anna Paquin (or Rogue or whatever you wanna call her) is trying to get some from her boyfriend while looking as awkward as she possibly can. Of course, fans know where this is going and she just about kills the poor putz before disengaging and screaming like a little bitch everywhere. This is important because now the audience knows HOW DANGEROUS MUTANTS CAN BE. So we can feel ashamed when we agree with Senator Douchebag, the most heartless, vitriolic politician this side of Stalin. Seriously, this guy is like the offspring of Sen. Joseph McCarthy and a serial killer. He rambles on and on about how mutants are dangerous and need to be registered and controlled by the government (wonder if Marvel was listening). It’d be easy to completely dismiss him if he didn’t have a point. Do you feel okay with knowing Shadowcat can waltz into Fort Knox or the men’s bathroom whenever she likes? Fuck, this asshole even has a LIST of known mutants. Think the audience knows we’re supposed to hate him yet? Dr. Jean Grey, a mutant counterpoint, mushmouths her way through a snappy defense of mutant rights, but it’s drowned out by the applause and whistles (whistles? In the SENATE or wherever?!) for Senator Psychopath.
Of course, waiting in the wings is Magneto, who is not surprised to hear another Nazi-esque speech attacking the rights of human beings. His friend, Prof. Xavier, tries to defend the rest of humanity, using the most Pollyanna-like reasoning possible, but of course it’s not convincing. And the die is cast!
The rest of the movie is pretty much told through the lens of Rogue and the X-Men poster boy, Wolverine, who she meets in a redneck gay bar (ok, not really, but it seriously could be one). Both painting themselves as outsiders too dangerous to live in civilized society, they become reluctant friends before a barely-there Sabertooth and an over-protective seatbelt nearly kill them. After Wolverine’s car explodes with enough force for ten cars, they’re saved by the X-Men, Prof. Xavier’s elite team of mutants bent on protecting mankind and looking hot while doing it. It’s also revealed that Sabertooth is a minion of DUN DUN DUN! Magneto’s! He returns with his tail between his legs to his master’s lair which is an island or something in the middle of wherever.
We also find out that when Xavier isn’t being the crippled Charlie to his Angels, he’s being the world’s nuttiest private school principal for “gifted” children. We all know what he means by “gifted.” And aside from the main characters, of course, there’s some ugly fucking mugs in that school. After the obligatory montage of students using powers and exciting hints at mutants we know and… tolerate… Wolverine gets to mix and mingle with the teachers… who are the X-Men by night! How convenient! There’s Storm, the token black girl with an awful African accent, Jean Grey, the mutant expert from before who is a telepath, psychokinetic and I guess some kind of medical whiz seeing as she nurses Wolverine back to shirtless health. Shirtless SEXY health, which she certainly does not ignore. To the chagrin of her boyfriend, team leader and boy scout extraordinaire Cyclops. He’s going to get a big rant later on, so I’ll just leave it at that.
Meanwhile, true believers! Magneto has Sen. Douchebag kidnapped by his naked shapeshifting lackey Mystique and Darth Maul in green makeup. And he hints at his master plan, using an improbably financed machine to do… something! We don’t know because he doesn’t tell us because it’s not the final act yet! But seriously, how does Magneto have this friggin’ island fortress with a crazy twirling machine that looks like a rejected concept from Contact?
Rogue makes stupid, rash decisions, Wolverine steals motorcycles, Storm shows what happens when a toad is hit by lightning, Jean waffles between two men, Solid Snake shows up, Xavier expositions, Magneto magnetizes, Cyclops makes ass faces, and the movie ends with a promise of more to come!
I’ll say right now that Sabertooth is easily the weakest of all the villains. He’s just a big stupid guy with a bunch of pasted-on hair and no discernable powers beyond being really strong. Tyler Mane plays him like one of his wrestling characters but with less charisma or presence. He’s seriously up there with Storm in terms of being the lamest addition to the cast because he’s basically inconsequential except for a knock-out, drag-down fight at the end with some of the silliest, most incomprehensible CG stunts in the movie. It’s really sad that the character’s tortured history with Wolverine had to be jettisoned as it made him a much more (ironically) three-dimensional person than his three-dimensional counterpart.
Toad is actually way cooler in this movie than he ever has been or ever will be, thanks to some smart uses of his tongue-lashing, wall-crawling powers and Ray Park’s indelible touch on the performance. You could tell that he was having fun and totally in his element, because it comes through in his performance which seems easy and breezy, like he’s not acting at all. And of course there’s that wonderful part where he reprises his most infamous role as Darth Maul for a little bit of self-parody.
Rebecca Romijn (then -Stamos) is actually pretty damn good at playing Mystique. She has the correct amount of litheness and leggy-ness in order to play the quasi-reptilian shapeshifter. Of course, half the strength of her presence is the outlandish makeup she has to wear. The whole nearly-naked scale and bodypaint image they decided to give Mystique in this movie completely works in her favor, accentuating all of the advantages casting Rebecca Romijn has to offer. Question, though: why doesn’t anyone call her on her yellow eyes when she’s morphed into other people?! Stupid! And I guess that ninja levels of martial arts skill come standard with being a mutant.
The adaptations they give the characters for the movie are fairly interesting. Making Rogue younger than the other members and essentially putting her in the Jubilee role has a lot of merit to it, since it not only gives us the rookie entry-level view of how the X-Men work, but her dangerous powers also give her a tortured side that wasn’t always evident in her more mature, confident comic book counterpart. It definitely gives her some depth that wasn’t being exploited before. And capitalizing on Magneto’s Jewish heritage to show us how his world view is shaped is an elegant, simple way to flesh out his character and let us know how he feels he’s justified without tons of unnecessary speechifying or dumbing his character down to a mustache-twirling villain. You can tell the characters Singer put care into and which ones were Storm.
The first installment struck me initially as a surprisingly awesome action movie that actually showed how superhero movies could be done RIGHT if enough love and care were put into them. It wasn’t just a ploy to sell toys and it wasn’t just a way to cram as much CG effects into a summer movie as possible, either. There was an actual movie underneath the blockbuster sheen, and it was something that had been missing ever since Batman Returns. But upon seeing it for the first time in several years for the writing of this grump, I have to admit, my opinion towards it has cooled. Yeah, there is a movie in here with some timeless messages on basic human dignity and the importance of civil rights and acceptance. But it also speeds along like a freight train with little regard for how caricatured it has to make characters in order to make it all work. Storm is barely there as a person. She might as well just be a ping pong ball on a stick that can summon lightning. Cyclops is just a jealous asshole who constantly looks like he’s smelled a fart. Everything is thrown under the bus so that we can focus on Wolverine and Rogue. And really, when it’s just them, it works. There’s a fantastic scene with Rogue looking at a mother stroking her son and yearning to do the same thing to another human being. It’s completely without words and it’s as poignant as anything else in the movie. And it’s one of the few times where Rogue’s face isn’t doing something weird. Real, quiet, human emotion is something that often gets lost in the shuffle of big action movies, and while X-Men certainly does have action, with special effects that have aged baaaaaaaaadly, Singer doesn’t forget that these aren’t superpowered chess pieces, they’re people. And ultimately that’s why I think this movie does succeed. It was an early success and step in the right direction for recent superhero movies to go in, and so it remains to this day. It’s just a little worse for the wear with more focused works like Spider-Man 2 and even its own superior sibling X2: X-Men United.
X2 starts out really strangely, with another stupid opening narration from Capt. Picard telling us about mutation and space visuals with a space man to go with them. Uh? Then we go to the White House where a lovely tour is about to start. But wait, what’s that? “BAMF”? I wonder… YES! Nightcrawler gets introduced in a surprisingly awesome and gorgeous sequence considering X-Men 1‘s rather boring action and long-in-the-tooth CGI. But to the surprise of anyone who knows who he is, he’s… attacking the President?! And with the world’s gayest knife, I might add. Whose idea was the bow? But after this shot of adrenaline, we’re zipped back to the plotline from the first movie where Wolverine has finally made it to Alkali Lake in search of his past. So this means the movie takes place, like, a week or so after the first one? Anyways, Wolvie mopes around and stares quasi-symbolically at wolves before discovering all he’s doing is looking at a bunch of stupid ruins. And yes, his hair is still really stupid-looking in person. No one would ever, ever do their hair like that.
The X-Men are taking the students out for a museum trip, full of foreshadowing and more looks at the less model-tastic of Xavier’s school. We meet Jean again, and she has a cute, shorter haircut but still can’t get the words out of her horsemouth without mushing them half to death. Oh, and she’s having crazy psychic power spikes. Way to pick ’em, Cyke! The students the movie wants us to actually care about, Iceman, Rogue and their greaser friend Pyro, get into a fight when a bunch of douches try to pick up Rogue. She rolls her eyes but Pyro (because he’s a giant dick) decides to use his flame powers on them and Xavier’s had quite enough of this and decides to freeze all the non-mutants in the building and skedaddle, but also because news of a mutant trying to assassinate the president has just come in. Since when can Xavier freeze people like that?! Is there a LIMIT to his power?
So cut to the Prez, freshly freaked out by his brush with death, talking to the ever-creepy Brian Cox who plays William Stryker, a military-type person who has no love for mutants in the least. Senator Douchebag also shows up, of course being Mystique in disguise, and they argue about mutants and the best way to handle this. The Prez ends up giving Stryker the authority to do what he must to bring this threat under control and you can practically see Stryker rubbing his hands with glee as he walks away with his Asian sterile dragon lady stereotype secretary. He visits Magneto in the world’s most awesome plastic prison cell and whips out some kind of acid that he puts on the back of his neck to make him more cooperative and answer his questions. What?
Meanwhile! Mystique is doing her spy shit and looking up the security detail on Magneto to try to break him out. While flipping through Stryker’s computer, chock-full of X-Men fanservice and a file hilariously called “Plan B,” she sees schematics for Cerebro and a second version of it which is curious, indeed. With this bit of info, she seduces Magneto’s guard while off-duty and injects him with something. Hmmmm… >:3
Even MORE meanwhile, Rogue and Iceman are having relationship troubles. Iceman wants to take it further, but Rogue is justifiably scared of fucking sucking the life out of him. And Wolverine is not blind to the fact that his daughter-figure now has a gentleman caller. In a rather charming exchange in the mansion’s kitchen, Logan plays the overprotective father and grills Iceman on his intentions while Iceman chills his beer for him. And then Stryker sends half the Special Forces into the campus while kidnapping Xavier and Cyclops when they try to visit Magneto and Jean and Storm travel to a church to have a sappy religious talk with Nightcrawler.
If you couldn’t tell, there’s a lot happening in this one.
We get to see a surprising amount of the actual student body in this movie, with the infiltration of the school focusing rather effectively on how brutal this invasion is on the innocent children. Shooting a cute, bespectacled kid full of tranqs is too cruel, Stryker-san! Wolverine’s first instinct is of course to fucking kill these poor dopes. I mean, really, they never had much of a chance. Colossus (who I couldn’t figure out if he was supposed to be a student or teacher or WHAT) dopedy-dopes around shirtless for the camera hustling students to safety. All this concern for them goes out the window, however, when he offers to stay and help Wolverine fight. Wolverine of course points out that maybe someone should look after the helpless kids, so that’s the last we see of him.
And of course Rogue, Iceman and Pyro are the last ones out, winding up stuck with Wolverine after he has a touching reunion with his father-figure through a big wall of ice. Finally coming to his senses that this will not be a hug-filled chance to talk about his abandonment issues, he departs with the teens to the only place left to go… Iceman’s house?! They take Cyclops’ car (does anyone else there own a vehicle?!) which hilariously has *NSYNC on the sound system. Oh, Cyclops. The homecoming of Iceman doesn’t go very well since the first thing they see is Wolverine bogarting one of their beers and Iceman has to hastily explain that Logan is his teacher from school, which no one on earth would ever buy. The entire sequence is cleverly handled like some kind of coming out with his parents realizing their son’s a mutant. There’s even a little gem of a shot with Pyro looking sullenly at Iceman’s family pictures that speaks more than he ever does in the entire movie about his background and character. Of course we get some menacing shots of Iceman’s stupid brother stupidly calling the police on his stupid phone. So stupid.
But that’s okay since the movie’s about to make up for it with the most awesome prison break EVER. Turns out the shot Mystique gave the guard was full of iron and Magneto pulls it out of the guard’s pores (killing him, of course) and fashions them into little balls that he uses to break out of his cell and travel over the pit to the door. I mean, seriously, berate Magneto all you want for looking like a silly old man who couldn’t fight his way out of a paper bag, but he’s got the most badass sequence in the entire film.
So the police come to Iceman’s house to arrest them for… what? Wolverine gets shot in the head by the most trigger-happy policeman ever and the kids freak out and Pyro has a blast shooting flames at all the cops and generally acting like an asshole. After having his powers sucked by Rogue for the time being, they’re saved by Jean, Storm and Nightcrawler and take off in the Blackbird with Wolverine having made a humorous recovery. An exciting air battle that I had completely forgotten about takes place and Storm proves once again why her powers are wasted on her by summoning awesome tornadoes to dispatch the fighter jets coming after them. But they shoot missiles at them! Jean is somehow able to explode one of them (?!) but the other hits and Rogue gets sent flying because she’s a useless bag of meat that can’t buckle her seatbelt. God, seatbelts REALLY hate her, huh? And luckily they don’t crash because Magneto is there and can somehow hold an entire jet up in the air. Okay.
True to the title, the mutants unite and a lovable bit of character development happens where Mystique tries to seduce Wolverine by transforming into a multitude of harlots (including Rogue, ewwwwww) but thankfully Wolverine rebuffs her, because even HE has standards. But Jean rejects HIM, wisely saying that although women flirt with the bad boys, they marry the good ones, like Cyclops. Real world women, take note. And of course they leave the most unstable among them, Pyro, alone with Magneto so he can corrupt him and turn him over to his side. Smart move, X-Men. I thought you lived in a school. |:3
So it turns out Stryker has a mutant son that he sent to Xavier years ago to try to cure him, but obviously Xavier had to give him right back. Infuriated, Stryker then apparently worked on turning his son into a slave and harvesting a secretion from his son’s brain to use as a mind-controlling substance. Yeah, he’s a pretty satisfyingly revolting villain. The plans on Cerebro he squeezed out of Magneto were for building a second, more ghetto Cerebro which, by using Xavier’s link with it, can find and kill every mutant on the planet. Neat! The X-Men figure this out and head over there lickety-split for the final battle. Which takes up roughly a third of the film’s running time. Seriously, it’s a fucking long climax. So long that it certainly drags in places. Even the exciting battle between Wolverine and Lady Deathstrike can’t do much to support such a long string of plot developments. The world goes from in peril, to not in peril, to in peril again (Magneto can’t NOT double-cross) but really, Ghetto Cerebro doesn’t seem to be able to do much more than give painful migraines to everyone. Combined with going back to the useless Iceman and Rogue every once in a while and the finale could’ve been paced and plotted a little more excitingly. The ending, though. Oh man. You should see it for yourself. If you’re familiar with X-Men lore, your heart will SOAR when the credits start to roll.
Alan Cumming does well with Nightcrawler. During the few scenes he’s given to develop his character, he shines through and makes him feel like a real, sensitive person through all the makeup. But his religious philosophizing will either hit you as profound or worthy of eye-rolls. Religious characters are always a risk, and although the character himself is religious in the comic book, I don’t know if bringing that aspect in made him more sympathetic or not. Regardless, I was sad to see him opt out of the sequel.
Brian Cox is always a treat, whether he’s seducing young boys or telling you via headset how killing people gets him off. The guy plays menacing creeps like no one else’s business, and he does his due duty here. He has a lovely perverse father-son relationship with Wolverine, which really makes no sense since he supposedly hates mutants and wants to see them all dead. It makes his entreaties to Wolverine to save him at the end rather weak considering five minutes earlier he would’ve been glad to see him die. And of course what he does to his son makes him truly deplorable, much more so than Magneto who at least has a good point.
And what can I say about the actress playing Lady Deathstrike? Kelly Who? She was paid to act like a robot and do wire-fu and she fulfilled those obligations. Was she ever in anything ever again?
X2 is definitely an improvement over the first movie in terms of overall quality. The story feels more compelling, we’ve finally got the perfunctory introductions out of the way so the story can really get into gear and the pacing feels a lot less forceful, to the unfortunate point of actually making the climax languish for a while. There’s actually a lot happening all at once compared to its more threadbare predecessor. As you can tell, I had a much harder time communicating every nuance going on in this one. Singer finally found his balance between story, characters and action. The only thing that gets skimped on in this one is the social issue aspect of X-Men, which might actually be wise since drilling civil rights into our heads can get preachy. The slight look we get at it through Iceman’s family is probably all that we need. Overall, everything feels a lot more confident and deft in this movie, showing all the signs that X-Men would be able to improve even MORE with a third movie, especially with all of the carefully laid foreshadowing and a promise of one of the most important and memorable storylines of the comic book: Phoenix.
But at the last moment, Singer got offered Superman and jumped at the opportunity. Who could blame him? Yeah, X-Men was a successful franchise, but Superman is SUPERMAN. It’s like the Super Bowl of superhero movies, it doesn’t get much bigger than Superman. He’s more than just a comic book character, he’s a cultural icon. People that have no idea about comic books at ALL can tell you who Superman is. He’s an icon as much as he is a fictional character. So Singer was tempted away by the glamor of being the guy who resurrects a legend to the silver screen. What was FOX to do? Wait for him to come back? The rising status of some of its stars was going to make that impossible, with Hugh Jackman and Halle Berry becoming big-time names and box office draws. They needed the movie made NOW, and for cheap. Who do you go to when you want something done on the quick with no regard for quality? There’s only one king of mediocrity, and that’s Brett “Rush Hour” Ratner. Ohhhhhhhhh boy.
May god help me through recounting the plot of X-Men: The Last Stand. It starts off with a flashback, a young(er) Magneto and Xavier (who can walk! ARE YOU IMPRESSED YET) sashay up to a quaint suburban home to take a look at a little girl there. Of course the parents leave her alone with two creepy old men that they barely know. Turns out this is young Jean Grey who apparently has amazing psychic powers that were hinted at in X2 since she can make things float and stuff. This gives Magneto a stiffy, but Xavier sees the danger in such a power. FAST FORWARD! Then we see a poor little rich boy doing god knows what in the bathroom with some nasty utensils. His father is concerned with what he’s doing in there, of course, and busts in only to see that his son’s been mutilating himself to get rid of the wings he’s sprouted. GASP.
FAST FORWARD EVEN MORE! Turns out the world looks just like the future from the Terminator movies, only not really since it’s the Danger Room and Wolverine acts too cool for the room as he instructs his students to dispatch a Sentinel off-screen while he is busy lighting cigars. Everyone’s moping about Jean’s death (?), especially Cyclops who wears his sunglasses at night (not that he didn’t before, but still). Even Wolverine is telling him to get over it, but Cyclops is like, “NO U” and no one wants to deal with him because he hasn’t shaved in days and probably hasn’t bathed and he’s Cyclops, anyways. Rogue and Iceman are on the rocks because her whole “not being able to touch you without kiling you” thing is putting a strain on their relationship, especially when hot little strumpet Kitty Pryde is added to make a love triangle. That no one cares about. Not even the filmmakers, really. Maybe Iceman would want to spend more time with you if you weren’t such a petulant bitch, MARIE.
Mutant issues have come a long way since the start of the movies, with the president even having an aide for mutant issues, Dr. Henry McCoy who is a different, bluer, more Frasier-like Hank than was portrayed in X2 but it’s not like anyone paid attention to that. (I did. :c) He’s busy trying to figure out what to do about the Magneto/Mystique problem when he’s let in on a rich guy that’s been developing a “cure” for mutants that he is about to make public. Hank is understandably shocked and a little appalled, but once he sees the goods, in the form of lovable/creepy scamp Cameron Bright, he can’t help but be impressed, if not frightened.
So Cyclops is on his motorcycle listening to emo music and crying. He goes back to Alkali Lake to moan and sniffle and brood because he is grieving DO YOU UNDERSTAND? But he gets a surprise when Jean appears before him with yet another new ‘do. Death must have a good hairdresser. They trade awkward dialogue:
Jean: I don’t know…
Just when Cyclops thinks he’s the luckiest dude in the world and they make out, you see the veins that you usually see when Rogue saps someone appear on his face. DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNNNN!
Meanwhile, Rich Guy from the beginning of the movie is escorting his son to cure him with some… kind… of… injection… from Cameron Bright?! The son is understandably freaked out and finally breaks free and flies out the window with his wings once he sees that his nurse is a terrorist from 24. And Magneto is busy co-opting mutant rage over the presumption that they need to be cured by gathering a Brotherhood of Mutants composed of ugly B-actors that hang out in dingy churches. They help him break out Mystique who’s been captured and being transported via armored truck along with a guy who can multiply himself and inertia-loving Juggernaut who has an affinity for leather S&M outfits. And huge fake rubber muscles. Alas, Mystique is shot with a dart full of the cure as she escapes and transforms into the unbearably unattractive Rebecca Romijn once again.
The X-Men feel a disturbance in the force and go to Alkali Lake (how much did they pay for advertising?!) to find that everything is floaty and Cyclops’ shades are all that are left of him. They find Jean and take her lickety-split back to The Medical Room™ where they slap a silly headdress on her (does Xavier moonlight as a hatter?!) and Xavier explains that Jean has enormous psychic powers that he’s had to lock away because of her split personality, the Phoenix, that is destructive. After two movies of explaining to us how using powers responsibly and for the betterment of mankind as a whole is so crucial, Xavier now sounds like Earth’s biggest hypocrite. Wolverine calls him out and Patrick Stewart himself seems upset with this plot development and just shushes him and rolls away in fury.
Rogue has to make a TOUGH. DECISION. between being a life-sucking bitch who can’t touch another human being and gets to hang out with hot super-powered people and being a normal girl who can lose her maidenhead and stuff. Iceman tries to convince her not to do it, but it’s not really convincing when his tongue is halfway down Shadowcat’s throat when he says it. Oh and I guess Storm is occasionally there saying things. Whatever. Dr. McCoy (or Beast as I shall now call him!) shows up to pal around with his fellow mutants, call Wolverine “quite an animal” with more than a little carnal interest in his voice and to tell them all about the cure or whatever. Not like the writer cared enough when he wrote this.
So Jean wakes up and seduces Wolverine and goes all evil and throws a mild tantrum. She flees to her childhood home (now surprisingly devoid of her parents) and Xavier and Magneto follow suit to try to convince her to come back to their respective sides of the war. Needless to say, Phoenix isn’t having any of this and makes her stupid zombie face and makes the room shake and float and soon the whole house is floating in a giant psychic thingamajig and eventually Phoenix get so royally pissy at Xavier that she… vaporizes him with her mind? Wow, what a way to go. Everyone except for Magneto and his crew are really sad and are ready to draw the line and blah blah blah a bunch of silly posturing and speeches proceed. Wolverine tries to infiltrate Magneto’s army’s camp (which is on Endor?), Iceman iceskates (literally) with Shadowcat and everything is just done really carelessly up to the finale.
Okay, so Magneto is marching towards the place where they’re keeping the anti-mutant-powered Cameron Bright (against his will?! They never specify) to put a stop to this cure nonsense. He gets them to the Golden Gate Bridge and in a really overly long sequence full of Magneto making silly arm and hand movements, he takes a chunk out of it and makes a bridge from the land to the convenient little island compound where the kid is. And he says one of the stupidest lines in the franchise that isn’t uttered by Storm. And also for some reason he has a mutant underling that can change day to night, because that’s exactly what happens.
So with an entire army of mutants at his command, Magneto lays siege to the compound which is being protected by the U.S. government. And what does Magneto’s Brotherhood do against them? Mostly run directly at them and get shot. Wow. Impressive. Then the X-Men show up, fashionably late, of course. Even Beast suited up with them! Try to get excited! The heroes and villains fight it out (the only memorable fight, really, is Juggernaut vs. Shadowcat which is not even a fight and starts off with one of the more poorly-delivered lines in the history of recent cinema. You know the one.) Everything else other than that is mostly just martial arts with a few snikts and lame Beast wire-assisted-leaps mixed inbetween. They defeat Magneto with one of the least-honorable ways possible by distracting him with a Fastball Special (yes!) and injecting him with a fat load of cure darts. God. That’s just cruel, guys. Seriously, what a terrible way to win.
But it’s not over! Phoenix’s PISSSSED (about what, it’s not clear) and she’d gonna vaporize everyone and everything, but Wolverine, with his regenerative capabilities, can weather her assault of vaporization long enough to make her come to her senses and beg for death. So he obliges! And then blubbers and cries like a big fat baby. BLOO-HOO-HOO-HOO!
So the day is saved, mutants don’t have to worry about being cured. Although they totally still do, but let’s just pretend no one else will try to harness the power of Cameron Bright for their own sinister means. But that doesn’t mean much for Rogue, who went through with her plan to be a normal petulant girl instead of a soul-sucking petulant girl. With everyone else dead, Storm completes her Machiavellian plan to gain control of Xavier’s School for the Gifted and has many heartwarming hugs with adorable children. Ugh. With most of his friends dead, Wolverine takes a leisurely stroll out on the front steps of the mansion and ponders how best to roll this into a solo spin-off franchise.
But wait! It’s not the end! Remember that Magneto guy? Well instead of putting him in jail where he belongs, apparently he’s allowed to just sit around and mope like a regular miserable old man. He’s sitting alone in a park in front of a chess board and he hovers his hand over a piece and… is it moving?! FIND OUT IN HIS SPIN-OFF, COMING 2009. DIRECTED BY BRETT RATNER.
For how shitty a movie this is, it’s a veritable who’s who of Hey, It’s Those Guys. Not only does it have Shohreh Aghdashloo (24, House of Sand and Fog), Michael Murphy (Tanner ’88), Cameron Bright (Birth), Anthony Heald (Silence of the Lambs) but it has Bill Duke (LOST, Battlestar Galactica) the “Black Market” himself. Jeez. And Anthony Heald is pretty much playing the same douche he was in the Hannibal movies, and he gets pwned like he did there, too. He must be sick of psychopaths by now.
You know, I’m gonna bitch at the continuity with Hank McCoy. Why would you set up that one guy to be Hank McCoy in the background of X2 only to go with Kelsey Grammer in this one? It’s like that stupid decision to put in Harvey Dent in the Burton Batman movies as a black dude and then in Batman Forever he’s Tommy Lee Jones. UGH. I like to have my continuity and not having it takes me out of the movie. And while I certainly buy Kelsey playing the intellectual Dr. Henry McCoy, he’s not convincing in the least as Beast. Anyone who’s seen those promotional pictures of him mugging for the photographer can attest to that. And his makeup is just okay, really. As good as you could expect for a live-action Beast, I suppose. But definitely not as cool as Nightcrawler’s.
I feel bad for anyone that got excited to hear that Juggernaut and Psylocke and Angel and etc. were going to be in the movie. They’re all incidental at best. Juggernaut looks really horrendous. I know it’s impossible to find a person as ridiculously muscular as Juggernaut, but the muscle suit they designed is really, really awful-looking. And his outfit is the same kind of awful. If you want to see a more convincing muscle suit, look up the Hong Kong movie Running on Karma. And Angel just exists to fly around. Seriously, that’s all he does. After he breaks out of his dad’s grip in the first third or so of the movie, you don’t see him again until the climax where he catches his dad as he falls and then takes off until we see him yet again flying freely in the air for the end. BLEH. He’s a non-entity. A vacant face to put fans in seats. Same with Psylocke who I didn’t even know was Psylocke until I looked it up in IMDB. And she joins the Brotherhood of Mutants in this? Jeez, that’s, like, un-fanservice. I want Betsy Braddock done RIGHT or not at all.
Same with the friggin’ Phoenix. Oh my GOD, how could you screw up the elegant, soaring ending of X2 so badly, Brett?! Instead of being a benevolent celestial being who uses Jean Grey’s body as a host to protect the universe, she’s a repressed personality inside Jean who makes her look like a zombie, complete with blacked-out contact lenses and who is a retarded knock-off of Tetsuo from Akira. Seriously, all she does is make things float and vaporize. Where is the awesome flame aura from the end of X2?! Where are the flame powers, period!? It’s so unimaginative, it breaks my heart. And I know that it wouldn’t be as exciting to do Phoenix as it would be to use Dark Phoenix, but this still didn’t turn out close to feeling right. It’s like an idiot wrote a fanfic with characters with the same names as those we know and love, but it doesn’t feel genuine at all.
It’s even more infuriating that the potential was so MASSIVE for this to be an intriguing story. A story about a “cure” for mutants? But do mutants need to be cured? What about evil mutants? What about those with powers so extreme they can’t live normally? Should it be allowed for those who choose it? These are all fascinating questions. Even more fascinating is, of course, is the real-world application of an idea like this. What if gay people could become straight, or if black people could become white? Is it worth destroying a part of yourself to get rid of all that persecution and discrimination? If it sounds good, it’s because it’s basically a plot idea from the semi-recent run of Astonishing X-Men written by Joss Whedon. The screenwriter here does a half-assed job translating it to a movie since it’s basically a thin excuse for the X-Men and Magneto to fight each other. Characters duh their way through simplistic arguments for both sides and none of the ambiguity or complexity you could find from previous X-Men films is present. Storm of course is the first one to say, “WHAT? A CURE? BUT THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH US.” Yeah, because you’re a hottie that can summon lightning and pass for human, you dumb cunt. What about Beast who can hang upside-down by his feet and must have his hands full shampooing and brushing all that fur?
Everything about this production is lazy as hell. The writing’s sloppy (re: that day/night change), the direction is loose and sometimes maybe even absent, actors are more caricatures of their characters more than actually portraying them, everyone seems to be bored and aware of the fact that this movie is being made for the sole purpose of cashing in on a hot property, fulfilling some contracts and setting up some potentially lucrative spin-offs. It’s all a disgustingly calculated effort to turn in a movie on time and on budget that will appeal to the broadest possible audience, Brett Ratner’s forte. Even the cinematography is just sloppy, with boring shots full of extras that are often just dawdling in the background, possibly unaware that they’re on camera. Way to lovingly send this franchise off into the hereafter, Brett Fuckner.
Now to talk at length about the individual players.
Hugh Jackman (The Prestige, The Fountain) is sort of an odd choice for Wolverine. Mostly because he’s tall. I mean, Wolverine’s famous for being a hairy little bugger, stretching the tape at only 5’3″. It would’ve been interesting to see a crustier, less slender and tall Wolverine, but obviously a lot less profitable for the studios. And it’s not that Huge Jack Man does a terrible job at it. Indeed, he surprised everyone by being a natural for Wolverine, so much so that it was his breakthrough performance that launched him into a successful Hollywood career. He can glare and sneer and trade “bub”s with the best of them. Wolverine really does come alive when Hugh’s on screen, which is good because the movies are basically all about him since Wolverine is possibly the most popular Marvel character, in contention with only Spider-Man for that coveted position. Seriously, someone should count how many titles Wolverine and Spider-Man star in. It’s some insane amount. Since he’s the one fans are most rabid about, he’s the one touched the least by the Adaptation Wand™. Too bad Hugh’s growing star power ended up making it so difficult to fund and film the third movie.
Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: The Next Generation) and Ian McKellen (The Lord of the Rings) are usually good as the two opposite sides of the mutant war. Patrick is the worse of the pair, sometimes because the writers have him doing and saying such stupid things, like his naive little speech to Magneto about the worth of humanity or trying to justify lobotomizing Jean Grey. He often seems like he’s just doing a slightly more doddering Picard. Ian is usually pretty damn great as Magneto, which is a bit unfair since he is a villain, and villains usually get to be so much more complicated and fun than heroes. And that is exactly how Ian plays the part, complicated and fun. There’s so many layers to Magneto’s hatred, and he does a good job capturing them all, even during the third movie where his character’s motives are simplistic and obvious. And he makes a fun Magneto, something that I’m not sure is faithful to the character, but which is delicious to watch. Seeing him archly point the shotguns of the police back at themselves and then shooting a bullet at one of their heads only to stop it just before it hits was a definite highlight from the first movie. The two of them are also (un?)intentionally hilarious together, talking over each other and bickering like the oldest, bitterest ex-boyfriends in history. Insert obvious joke about Ian’s sexuality here.
Halle Berry (B.A.P.s) is pretty all-around terrible as Storm. Which sucks, because really, regardless of my tone earlier, I don’t hate Storm as a character. She can be pretty cool if done right. But not only is Storm nearly a ghost in the first movie, but Halle gives her the worst African accent known to man. Even the ridiculously embellishing cartoon voice actress was a better Storm. And Halle’s acting in general sucked, too. A professional might’ve been able to make that Toad line work. But not her. Now it’s a stinker that will follow her to her grave. And then she won an Oscar. A fucking Oscar. So of course she can demand more money and a more prominent role in the sequels. And she does. All of a sudden Storm’s in almost every part of the movie, saying something dumb or obvious just to make Halle feel like she’s one of the stars. And her accent mysteriously disappears, too, proving that prayer DOES work. Ugh, and her stupid white wig. Yeah, I know, that’s how Storm looks, but it looks bad this way. I wish there were more choices when it comes to well-known African-American actresses so Halle Berry wouldn’t be the first stop for casting directors.
Famke Janssen (Goldeneye) is solid as Jean Grey, although a bit mannish in appearance and dear god, her mouth. She has huge horse-teeth that are stuffed into her maw, making every line she utters mushy and muffled. It’s never unintelligible, but it sounds a lot sloppier than Ian’s nigh-Shakespearean utterances. She does well as a stock love interest, and really comes into her own in X2 where she’s given reason to be her own person. As Phoenix she is terrible. Because Phoenix is terrible. I doubt even that lemon could be made into lemonade. All she’s required to do is to wander around like she just woke up from bed and then stand around and act like she’s quietly angry. And that stupid makeup. Blugh. I doubt she will ascend to ultra-stardom because of all this. But hey, Xenia Onatopp was a clever name, right?
Poor, poor James Marsden (Superman Returns). Cyclops is a tough character to do right. Not only is he clean-cut, athletic, a natural born leader and, according to the recent storyline, head of Xavier’s school, but he has a hot, ultra-powerful wife that can’t seem to stay dead and a piece of psychic ass on the side. Of course all of this comes with the requisite ANGST of being abandoned by his father to go on space adventures and not being able to stop wearing sunglasses because of his death-beams. It’s extremely easy for him to come off as a spoiled, privileged guy prone to tantrums instead of a nuanced, tortured character. So it’s no surprise that that’s exactly what he is in the movies, an unlikable schmuck with an ego and an insecure attachment to his girlfriend. Seriously, what the fuck was James supposed to do with that, especially since Cyclops, despite being leader of the X-Men, hardly shows up in any of the movies? To make things worse, his girl is being seduced by WOLVERINE/Hugh Jackman. The combination of the two is enough to transform even the most faithful nun into a writhing whore. Poor dude has to put up with it again in Superman Returns, but that’s a paragraph for another day. So much of James’ time on screen is spent glaring at Wolverine (which doesn’t work when you’re wearing glasses) or making butt-faces or bawling like someone just popped his favorite balloon that I can’t really like Cyclops OR him. Tsk.
Anna Paquin (The Piano, Steamboy) turns in a mostly-great performance in the first X-Men, with Rogue being a deep, real character that occasionally makes the stupidest faces. I mean, really, she goes all cross-eyed. And being the emotional center of the movie seems to suit her well, giving an overall humanity and warmth to that one that was missing from both sequels. I don’t even know why they bothered bringing her back, it’s obvious that they don’t know what to do with her. She’s relegated to secondary and tertiary roles, existing just to pine after and bicker with Iceman and to ultimately give up being a mutant, which is sort of an unforgivable break from who the Rogue I know is. She wouldn’t give up a part of her identity for a fucking teenage relationship, fuck. Of course it’s easy to call Anna’s acting in these sequels horrible since Rogue is a horribly-written character. Really, I hope that wherever the X-Men brand goes from here, they leave Rogue and Anna alone. They’ve done enough damage to them both.
Shawn Ashmore is Iceman.
I have to admit, the X-Men franchise wasn’t very big on pretty cinematography or compelling music. The only part I recall as having decent-to-good music is the part in X2 where Jean sacrifices herself. It’s really a shame, because beautiful photography or music can really elevate a movie. Just ask Hulk.
You can almost use the X-Men franchise to chart the rise and fall of the superhero genre, even though the movies have never been the best or the worst around. The first one came near the genesis of the new wave of superhero movies and was one of the first that proved that they could not only be marketable, but profitable, too. Spider-Man would come later to prove that yes, superhero movies were a new staple in Hollywood’s summer diet. And then X2 came along and improved in almost every way from its predecessor, letting it be known that the genre hadn’t yet reached the peak of its potential. Then Spider-Man 2 shows up and blows away almost everyone’s expectations (get over it, Film Walrus) and is generally called the best superhero movie ever. Finally X-Men: The Last Stand makes its battle-scarred ways into theaters, and although being very successful, it’s a critical and artistic dung heap, along with Fantastic Four and Spider-Man 3, although god dammit, I liked that one (shut up). X-Men is a bonafide pop-cultural fixture now. Wolverine’s a household name and Rebecca Romijn’s reptile tits have been seared into the collective sexual fantasies of a generation. I suppose the movies have done their job, then, raising the profile and profits of Marvel and the studios involved. But I can’t help but feel sad at how the series had to end. It was like watching a beloved friend get Alzheimer’s and slowly waste away until he can’t even remember Cyclops is supposed to be a main character anymore. Sigh. Rest in peace, old friend. Unless…
Now for some pictures of Xavier in silly hats: