A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 138 – X-Men: The Last Stand

X-Men: The Last Stand – July 16th, 2010

I will warn up front that I have one BIG issue with this movie and it totally flies in the face of all the shiny happy AU talk I spewed for the first two. I do still believe all that and firmly stand by it for the vast majority of these movies. It’s just this one thing in this movie that I refuse to accept and it’s Callisto and I’ll get to the specifics eventually but it’s worth saying now because there are things that bugged other people that sort of make me shrug and that’s not one of them. So I might get a little testy later. It would make this review grossly unbalanced to focus on it too much, but it’s the one thing that truly pisses me off.

I know, I know. The whole Scott thing. If you’ve seen this movie, you know what happens with Scott and Jean, and then with Xavier. You know Scott gets hit with a cheap storyline and if you’re a Cyclops fan you’re probably more ticked about that than anything else and I don’t blame you. You know Xavier only gets it slightly less cheaply. That’s not an issue of it being different from the comics, it’s an issue of how the story is dealt with. So I’ll just say what I told a friend the other day: This is Marvel. These are comics. “Permanence” isn’t a word I’d associate with pretty much anything that happens. Watch through to the end of the credits to see what I mean.

Anyhow, back to the movie. Let’s ignore my issues for the moment and focus on the plot, which, incidentally, I actually like. Because it’s pretty dark and it’s full of moral grey areas and difficult questions and issues. You see, Worthington Labs has developed a so-called cure for mutation using the DNA of a mutant named Leech whose power is a field that nullifies other mutations. Of course this polarizes the mutant community, with some wanting to take the cure in order to live normal lives and others violently opposed to its existence as they believe it’s a short step from the government eradicating mutants entirely. Magneto builds himself an army to storm Worthington Labs and kill Leech and on the other side the X-Men gain a few new members to go and save Leech and it all concludes with a gigantic battle between the two sides.

The whole cure storyline is one I like, even though I think the movie is somewhat sloppy as a whole. It deals with some nasty issues of choice and identity. I think there’s some good emotion in the scenes with Rogue going to get cured. In her case, her mutation isn’t visible, it doesn’t make it hard for her to pass as human, but it does make her life a lonely one. For her, what she gains from mutation isn’t worth what she’s lost. But then there’s the other side, with Mystique losing the identity she’s been so proud of (ironic, yes?) and would never have chosen to part with. And I find Magneto’s abandonment of her to be particularly striking, both for the emotional impact and for the indication of just how black and white it all is to him. Which makes his ending particularly painful to watch. For all that they’re villains, the cure changes a fundamental part of who they are, and no one should have that forced on them. So the cure does do good for some, but like any power, can also be used against people. There is no easy answer there.

Unfortunately, while the cure plot tries really hard to mesh with the Dark Phoenix plot for Jean, I don’t think it works as well as last night’s movie did. Where that one deftly juggled a number of plots and managed to work them in together so that they all worked as one, I feel like with this one it’s a tangle. I get what it’s trying to do, bringing in the issues of free will and mutations being both a gift and a burden and sometimes incredibly dangerous and how do you handle that and maintain personal autonomy? It get it. I do. But I don’t think it’s handled well. Both plots feel too big to be playing in one movie. The Dark Phoenix plot seems like a tool used in order to bring about the climax of the cure plot and I think it does a disservice to the whole introduction (this is one reason what happens with Scott and later Xavier is cheap in my opinion) and to the potential the storyline had. And then there’s a whole secondary plot about leadership and teamwork that’s nice and feel-good and all, and I’m glad Storm got to flex those leader muscles, but it doesn’t mesh with the rest at all, except as a consequence. It just doesn’t flow as smoothly as the second one did, and that’s a real shame given what there was to work with.

Seriously, look at what there was! Not only do we have the Dark Phoenix thing, and the cure thing, but there are also a shit-load of mutants introduced. I’ve got this big Dorling-Kindersley X-Men guide book that’s got profiles of a huge slew of characters, locations, plots, teams, etc. It’s sorted vaguely by era/decade, with each era getting a two page spread that shows the mutants who were introduced then. The movies remind me a little of that. The first one had a handful, then the next one had more, and by this one the two pages are packed margin-to-margin with mutants. Kelsey Grammar shows up as Beast, and does a fantastic job with the character. Angel shows up too, what with Worthington labs being the ones making the cure. Unfortunately, his introduction (which is a wee bit gruesome and sad) and then his wings’ introduction are pretty much his only moments. Kitty Pryde gets an expanded role, as does Colossus. There’s Leech, obviously (I have a bit of a soft spot for the poor kid, even if he’s not green in this). And then there’s Magneto’s side. He gets Multiple Man and the Juggernaut (bitch) as well as a whole little band of mutants who take such pride in their mutations, they get omega tattoos.

Here is where I get pissed off.

Magneto gets Callisto. And I cannot tell you how excited I was when I heard Callisto was going to be in this movie. Callisto! Badass with a knife and an eye patch and a gigantic attitude. Callisto, leader of the Morlocks – a group of sewer-dwelling mutants who can’t pass as human. Fucking CALLISTO. Except hold on. Dania Ramirez? Is not playing Callisto. I will accept a great deal of plot and personality fuckery from these movies because they are an AU from the comics. But seriously, if you’re going to take a tall and lanky, one-eyed, wild-haired mutant whose powers involve strategy, heightened senses and agility and perhaps tentacle arms if we’re going with the later stories (and a tentacle eye if we’re going with Ultimates), and turn her into a petite mutant with slicked back hair, a facial tattoo, both eyes and the combined mutations of Quicksilver and Caliban? Why call her by the same name? Why not just use Quicksilver and Caliban? So you can have a bitchfight between her and Storm and try to curry favor with the fans with that tiny callback to canon? I’m sorry, but in the face of her not being Callisto I find I don’t particularly care if she and Storm duke it out as homage to the comics.

I know. This is nerd rage and it’s a nitpick I could just back away from. But it bothers me because it’s such a gross departure. The vast majority of other characters keep their basic powers and personalities, even if their arcs take them away from where they start. One of the fun things about many of the cameos is that the characters are immediately identifiable on a quick view. And then there’s Callisto. It feels like an odd choice that was made for the sake of convenience, and that speaks to a lack of respect for the source material that I find troubling. If she’d been in the second one, or if the third one had been balanced as well as the second one, then maybe I just would have been annoyed but let it go. But no. It was a huge disappointment to me in the middle of a movie where I was really trying not to be disappointed. I like the cure plot. I like a lot of little moments. I like a lot of the cameos. I like the potential of the Dark Phoenix plot. It just never comes together. And it doesn’t have Callisto.

July 16, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

X-Men: The Last Stand

July 16, 2010

X-Men: The Last Stand

Another X-Men movie and another actor in blue face paint. Tonight it’s Emmy award winning actor Kelsey Grammer as Hank McCoy (aka Beast.) I do regret the loss of Nightcrawler (who I’m guessing is absent because Alan didn’t want to go through the torture of all the make-up again) but having McCoy around is kind of cool. Indeed if there’s one thing this movie does well it’s introducing a whole mess of new mutants to the movie universe. Some are very nice realizations of characters from the books (such as Angel, Beast, and Multiple Man) and some of whom are decidedly NOT who they were in the books. (See Amanda’s review for more on that.)

This movie wants to be a giant rousing conclusion to the X-Trilogy. It wants to be bigger, more impact-full, more emotionally powerful than the first two. But you can’t get there just by throwing a whole mess of mutants into the mix and killing off a couple major characters. There’s something unsettlingly incomplete about this movie. I can plainly see what the movie is supposed to be, and there are even parts of it that hint at the greatness that it reached for, but it falls so sadly short of its lofty goals.

As with yesterday’s movie this one has more than one major plot. But the two don’t really connect in any way. On the one hand the movie is about a “cure” for the Mutant-X gene which will render any mutant simply human. This naturally enrages Magneto who heads out to gather a mighty and unstoppable army of Mutants to destroy the cure (and incidentally to take over the world I assume.) On the other hand you have the whole Dark Phoenix plot, with Jean coming back from her supposed death at the end of the last movie and going off-the-charts crazy with power.

Either one of these plots would have been kind of cool on their own, but with both of them playing out simultaneously they end up both feeling somewhat shortchanged. They don’t really play into each other in any way – they just happen to be going on at the same time. (Sure Magneto has Jean hanging around with him for a while, but you never get the feeling that she’s part of his cadre, and she never contributes in any way to his cause.)

There’s a big climactic battle with Magneto’s army storming Alcatraz (which for no particular reason is where the company that has developed the cure has set up base) but it’s a battle with no stakes. By which I mean, yeah, there’s a lot of crazy visual spectacle (what with Magneto stealing the Golden Gate Bridge and all) and a bunch of explosions and people getting shot and a whole lot of wire-work and stunts, but as an audience member I had absolutely no investment in the battle. The cure isn’t a real threat to any of the characters we care about (except for Magneto and Mystique – and I don’t know if a sort of empathy for the bad guy counts as emotional involvement.)

Then there’s the Dark Phoenix. Again, I love the visual presentation. But there are a couple problems with the actual execution. For one thing the film makers base much of the Phoenix plot on the supposed romance between Jean and Wolverine. In the first two movies I just kind of rolled my eyes and waited in resignation for the scenes that attempted to play on this non-existent attraction to end, but in this movie so much of the climax hinges on it that it can’t be simply ignored. The other problem is that Famke Janssen is FINALLY given something to do besides just being a kind of ineffectual member of the X-team and the writers just kind of give up on her. She has one or two lines in the entire second half of the movie. She has this one cool scene with her awakening just about at the exact center of the film (a moment that DOES manage to have some emotional impact, thanks in large part to the marvelous acting of Patrick Stewart) and then she is relegated to lurking in the background and looking ominous for the next forty minutes or so. They could have done so much with this epic struggle and her losing her grip on the world as her power overcomes her, but instead Phoenix is more like some kind of walking natural disaster – a human tornado that just spreads random destruction. It hurts me, inside, that something as potentially cool and ominous as Phoenix ends up being just a big visual effect that has no emotional grounding.

Oh, and while I’m ranting about disappointments let me briefly talk about Pyro. His character arc also falls short of meeting its true potential for me, chiefly because he almost doesn’t have one. John was a whiny kid in the second movie who Magneto took under his wing, and I kind of expected him to have evolved by the time he reached this movie, but here he’s still pretty much just a whiny kid. Why is he portrayed as being Magneto’s right-hand-man? He doesn’t even come off as being very powerful – he doesn’t do anything cool with his ability to shape and work with flame – he just shoots fireballs. Magneto could have just strapped a flamethrower to some sulky jerk and had the same effect. It diminishes the awe factor of Magneto’s supposedly unstoppable army of Mutants that they seem for the most part to be so ineffectual.

I don’t know. This movie has some cool bits and some things that X-fans had been waiting to see (Angel flies! Beast kicks a modicum of ass! Sentinels and the Danger Room! Ice-Man finally takes on his glistening ice-form!) But it fails to really deliver on its own promise. Ultimately I have to say that the second movie was far better, and this one was fairly flat. I want to like it more, and I feel that it’s somewhat a betrayal that I don’t, but there it is.

July 16, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment