Saturday, October 07, 2006

X-Men 3: The Last Straw

Mannion Family Movie night last night. X-Men 3: The Last Stand was the feature presentation.

I'd heard from fans that the first two were a whole lot better so I wasn't expecting a great movie. In fact, I was expecting to be as bored as I was.

I've never been a fan of the X-Men. Back when I was reading comic books, the X-Men always seemed to be a collection of second-raters. It was the book where Stan Lee had his writers dump the stuff that was too much like DC at its most juvenile. All the X-men either had powers that duplicated powers of other, cooler heroes who used those powers to better effect or they had powers that were just plain goofy.

Banshee has a super scream? Whoa. Terror rocks the underworld.

Kitty Pryde can walk through walls? Yeah, well the Flash vibrated his way through them and how fast can Shadowcat run?

Angel can fly. So so can Iron Man. What else you got?

Beast was the Thing was the Hulk.

Did they ever do an Avengers versus the X-Men? They could only pull it off if Thor happened to be off at the time fighting giants in Jotunheim again.

Plus, as a kid I was never comfortable with the whole Mutant thing.

I couldn't understand how anybody wouldn't think having a superpower would be really neat.

I've since learned that most of humanity reacts to signs of "superpowers" in one of two ways---by wanting to stone the individual with the superpowers to death or by cravenly identifying with the "superhero" to the point of erasing themselves; they settle for vicarious achievement and let themselves be bullied into liking it.

One of the things I like about Smallville is the way they've made young Clark Kent resist the idea that he is born to be a hero. He seems to instinctively understand that heroes are either hated or worshipped and it's the being worshipped part that is most dangerous.

So one of the conceits of the X-Men movies, that parents of mutants would be ashamed, afraid, and even hostile toward their gifted children makes more sense to me now.

I've seen far too many instances of parents who have tried to stamp out like a fire breaking out any attempts by their children to achieve and excel, except, of course, in conventional, "normal" ways that just happen to bring glory upon the parents in the eyes of the neighbors.

The only two superpowers universally tolerated in the United States are, in boys, being able to throw a ball a long way, and, in girls, being able to stop traffic with their beauty, because both kinds of superpowers can lead to celebrity and wealth.

This is something missing from the X-Men, by the way---parents who exploit their mutant children's powers.

Seemed far more likely to me that Angel's father would jump at using Angel's ability to fly as a great advertisitng gimmick for his drug company than that he would treat it as something to be ashamed of and hidden away.

Something to be "cured."

But then I was missing a big difference between the comic books as I knew them and the movies.

In the movies the mutants' powers aren't metaphors for their superiority; they're metaphors for their being "different."

And given all the talk of "cures" and mutancy as a "disease," and the scene where Angel's father catches him in the bathroom with all that embarrassing white stuff around him on the floor, it's mainly one kind of difference on the minds of the writers of X Men 3.

When Jean Grey's father refers to her powers as her "disease," he does it with exactly the disgust a Right Wing Christian minister would use to describe catching his daughter making out with the head cheerleader.

Ok, fine, the X-Men are gay teens, whatever.

The idea that the mutants are stand-ins for an oppressed minority is an odd concept for a superhero movie. It focuses the kind of serious thinking that is too heavy for the slight concept to bear and it trivializes the real problems faced by real people, but mainly it raises the question as to how people who can kill anybody they want with a look or a touch can be oppressed.

And there's the troublesome fact that Jean Grey's powers really are a disease.

So are Rogue's.

This is an interesting idea that X Men 3 doesn't pause for a second to explore.

Rouge's problem is all about not being able to smooch with Ice Man.

Jean's transformation into the Dark Phoenix is treated simply as an opportunity for some nifty cgi work.

It's not that I expect an action adventure movie about comic book heroes to spend lots of time exploring the characters' inner feelings. But the better superhero movies, Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 and Batman Begins found ways of revealing the characters within the action. Even the mediocre Fantastic Four managed it to an extent, although mostly with just one of the four, Johnny Storm.

To do this you need sharply written dialogue and very good actors.

X-Men 3 is so short on the former that having an abundance of the latter doesn't help.

It was a lot of fun to see Kelsey Grammar as Beast. He was very good, in the way that Frank Oz was very good as Yoda.

But mainly X-Men 3 is one loud, chaotic battle sequence after another, each so much like a video game that I expected every one to end with a flashing GAME OVER title at the bottom.

And why didn't they have Storm fly?

All she does is hover.

Floating straight up in the air like a marionette whose puppeteer has climbed up a ladder, Halle Berry looks, stiff, doll-like, and very much like an actress who feels embarrassed, awkward, and about to throw up, which is what she was.

She claimed that when shooting the scenes the prop guys kept a bucket handy for her in case she got air sick.


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