I watched X-Men: The Last Stand this morning. I will not go into great detail because there is a great deal to spoil...
Originally, our advance sales listed the movie as 2 hours and 15 minutes long. This seemed to be about right for the Concluding Epic Mutant War To End All Wars, as the trailer seems to promise. Not too long ago that was amended. The new runtime was 1 hour and 45 minutes. For those who do not know, that length is pretty much the ideal for a film as you can run the maximum amount of shows per day with it. I wasn't sure if the information was originally wrong or the movie had been cut down within an inch of its life.
So after watching it I can say with confidence that the movie was cut within an inch of its life!
If you have seen the trailer you know that the movie revolves around a cure for mutation. I thought this was a good idea and in line with the metaphor of "mutant as persecution race/sexual orientation". If there was a "cure" for homosexuality how many parents would attempt to force it on their children? Anyway, not a bad start. Beast is actually a very integral character in the movie and much more important than I believed he would be (he is the President's adviser on Mutant Affairs!). On the other side, Angel pretty much swoops in and out for three cameos. His mutation is the spark that drives his father to create a cure. So Angel gets the ball rolling and then disappears until the end pretty much for a bit of the good ol' deus ex machina.
This cure is a one shot, instant demutantification (new word, use it if you want). The plot uses its instant effect to shock you when random characters get "cured" in three seconds or less, like a cheap scare in a horror movie. On top of this is the whole Dark Phoenix thing, Jean Grey having her normal good side being overwhelmed by the UNLIMITED COSMIC POWER that makes her the only Class 5 Mutant (whatever the hell that means!) and fairly oblivious that she is slaughtering people all around her with said power. These two threads are combined which results in fallout embodied by several fairly important characters get killed/neutralized. They certainly make a clean break from the comics with this one... and while I thoroughly approve of the movie makers creating their own version of the mythology (much like the different versions of the comic over the years), the various deaths and such feel exploitive rather than growing from the needs of the story.
All of this together in the movie being the length it is makes the whole thing feel very overstuffed. There is very little time spent lingering on anything, a few tears being the only indication of various people's passing, if that. The movie zips along way too fast. So much happens that it was hard for me to get too involved and these are characters that have already been set up in two previous movies, which is a waste. Perhaps it was the addition of another bunch of mutants that finally made the whole affair pass the saturation point.
I'm not sure who to blame for that. Ratner came in late to the production and the whole thing was shot and acted well, yet it has this unnecessarily breakneck pace. Too many characters... maybe that extra 30 minutes would have helped the pacing at the expense of the bottom line. Yet, despite the cutting for the bottom line, they spared no expense on CG effects. There is a Danger Room scene to satisfy the fanboys (the gratuitous Sentinel head). They spared no expense on that. At the end so much is going on during the titular "Last Stand" that I lost interest in what was actually happening and I started wondering how expensive various shots were. Not good... almost as bad as checking your watch during a movie, which I also did for this one.
To nitpick about one effect... anyone killed by Jean Grey/Dark Phoenix (many, many other faceless mutants and people) dissolves like the vampires in Blade in a cloud of ash. I guess that is how you have massive casualties in a PG-13 movie. Unfortunately there are very very few people who have not seen a Blade movie who will be watching X3! Not a very intelligent decision.
Ultimately it has to be a problem with structure. It is a shame they didn't spend more of this money (or more importantly, time) on more rewrites. It's even more of a shame because all of the actors do a fine job with what they have to work with, which isn't much. The herky-jerky plot with a little bit too much convenience doesn't help (even for a screenplay). A terrible example... All of Magneto's new mutants seem to serve the same purpose as the gadgets that Pee-Wee Herman gets from the Magic Shop in Pee Wee's Big Adventure. They are all conveniently on the same prison truck as Mystique as she is being rescued (that's in the trailer and no one told you to click on the lj-cut link anyway!). They are all used before the end of the movie to advance the plot but there is no characterization involved. Vinnie Jones looks as much like Juggernaut as one could expect make-up to provide (same with Beast) but he has nothing to do with it, though he does get to fire off the line "I'm the Juggernaut, bitch!" which should unexpectedly delight many people who spend their days following video fads on youtube.
Consider some important things in the first two movies (not saying important to me, just from what I remember):
1) Personal interplay between Xavier and Magneto, conflicting philosophies
2) Love triangle between Jean Grey, Cyclops and Wolverine
3) Rogue personal difficulties with her powers
4) Pyro and Iceman's rivalry
All of these are either abandoned (2) or given the short shrift (1,3,4). #3 in particular was very poorly executed. To substitute for the lack of #2 Kitty Pryde is added as a temptation for Iceman, but it doesn't really work. Kitty Pryde serves a greater purpose during the "Last Stand". I particularly missed the lack of #1.
I'd have to mostly blame the Dark Phoenix elements were executed in stopping the movie dead in its tracks and wrecking all of these things (except #4, where their entire face-off is the whole "point our beams at each other and see which prevails"... such a waste). She shows up, switches between good and bad, finally ends up bad and does something horribly destructive. Rinse, repeat, kill a character, etc. It feels shoehorned in, as if the only reason it was done at all was due to the end of X2. I can see the screenwriter tearing out his hair... "IF ONLY I DIDN'T HAVE TO USE THIS PHOENIX CRAP". It is crap. I don't care if it is comic book canon. It sucks in the movie.
I did enjoy some things, particularly Kelsey Grammar, who was really good as Beast. His was the most interesting character in the movie as he had to balance his governmental duties with his need to defend mutantkind. He is only character who seems to have the capacity to make any choices at all! Storm talks about choice a lot but doesn't seem to make any. Same for the rest of the good mutants.
To sum up, I enjoyed the movie well enough while I was watching it, in much of the same way I enjoyed Episode III the first time I saw it. I'm sure if you are looking forward to it you will like it. It is still a mess and I shook my head a few times at a few of the twists. As for now, I dislike it more and more as I have written the above. A disappointing end to this "trilogy" (not that it was High Art of anything)... and it is most certainly an end! There will be no doubt in your mind about that once you see the last scene of one character sitting alone. In fact the very last scene was the most powerful reminder of what was missing in this movie. I'll leave that for you to find out.
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