Friday, June 02, 2006

X-Men 3

Been behind on this one, originally when I saw it, I didn't think it was worthy of a review. But, reading peoples' reactions to it has brought up some things I felt needed to commented on. X-Men 3 is a decent film, it was fun to watch, but there's clearly some major flaws in the narrative construction.

The film takes on way too much, I would have loved to seen all these plots interweaved in a 4-6 hour miniseries, but trying to fit everything in a 100 minute film prevents us from actually becoming engaged with any of the characters. The Phoenix is one of the core elements of X-Men mythology, and the choice to handle it as such a small background piece of this film was very odd. The whole point of the Phoenix story was to show that absolute power corrupts, and in the comic, this was wonderfully conveyed by having the use of that power seem attractive. Jean was drawn out of her shell, dropping her inhibitions as she became more powerful, facilitated by her attraction to Jason Wyngarde.

I think the filmmakers made the right choice when they chose to drop the space stuff from the Phoenix storyline, that was nonsensical at the time, and nearly any time Claremont's X-Men headed into space, things went awry. However, I think the choice to make the Phoenix a part of Jean's mind is a mistkae. The Phoenix storyline was all about the conflict between Jean the person and the Phoenix, this superpowerful entity, and in the end, Jean's innate goodness allows her to overcome the corruption of the Phoenix. Of course, we've already seen a wonderful film adaptation of the Dark Phoenix saga in Buffy's sixth season.

But, things still could have worked without that. The big issue I have with the storyline is that they skipped the best part, the whole Hellfire Club thing. That's the funnest part of the original Dark Phoenix stuff, and the moment where Claremont really came into his own. There's an issue that ends with Wolverine rising out of the sewer, ready to bust up the Hellfire Club, and in that moment he becomes an icon. Wolverine was never meant to be the spotlight X-Men character, but in that one panel, Claremont puts the character into history.

So, that's great stuff, and would have given Wolverine a badass moment that he lacked in this film. He just kind of went along, without Cyclops to play off of, it's tougher for him to misbehave. The one scene that really crackled was when Jean tries to seduce him, I would have loved to seen him have sex with her right there, and then deal with the consequences, rather than the lame refusal. It would have created more complexity and given Jean a better reason to go over to Magneto.

Jean had basically nothing to do the whole film, so her acts of evil feel like they're just there to justify killing her later. You get no sense of her joy at being bad, and that's what the whole Jason Wyngarde seduction in the comic was about, making being evil seem attractive.

So, that was rather botched, but it's not a huge surprise because the world the films created doesn't really accomodate the more outre aspects of the mythos. The cure storyline makes a lot more sense, but the major issue here is that our "heroes" have no real stance on the issue. They're bothered by it, but don't seem to actively oppose it, as Magneto does. What this means is that Magneto and his crew have all the narrative agency, and the X-Men seem to stand in the way. Magneto, while he was a bit more extreme, was the most charismatic character in the film, and I thought Wolverine was being excessively sadistic when they give him the cure dart. At that point, they should have killed him, the way it was played felt cruel.

The cure could have supported its own film, and allowed for more philosophical exploration. A major problem with the film is that nearly every conversation exists to convey some information. So, the opening dialogue lets us know what everyones' powers are, and later on, there's all matter of infodumps going on. If the film had another hour or so, we could have had some more indepth exploration of how these people feel about the cure.

I would have liked to see someone argue with Rogue about her choice to get the cure. Rogue's power doesn't really help her, and I think it's perfectly legitimate for her to want to lose it. But, it should have been more about her, and less about just wanting to get together with Bobby.

One of the best characters in the film was Kitty Pryde. She feels just like Claremont's incarnation of the character, and you could easily fill in her parents' divorce as another reason she's so depressed after Xavier's death. The ice skating scene was really nice, and her chase with Juggernaut at the end was well done too.

The other really well done character was Beast, who came across as a fully developed character in a brief amount of screentime. I thought he was more interesting than Logan or Jean in this film. I wish we got a bit more insight into Angel, because as it was, there wasn't much of a point for having him in the film. Whenever I saw him, I would just end up thinking back on his time on Six Feet Under.

The final moment of the film was absoultely ridiculous and basically rendered everything that happened before pointless. If Magneto has his powers back, then the whole conflict over the cure is irrelevant. This is the equivalent of Raiders of the Lost Ark ending with some guy in the warehouse saying "Oh wait, this isn't actually the ark," then cutting to credits. All the fighting has been for nothing.

Despite the harshness, I actually this film is only a little bit weaker than X2. Certainly on a narrative and character level, X2 is much tighter, but the pleasures of the two films are the same, seeing some classic moments and characters represented on the big screen. I would argue that it's actually impossible to make a satisfying two hour X-Men movie. The reason for this is that the Claremont run was 190 issues, and there's been hundreds more after he left.

X-Men is very different from Superman or Batman in this respect. Those characters are icons, with a certain set of characteristics, but around that, you can tell pretty much any story. Batman in the comics has been through so many different incarnations, whatever movie you make, you can probably find a comic it's similar to. X-Men actually has a fairly linear narrative, and for Claremont and Morrison's time, nuanced characters who grew and changed.

To try to condense this history and character development into a two hour film is like trying to make a movie adaptation of the Buffy TV show. There's so many villains and stories, you can't make a satisfying two hour film, inevitably supporting characters will get short shrift. This film is the equivalent of making a Buffy movie that combines the season two Angel going evil arc and the battles with the Mayor in the third season in two hours. It's just not going to happen.



If someone wanted to make a real adaptation, I would love to see a high production values, TV show adaptation of the Claremont run, or Grant's stuff. Obviously, a lot of Claremont does not hold up, but that'd be a much better venue to tell the story in. The best you can hope for in a two hour film is either a total reconfiguration of the mythos, which X-Men 1 and 2 did to some extent, or just a collection of interesting sights that recall moments from the comic.

I will admit that my view point is very colored by reading of the comic. Right before seeing X2, I was reading the Morrison run, and Singer's version of the mutants couldn't match up to Grant's ultra stylish, pop incarnation. I watched this coming off the complete Claremont run, and the character interaction just isn't as strong.

I hate to give the typical fanboy "it wasn't as good as the comic" critique, but sadly that's what I'm doing. I chose that angle, because if I wasn't relating this to the comic, I'd see it as just an overstuffed, unremarkable action film.

Related Posts
Astonishing X-Men 2/6/2005
X-Men: 94-138 (9/17/2005)
X-Men: Wrapping It Up (3/14/2006)

2 comments:

Olli S said...

Did you notice that the final final moment of the film occurred after the credits? We see Moira and the braindamaged man, who suddenly speaks up - in Xavier's voice.

Even more irritating than that Magneto bit, in my opinion.

Patrick said...

I read about that, but didn't actually see it. And I'd agree that it's quite dumb, I at least respected their courage in killing off some main characters, to undermine that is cowardly storytelling.