The Act of Sergio Leone Rolling Over In His Grave
*I originally wrote this review shortly after seeing this movie in the theater in 2006. I think it's still valid.
It was inevitable that I'd go see this movie. I've been a fan of The X-Men since 1975 when I picked up a copy of Giant Size X-Men #1. It sported a cover by the great Gil Kane and interior artwork by Dave Cockrum who I knew and liked from his run on Legion of Super Heroes. I suffered through another fifteen issues of mediocre plotting and insufferable dialogue from Chris Claremont on the core title, until issue 108 when magic happened. For the next thirty-six issues, Marvel captured lightning in a bottle with writing by Claremont and John Byrne, and art by Byrne and Terry Austin. That run of issues formed the gold standard by which all other X-Men books would be measured. The core creative values that these three artists expressed would be reflected many years later in the X-Men movies.
So, here we are in 2006, three decades removed from that excellent run of comics magic. In print, the only interesting thing happening with the X-Men is the new offshoot title Astonishing X-Men which is being written by Movie and TV writer Joss Wheedon with art by John Cassaday who is arguably the best artist working in comics today. The core X-Book has degenerated into a convoluted mess, and there are more peripheral titles and mini-series and one-shots than any sane person could ever hope to keep track of.
And everybody knows about the X-Men from the movies. Oddly, I'm okay with that. Marvel Comics has a long and distinguished track record of dropping the ball when it comes to cross promotion. The core X-Books are a trainwreck right now, so anyone picking up any of these series for the first time would be totally lost. And here we have X-3, The Last Stand. The newest X-Movie has taken its cues a bit too much from the X-Men comics.
All things considered, the movie isn't all that bad. It's just that it can't make up its mind whether or not it wants to be a good movie, or a cheesy action flick.
Let's start with the good. The principle actors in this move are for the most part, outstanding. It's nice to finally see Halle Berry's character get her day in the sun. Storm is a powerhouse, and an outstanding team leader, and Halle finally gets to show off some of those formidable acting chops that netted her an Oscar. James Marsden (Cyclops) gets removed from the story early on which opens up the team leader spot for Storm, and Halle works admirably well with the extra screen time. Hugh Jackman is always a joy to watch as Wolverine. He obviously loves playing the character (who wouldn't) and it shows. Patrick Stewart has little to do this time around, but he definitely does the best he can with what he has to work with. Kelsey Grammer is spot on perfect as The Beast, and Ellen Page does a fine job as the new Kitty Pryde.
The plot revolves around a "cure" that suppresses the mutant gene, effectively transforming any superpowered mutant into a normal human. It's a thinly veiled attempt to show the whole ongoing "is homosexuality curable" debate, and it works well enough. It's also a nice excuse to show the different philosophies involved with the various characters, from Storm's admonishment that, "There's nothing to cure," to Rogue's decision to actually volunteer for it.
Which leads us into the bad. The whole cure thing is funded by Worthington Industries, which brilliantly allows for the introduction of The Angel (played passably well by Ben Foster.) They set him up with a great storyline, but it soon gets tossed by the wayside in favor of an endless series of angry mutant cameos, and overbaked action sequences.
In the comics litany of The X-Men, they have always maintained an excellent rogue's gallery. It's nowhere near the legendary status of The Flash, or Batman's villains, but over the years the X-Men have collected an excellent array of bad guys. So, it should come as no surprise to anyone that once again we get to deal with Ian McKellen's Magneto as the main badness. Apocalypse, Mr. Sinister, The Hellfire Club, Cassandra Nova, The Shadow King, all are missing from the movie cannon, and The Sentinels are relegated to a brief cameo appearance in a danger room session. McKellan does a great job as Magneto, but enough is enough. This movie has several scenes that undercut Magneto's character, relegating him to small and quite petty, instead of showing us that at his core, Magneto is a decent man, capable of compassion.
And finally, we have the ugly. The X-Men movies are at their best when they show us the small moments of humanity between the characters. Little touches like Wolverine turning the heat on when Rogue's hands are cold, or the exchange between Cyclops and Jean Grey that sets up the third movie. X-3 is devoid of those moments. It can take time for a stupid genitalia joke, but the moments of character have all been done away with. Zak Penn, who was one of the scribes on X-2 was paired with Simon Kinberg, who's credits include XXX: State of the Union and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and the mix is not a good one. If there was ever any trace of a heart in this script, it was exorcised in favor of big explosions and snappy, out of character quipping.
One last thing to satisfy the Mythbuster in me... I looked up the technical specs. on the Golden Gate Bridge. It's 1.7 miles long if you include the accesses (which they did in the movie) and since it's only 1.25 miles from Alcatraz Island to the mainland, the cheesiest scene in the movie is definitely possible, if you're a mutant master of magnetism.