Monday, 20 November 2006

X-Men III: The Last Stand (2006)

This review was originally posted on Ian's Personal Blog on 1st October 2006.

36X-Men: The Last Stand is the third film in the X-Men franchise - and the first that I didn't bother going to the cinema to see. The troubled production shoot, caused initially by original director Brian Singer's decision to move on to make Superman Returns instead, quickly followed by the 'leaving for personal reasons' departure of replacement director Matthew Vaughn was one reason. Final director Brett Ratner (I'm not a fan!) was another. Add in the over-the-top 'tentpole' marketing and hype which has the likes of Empire, SFX et al. turning a 'featured article' into a free 30-age advertorial, and there was little to seemingly appeal to this viewer.

Catching up with the film on DVD (in stores tomorrow) I think I made the right choice, although the movie is by no means the disaster it looked like it was going to be. All things considered it's a pretty good popcorn flick.

That being said, the film is the weakest of the three released so far. For me the script doesn't really keep to a consistent path, too often taking little side turns that don't really add to the story and seem to be there just to keep the overly-vocal comic book fanbase on the internet happy. Too many characters don't have any real purpose, whilst others are suddenly given ridiculously prominent roles. Halle Berry goes from having nothing to say or do in the first two movies, to.. erm, well actually pretty much the same situation in this third movie, except that this time around she has about 20 times the screen time and number of lines to say that she's had in the past!

Newcomer to the franchise, Kelsey Grammer (best known as Frasier from the comedy TV series of the same name), thankfully gets a fair crack of the whip, which is warranted by his role in the story as The Beast, but the desire to keep the minor subplots that were established in previous films moving forward as well as adding three new characters all prove too much for the rather short 90-odd minute running time. Did we really need the new 'Angel' character, the 'Iceman and Rogue with new girl Kittie Pryde' storyline, the 'Iceman vs Pyro' storyline, the ongoing 'Wolverine vs Cyclops' storyline as well as the main story (a 'cure' for mutants arrives at the same time as the new powers of former X-(wo)Man Jean Grey)? The net result is that the film always has something interesting happening, but the attention seems to wander all over the place. This is a problem the first two films didn't have.

The dialogue and story-telling smack, to this viewer, of too many late-night, last-minute rewrites, with all the plot inconsistencies that inevitably result. Take the 'big bad' Magneto villain (played by Ian McKellen) as an example - the writers can't decide whether to play him as an honourable, if misguided, man, or as callous, selfish pantomime villain. In one scene he chastises one of the villains for making a wisecrack about his arch-nemesis Professor Xavier, pointing out that Xavier is a great man who should be honoured. Then a few scenes later when his most loyal, long-time supporter (and possibly his mistress) takes a hit intended for him that turns her from mutant to mere mortal, he dismisses her as swiftly as one would dismiss a fly. There's no character consistency here (nor in Ian McKellen's accent which switches between English and American for no apparent reason, sometimes even mid-sentence)!

The acting is pretty much of the 'No acting required' variety, although Hugh Jackman, given less to do here than in previous films, manages to impress in his role as Wolverine. Patrick Stewart repeats a good performance from previous films, albeit one where he's just playing himself (this is NOT the Professor Xavier I remember from the comic books!). Quite what the first director, Matthew Vaughn thought he was doing in casting Vinnie Jones as The Juggernaut is beyond me. OK, so it's a 'no acting required' role, but even so, with so many out-of-work actors around at the moment, hiring an ex-footballer with the acting chutzpah of a plank of wood seems a rather insensitive move.

Fortunately the cinematography and special effects (aside from an appallingly bad 'Xavier and Magneto as younger men' introductory scene which looks more like a not very good XBox game than a 'real life' movie) lift the film out of its poor script, and whilst there's little originality here (the much-touted 'finale' scene on the San Francisco bridge is shockingly short and comes across as an inferior version of the bridge scene in The Fantastic Four) there is a LOT of special effects work on show. It's hard to remember a movie that had so much eye candy going on throughout its entire playing time. It's the small attention to detail in even the background shots in some 'blink and you miss them' moments that have presumably endeared the film to its intended audience and resulted in the multiple viewings and leveraged box office takings.

Is it the last movie in the franchise, as initially indicated? Somehow I doubt it, and fans who think there is a nice tidy ending to the franchise with this film should make sure they watch to the end of the credits where an extra scene gives a very nice get-out for the film-makers!

It ain't clever, but X-Men: The Last Stand is a dumb, mindless, but fun popcorn movie that the whole family can enjoy and which kids will no doubt be happy to play repeatedly.

X-Men 3: The Last Stand screencap

The 2-disk DVD set looked to be a strong release for a successful 'big' film that's this recent. After all, the temptation might have been to 'double dip' with a vanilla release first, and the 'special edition' a few months later. Unfortunately it quickly becomes clear that this DVD set has been rushed together and corners cut right, left and centre.The shimmering picture quality on the main trilogy documentary is appalling, as is the navigation system for the featurette and the main film. On my player the individual scenes selection indexes didn't work at all, constantly refreshing the same menu whenever a specific chapter index was selected. And it's not just the execution that's rushed: delve beyond the sheer quantity of advertised number of extra's and it's hard to find much that has any real quality or depth to it.

Disk 1 has two commentaries, which I didn't have time to listen to (work is still pretty manic at the moment!) but allegedly include a 'dull but fact-filled' one from the producers and a 'fun but content-free' one from the director and a couple of associates. The first disk also features Deleted Scenes turn out to be a disappointing set of incredibly short alternative takes where the titles introducing them more often than not last longer than the scenes.

Disk 2 kicks off with an excellent 40 minute Brett Ratner's Diary, which nicely edits down 'home movie' footage made during the entirety of the film shoot, covering the production from the first day's shoot to the premiere at Cannes, in a way that is exciting without giving the lie to the fact that most of the time spent on a film set is just plain boring and very unglamorous. Ratner comes across very well as the natural leader who inspires his troops on a difficult shoot, but there's nothing remotely controversial here unless you count James Marsden's minor strop to camera about the film suffering from too many ego's and minor comment about how someone now thinks she's the star of the movie (Halle or Famke? It's hard to guess - both appear to be rather up themselves!)

X-Men: Evolution of a Trilogy is 43 minutes of tired marketing guff covering all three movies, one at a time in sequence, and is incredibly pointless. This is stuff from promotional tours, intended to 'sell' the films just before their initial theatrical release, with the likes of McKellen and Stewart telling us who each character is and what their powers are - as if anybody who's seen the film doesn't already know. To add insult to injury although the picture is widescreen anamorphic the picture quality is pretty dreadful shimmering and phasing all over the place, which is inexcusable on as high profile a release as this!

X3: The Excitement Continues is, unfortunately, more of the same, effectively an alternative version of the final third of the 'Evolution of a Trilogy' that precedes it. The featurette X-Men Up Close is a navigation nightmare allowing you to read the history of each of the character (ie just stuff they could advertise on the sleeve to make it look like there's a lot of stuff here) and there's a short featurette on the San Francisco bridge scene. Curiously the most interesting stuff is tucked away in a section labeled Vignettes.

At the asking price it might seem churlish to criticise this two-disk release, but the extra's really aren't as voluminous as the packaging implies. That being said, kids will love the package and as such it's a 'purchase' rather than a 'rental' recommendation, albeit a rather grudging one, given the fundamental flaws in the package that appear to be down to a distinct lack of any kind of quality control in the haste with which the film has been rushed onto DVD, presumably to avoid getting lost in the deluge that's about to hit us in the lead-in to the Christmas rush.

X-Men 3: The Last Stand screencap

No comments: