Recently, while on sick leave from work, I managed to squeeze in watching a couple of films I hadn’t watched in a while. X-Men 3, directed by Brett Ratner, was one of those films.
I don’t quite know what it is about Ratner as a director that turns many people off, or this third film in the hugely popular X-Men franchise, but I do believe all the criticism levelled at both is utterly unwarranted.
Brett Ratner’s directorial oevure has been a mixed bag, it must be said. The Rush Hour films could almost have directed themselves, for all the style they posessed, however, I must have been the only member of humanity to actually enjoy After The Sunset. True, he did direct Family Man and utterly confounded anybody as to why it was ever done in the first place: his only redeeming feature film would have to be the thrilling Hannibal Lecter flick Red Dragon, which I would have to say is almost as good as Silence Of The Lambs.
With X Men 3, subtitled The Last Stand, Ratner takes over from the highly competent hands of Bryan Singer in helming the ensemble cast of stars in what is perhaps his biggest project to date. Almost all the major and minor castmembers return, with the exception of Alan Cumming as Nightcrawler, and what follows is perhaps the darkest entry into the film series yet.
The recent apparent death of Jean Grey in the previous film is followed up, with the majority of our cast struggling to come to terms with their loss. Hardest hit, of course, is James Marsden’s Cyclops, who misses his wife desperately.
The story swings wildly between the gradual degradation of the X-Men team and the development of a mutant “cure”, which divides the mutant community like nothing before it. Opportunistic Magneto swings into action again, with his band of henchmen (the Brotherhood) going above and beyond to further the cause….. and not always to the betterment of humanity.
X-Men 3 is a great conclusion to the trilogy (if that’s what it is, since none of the cast are apparently returning for a fourth, and Jackman is starring as Wolverine in his own film!) in that it takes all the setup of the previous two films and starts paying off.
The writers have plagiarised from the seminal comic book storyline The Dark Phoenix Saga, which was written by Chris Claremont and still regarded as a high-water mark of comic book drama by fans of the characters. Jean Grey goes bad, is essentially it in a nutshell, with almost unlimited power and a slow unravelling of her mind thrown in. Unlike other franchise films, which place our heroes in jeapordy but never follow through with actually killing characters off, X3 achieves cinematic nirvana by actually doing the unthinkable: killing off a major character, for real, for good. In fact, the film kills off a couple more before the final credits.
The climactic battle between good and evil is a fine line of bombast and characterisation, with just enough humour and pathos to counteract the truly brutal conflict depicted on screen. The cast are uniformly excellent, there are almost no slip-ups in this department, and a welcome inclusion is Kelsey Grammar as The Beast, as well as the snarling Vinnie Jones as Juggernaut.
Slightly underused as characters are Kitty Pryde, as the love triangle entrant into the Iceman/Rogue relationship, played by Ellen Page (Juno); and Ben Foster as Angel, a winged mutant son of the inventor of the cure. They have almost no introduction and could almost be excised completely from the film with little impact.
Ratner manages to concoct a decent amount of tension in the film, with a huge cast and large scale action sequences, the whole thing could have drowned under its own weight: instead, it manages to remain faithful to the feel and scope of the first two installments. In fact, if it’s possible for the scope of the third film to be larger than films 1 and 2, then X3 achieves it.
The effects are uniformly excellent, as you’d expect these days from a top-tier film release from a major studio. Ratner handles the use of effects well, still grounding things in realism without compromising the fantastical nature of the charcters on screen.
While X3 suffers a little from the “weak-quel” factor in the way it has to wrap up all the hanging plot threads from the previous films, the pace never lets up, and in the end the film concludes in such a satisfactory way that there is almost no need for future installments.
While some decry the film for veering away from Singers original vision, I’d dispute that that is the case, and it’s my feeling that X3 is a worthy and valiant conclusion for one of the more successful film franchises in recent times.
What others are saying:
Dan over at Dan the Man Movie Reviews has this to say: “The problem with X3: The Last Stand is that it’s terribly weak compared to the first two because it’s more about the action, and less about the actual characters that inhabit this story.”