Tuesday, May 23, 2006

X-Men: The Last Stand: Barrage of Cool EFX, Jumbled Messages About Tolerance, Diversity, Etc.

This was supposed to have been posted last week, but alas, it never made it (I inadvertently left it in "draft" form)

(warning: spoilers ahead)

So is X-Men: The Last Stand really the last stand, as in the finale to the movie franchise launched six years ago with X-Men and resumed with X2?

Not likely, particularly given the last scene, which suggests that the leadership of Magneto's (Ian McKellen) band of mutants-gone-bad is down, but not out. The sequence, centered on an old man's solo game of chess at a park on a sunny afternoon, is a funny, final little twist, one missed by some of the patrons who left tonight's screening a little before the credits began rolling. BTW, the crowding at the theater -- hundreds were turned away, apparently -- suggests that Fox has a mammoth summer hit on its hands.

By the same token, by the film's conclusion headstones are erected for three of the "good" mutants (one thought to have died in X2, and two othes), but only a fool would bet against at least one of those freshly dead members of the team led by the kindly, wheelchair-bound but darn powerful Professor X (Patrick Stewart) returning for the inevitable fourth installment of the franchise.

So what has director Brett Ratner, new to the series, wrought? I'll say it up front: It wasn't such a bad idea to give him the reins.

For starters, he's loaded the summer's second-best popcorn movie (after M:i:3) with tons of eye-popping special effects, including an amazing sequence on the Golden Gate Bridge. Magneto uses his powers of levitation, etc., to rip the span from its moorings and place one end on Alcatraz Island. Looking back at the sea of cars he's left in various stages of destruction, he spies one worried young mom, who responds by pressing the car's autolock button.

Earlier, an enormous truck, probably armor plated, is carrying the voluptous, shape-shifting Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) -- she morphs from U.S. president (Josef Sommer) to a little girl with a bad attitude; is there a hidden message there? -- and other dangerous mutants to Alcatraz, where they'll be "cured" of their disease, injected with a shot designed to turn them back into regular old humans absent of special powers. Mystique’s escape, with the help of Magneto, is another riveting set piece.

The Last Stand also offers images of cars being levitated on a suburban street (you have no idea who's living upstairs in those comfy homes behind white picket fences); mutants being transformed back into humans; humans' flesh flaking and disintegrating, not unlike vampires in old horror movies; a pond magically freezing; an ice-throwing mutant duking it out with a flame-throwing mutant; a mutant magically walking through walls, in hot pursuit by another mutant who uses brute strength to smash through walls; and a new good-guy mutant, Angel (Ben Foster), spreading his enormous wings and pulling off a heroic save in the last act.

The third X-Men movie again has "the other" on its mind, as in, how do we treat people who don't fit in with the rest of us, with "mainstream" society. The president fully believes that all the mutants, or at least the ones deemed dangerous, should be rounded up and forced to submit to a "cure" ... or else pay the consequences.

Dr. Hank McCoy, aka the blue-tinted hairy man Beast (Kelsey Grammer, unrecognizable except for his voice), heads the Department of Mutant Affairs, and he's not so sure about that plan. It's a "slippery slope," he tells the Prez.

Ratner and his screenwriters make veiled and not-so-veiled references to gay rights, immigration issues, and even such historical events as the Holocaust and internment camps.

So what's on their mind? Maybe a little of all of the above.
How would you read the below bits of dialogue?
  • Angel's dad (Michael Murphy): "Oh, God, not you." Angel: "Dad, I'm sorry."
  • Beast to Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) "I have been fighting for mutants' rights since before you had claws."
  • Magneto to "the brotherhood": "Let them know that we're here to stay."
  • Professor X to Jean (Famke Janssen): "My dear, don't let it control you."
  • Magneto to Jean: "I want you to be what you are."
I'll have more to say with my review, available soon.

(And on the subject of the franchise's future: Ralph Winter, producer on all three of the movies, told Entertainment Weekly for the magazine's April 28/May 5 summer movie preview: "There are a lot more stories. There's a wealth of characters. We tried to fit Angel into three movies. This is the first time we ever got Angel in.")

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