It's An X-Men X-Travaganza!
X-Men: The Rise of the Return of the Revenge of Magneto
by Martin R. "Vargo" Schneider
Most people agree the first two X-Men films are pretty good. But in a year that features four friggin' superhero movies, I feel it's important to point out that when X-Men came out in 2000, everyone figured the genre was pretty much dead. The turnaround that X1 created is damn impressive, and X2 is even better, so where did it all go wrong?
It's appropriate enough that X-Men: The Last Stand starts with a very obvious masturbation allegory, because the whole damn movie is just wanking. This time around, Wolverine and Friends are busy actually being teachers for once, when it's revealed that the US Government has developed a "cure" for mutant-ism. Of course, this sparks an uproar in the mutant community, causing Magneto to form a team of mutants to destroy the cure's source, which is actually a little boy with the power to cancel out everyone else's powers.
For some reason that is never quite explained, all of the members of Magneto's brotherhood are teen punks with tattoos and piercings that look like they came from Hot Topic. Given that "Must have attitude" seems to be a requirement to enlist in Magneto's army, I have to assume he follows the Zordon school of lackey-hiring. Meanwhile, Jean Grey has come back from the dead in order to kill James Marsden, allowing him to take an even more boring role in a marginally worse superhero film. Jean is now ultra-powerful, evil, and mostly insane -- getting punched in the face by a lake has been known to do that to people. Under Magneto's tutelage, Jean basically goes on a murderous mood-swing rampage, and the only one who can stop her evil reign of crying jags is Wolverine, whose rapid healing factor apparently covers whatever pants he happens to be wearing, but not the shirt.
There are some attempts to discuss ethics and symbolism, but none of them really work because of Brett Ratner. Yes, mutants in the X-Men universe have always been metaphors for Gays/Jews/Blacks/Laser-Eye-Americans, but it's like Ratner discovered them through Wikipedia and didn't really know what to do with them. The film's "They're sick, Make them better" theme is an obvious gay-rights statement, but the movie takes it nowhere, and the metaphor somewhat dissolves when you show characters like Rogue happily joining the crowd and getting cured with absolutely no repercussions. The script introduces ideas the same way it develops characters, which is:
Step 1: Introduce Mutant
Step 2: Show Mutant off, give quirky one-liner.
Step 3: Do absolutely nothing interesting with mutant, forget to mention mutant again.
Speaking of fun and quirky one liners, boy howdy does this movie have them in spades, ranging from the kinda clever ("Not everyone heals as fast as you, guy-who-heals-really-fast!"), to the kind-of-a-stretch (You of all people should know how quickly the weather changes, girl-who-changes-the-weather), to the Holy-Hell-We-Get-It-Why-Did-You-Repeat-That? ("In chess, the pawns go first, and I should know because I play chess all the time throughout all these movies. Oh look, they all got killed, that's why the pawns go first, see?") I'm not expecting Coen Brothers-level creative dialogue out of a movie that has a man who blows spines out of his face like a puffer fish, but this gets kind of ridiculous.
To be fair, X-Men 3 was not as bad upon revisiting it as I remember it being. There are several good ideas it has going for it, chief among them being Kelsey Grammer's spot-on portrayal of Dr. Hank McCoy, AKA Beast. The "cure" concept behind the film, which stems from a Joss Whedon-written comic arc, is a solid-enough idea that gets lost among all the other crap floating through here. For example, they painted themselves in the corner with the death and resurrection of Jean Grey. On the one hand, it's an essential part of the comic-book X-Men mythos, and it is basically Jean Grey's one interesting bit of character. On the other hand, it is a really, really, stupid part of the X-Men mythos that doesn't even work well by comic book logic. If it doesn't work in comic books, it sure as hell won't work on film. And since when does this franchise care about comic continuity anyway? Let her stay under the lake.
No sin is more egregious, however, than the devolution of Ian McKellan's performance as Magneto from sympathetic genius to cartoonish bin Ladin stand-in. I'm sure "Magneto moves the Golden Gate Bridge" sounds awesome on paper, but it looks flat-out stupid when put into practice. McKellan's not having as much fun as he used to, and when he's forced to make puns about "building bridges" after the aforementioned bridge-moving, you just hope he enjoyed that paycheck. I was also going to complain that one of my favorite young actors, Ben Foster, is completely wasted as well, but he's playing a dude whose power is that he has wings. Honestly, what are you gonna do with that?
This brings me to the fourth movie in the X-Men franchise, X-Men Origins: Wolverine. It's been three years since this movie came out, and I'm still not quite sure why it exists. Why did Wolverine need a movie of his own? Weren't the other three movies ALL about Wolverine? Yes, Wolverine has a mysterious past, that's kind of the point. This is one of the few times you can get away with just saying that "he has a mysterious past" is a character's backstory. Honestly, there's not a lot of ground that needs to be retread here; X2 basically covered this and covered it better.
Which brings us to the film's first big issue. As a prequel, it's terrible. Prequels should not cause more continuity problems than they solve, and the X-Men franchise had a pretty tight lock on continuity prior to this. We follow Logan as he transforms into Wolverine, learn how he got his adamantium claws (which we already knew), and we learn a little bit more about his relationship with Sabretooth (Liev Schriber), that big hairy dude he fought with in X-Men 1. Turns out they're brothers. Except, wait, why doesn't Sabretooth say anything in the first X-Men movie then? And why is he a feral man-creature in that movie but here just a big man with gross fingernails who is kind of a dick?
"Okay," you think. "I'll play along." The bad guy in this movie is Colonel William Stryker (Danny Huston), who was also the bad guy in X2. Well, that's neat, we get to see more of their relationship... and the movie ends with Stryker being arrested for murder. In X2, he's on a first name basis with the President; in Wolverine, he's going to military prison. Then we have a cool scene where we get to see how Wolverine got his trademark leather jacket. Well, okay, that's a nice touch. Wait, he doesn't have the jacket at the end of the movie. When does the jacket come back? This is just the tip of the iceberg here. There's not even a solid timeline. How far ahead of the first film does this story take place, exactly? Judging by Stryker's aging, it's a good 20 years at the least, but absolutely nothing in this film indicates that it is not set in 2011. If you're going to have a script this lazy, don't make it tie directly in to the best and most popular film of your franchise!
This film was shot on a much smaller budget than the other X-Films, and it's almost embarrassing how much it shows. CGI planes and explosions look like they came out of a Playstation 2 game. Wolverine's claws somehow look faker here than they did in the first X-Men film, made ten years prior. Horribly obvious green screens make dramatic moments look like a "Put Your Child In A Movie!" booth at tacky malls. If you're one of those guys who gets angry about seeing orange/blue contrast on movie posters ever since the internet told you to hate it, your unoriginal ass best watch out, because it's basically "Orange/Blue Contrast: The Movie."
As a general rule, the X-Series can be summed up with "Mo' Muties, Mo' Problems." Having dredged the comic book ocean for characters people care about, Origins: Wolverine shoves in cameo after cameo of C-list characters, none of which are particularly interesting. After throwing in Gambit (Taylor Kitch) to please the nerds, director Gavin Hood and company cut him short, figuring the audience would rather spend time with Will.I.Am in a cowboy hat. And then there's Deadpool. You know what, Internet? I'm not gonna go there. What am I going to say that hasn't already been bitched about a million times before? Yes, it is a drastic change from the character beloved by comic fans and never-before-heard-of by non-fans, but I just don't care. I like Deadpool too, when he's not written as a wacky zany character that says "Chimichanga" a lot, but just shut up, nerds. It's been three years. They never actually call the character Deadpool by name, so if Ryan Reynolds ever makes good on his promise to fix it in a Deadpool movie (never gonna happen), they could basically ignore that Origins even existed. This seems to be a good idea. Maybe we should all just pretend X-Men Origins doesn't exist.