Tuesday, July 04, 2006

In Chess the pawns go first

X-Men: Last Stand

This film has a bad case of Infinite Crisis syndrome. Take a few good ideas (or in the case of Infinite Crisis, about thirty) which don't belong anywhere near each other, shuffle scenes together more-or-less randomly, add lots of explosions - you can't go wrong with explosions - and stand back to admire your brain-aching mishmash.

My fourteen year old niece politely told me afterwards that it was all too confusing, though doubtless her teenage mind was running through the full gamut of insults you might want to inflict on a doddery old uncle.

The two themes of the film were otherness and love for someone who is losing their mind. They're good themes, these two, and might well have made two good films. Obviously there was nothing new for those of us who have garages bulging with old copies of Uncanny X-Men, but why should there be? The mutant cure main plot was obviously a stand-in for asking how society might react if someone invented a "cure" for race. Ian McKellan was back as Magneto, and looking more like a parody with each scene. He had a villainous posse whose women didn't object to being part of a "Brotherhood" and who had clearly mistaken bad facial tattoos for scariness (sooooo 1990s). Everybody bashed each other.

But there was also Jean Grey, the benchmark for classic X-Men storytelling, having a breakdown caused by...well, that wasn't made clear. It may have been an adverse reaction to having a lake drop on her at the end of the previous film. Uncanny X-Men: Dark Phoenix, the comic, is as much Scott Summers' story as Jean. The reader sees Jean's disintegration through her lover's eyes, and it is his sadness at the loss of his childhood love which makes the story so unsettling.

In the film, sadly, Scott gets butchered by Jean early on, with Hugh Jackman's Wolverine stepping into the bereaved's shoes. This doesn't work at all as Jean and Logan hardly know each other, and anyway, it's the animalistic part of Jean which is attracted to Logan. Marionnette rightly points out that Logan is a Mary Sue - wish fulfillment characters once typified by teenage geek Wesley Crusher steering the Enterprise - but also one who couldn't have been more irritating if he had been dipped in itching powder. What makes this character work is his barely-suppressed savagery. Make him the X-Men's de facto leader, or have him fall in lurve, and he loses what makes him good. "They've tamed you", say Jean. Too right.

Now I'm pre-disposed to be attracted to Jean Grey (obviously this is a saddo teenage fantasy, but let's run with it) but poor Famke Janssen, faced with having to act the unactable as Dark Phoenix, resorted to the most intense, leather-trousered glowering since Tom Welling got at the Red Kryptonite in Smallville. By the time Jean started her rampage on Alcatraz, the film was descending into farce. Although only one line was laugh-out-loud funny: Magneto's motivational "in Chess the pawns go first". You can't learn stuff like that out of leadership books.

And the editing was off. The sequences which would have made sense of the Bobby-Kitty-Rogue love triangle seemed to have been mislaid on the cutting room floor, and Colossus almost entirely disappeared, which may have been a mercy.

And the moral is: don't butcher Patrick Stewart half-way through a movie - the whole film visibly deflated once Jean exploded him. On the plus side, at least there's not going to be a follow up. Is there?


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