Day By Day

Saturday, May 27, 2006

X-Men -- The Last Stand

“She Who Must Not Be Named” and I went to see the new X-Men movie today. “She” enjoyed it and had only one complaint – “not enough Hugh Jackman” – apparently “She” feels that you can never have enough Hugh Jackman. Pierce Brosnan seems to have been displaced in her film pantheon.

Well, what to say about this week’s blockbuster wannabe? It’s a comic book film (duh!) and subject to all the limitations of that genre. There is a plethora of characters, none of whom are developed very well but who have extensive and complex backstories in the comics that, for fans, explain their seemingly irrational actions. We who don’t read comics are left out in the cold – but then we aren’t the target audience.

I checked into the IMDB comments section seeking enlightenment and found that to understand the first killing you have to know that the dead guy will return in the future and that he and the once dead, but now revived and transformed and soon to die again babe will have a child together, or maybe he has the child with the clone of the on and off dead chick. I must be getting really old because none of that makes sense to me, but the comics crowd seems to understand.

All of the characters are capable of performing spectacular stunts and the extended FX sequences don’t leave much time for character development. Lots of things go boom. There is plenty of conflict, both violent and of the soap opera variety, some characters die or lose their powers, others survive, new ones are inserted – you know, a standard comics story.

Of course this being the X-Men, gay themes are prominent. One has to do with a self-abusive character whose father is trying to shame him into going straight (that is, giving up his mutant powers). Another is a massive government/evil corporate plot to “cure” the mutants of their deviancy. In the course of the film intolerant “homo sapiens” and sociopathic mutants are vanquished and the film ends with a plea for mutual tolerance and respect, and full societal acceptance of deviance.

About the quality of the acting, there’s not much to say. Actors show up, say their lines, go through the motions, collect their checks, and go home. Some of them are quite talented, but have minor roles and aren’t putting out much effort. Others just aren’t very good [yes, Halle Berry, I’m talking about you]. It was fun to see Kelsey Grammar being beastly.

The special effects are pretty good -- about what you would expect in this series. The plot is extremely convoluted and, frankly, doesn’t make much sense in places. I suspect that’s because the producers are trying to match the film and the comic book versions of the story although the comics fans over at IMDB complain about major deviations from the canon.

What else to say? Oh, yeah, this was conceived as the end of a trilogy, so there is a certain finality to what happens here, but if you pay close attention to the last scene and then watch through to the end of the credits you will find that they left the door open for further sequels, should this do well at the box office. Judging from the crowd at the matinee we attended, it should make enough money to justify the next episode in the interminable adventures of the X-Men.

That’s about it. Even at its short length, "The Last Stand" is an adequate summer movie – no more, no less. If you like these kinds of films you will enjoy it.


I just read Michael Agger's review in Slate [here]. It seems pretty typical of the current crop of young, snarky film reviewers. He admired Singer's first two films in the series because they were, "a fun mixture of swish, eye candy, and political metaphor." Now, he argues, it's just bombast and soap opera. I couldn't disagree more. Both the political and the sexual content of the first two films were a peek inside the mad world of leftist paranoia. So, too, is the current film. If anything the swish and the political nuttiness is more blatant. There's really not much difference in that regard. I've never been much of a fan of Brian Singer, or for that matter of the late-stage Marvel universe he plunders. But then, I'm just an old guy who used to read "Terry and the Pirates" and "The Katzenjammer Kids" in the paper. Now those I'd like to see remade into movies. [I checked IMDB and it seems "Terry" has been made into a movie twice, in 1940 and 1952, and searching my memory I think I might actually have seen the 1952 flick.]


Three weeks; three bad to mediocre movies. I have to clear my mind before depression and ennui set in.

Fortunately IFC is showing Akira Kurosawa's "Hidden Fortress" this morning. It's one of his most accessible films, one I haven't see in a long, long time, and of historical interest since George Lucas has cited it as his primary inspiration for "Star Wars." Toshiro Mifune is magnificent as the general and Misa Uehara's Princess Yuki is amazing -- no damsel in distress, she is the prototype for the strong heroines who fill the screen these days. The composition of the shots is..., well..., it's Kurosawa and nobody has ever done better. It was filmed in cinemascope ratio, I believe it's the first that Kurosawa did in that format, and it's wonderful to see how he fills the screen. Here's the spear fight. The influence on Sergio Leone is unmistakable.

The longer I watch it, the better I feel. Ahhhh..., the fire dance scene..., much better now..., much better!

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