Tuesday, May 30, 2006

X-Men: The Last Stand


Dir: Brett Ratner (for some reason, Hollywood's new IT director who is willing to do the third film in any trilogy)

Paul, I had not read your post until after I Just Saw the film (nice plug). But we see eye to eye on this one. I wonder which is the worse artistic crime, poor execution of noble intent or competent filmmaking with missed potential? I would usually default to the latter, and for me this film only seems to justify those leanings. The value of superhero films (comic books, etc.), at least the good ones, is that they operate from a spectacular premise that provides the intellectual and narrative space to ruminate over more complex ethical and social issues: the Batman films explore the limits of justice and revenge, the Spiderman films examine the nexus of power and responsibility, while the Superman films import Christian narratives to uncover the nature of sacrifice and temptation. The X-Men upholds such a tradition by positing rich social questions about difference and discrimination. In theory, by the time you get into the second and third film of any superhero franchise (having already gone through the requisite conversion story), you can most pointedly engage in broader commentary.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first two X-Men films (still, the best superhero franchise are the two Spiderman films), but the premise to the third is unquestionably the best. The X3 story strongly echoes the thought experiment Derrick Bell presents in "The Space Traders," albeit from different perspectives. Bell's story posits a world where aliens offer an unlimited energy supply to (white) Earth (or was it just the US?) in exchange for all of its black citizens. The aliens ensure that they will be treated as equals with a prosperous future, never again facing any form discrimination. X3 presents a similar storyline: a "cure" for mutancy is discovered that allows the mutants to shed their "affliction" and rejoin society without chance of discrimination. The mutant community is divided over proper reaction to this new discovery, and the responses seem to parallel many of the civil rights activists who debate over how to best fight this discrimination: do we take the MLK response of negotiation and peaceful protest or adopt the militant anger of Malcolm X?

Rich storylines that have the potential for novel insight and quality character development, but Ratner elects to dedicate time to fighting and special effects instead. Yes, the story advances in the wake of eye candy (and he directs the film quite ably, hence the apt execution versus missed potential question). But, I cannot but help wanting more, and not in the sense of 2001: A Space Odyssey left me wanting more. The narrative moved quickly, requiring the audience to fill in any motivation. Sure, they made enthymematic sense, but a film that wishes to explore issues more deeply should not dependent on such plot devices. The film clocked in at 1:44, leaving more that enough time to add on atleast 20 minutes of character/narrative development without having the film drag. The American public, I think, can handle longer films; provided they are good, people will still come to see them (all the Matrix films, the recent Star Wars films, obviously LOTRs were well over 2 hours and extremely lucrative).

Bryan Singer let X-Men to do Superman Returns--it better be worth it.