Saturday, May 27, 2006

Movie: Oh My Stars And Garters

X-Men: The Last Stand Directed by Brett Ratner, written by Zak Penn and Simon Kinberg*, starring Hugh Jackman, Halle Barry, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Kelsey Grammer, and a surprising number of Victoria's Secrets models.

I really liked this one. It surprised me that it did. Halle Barry as Storm actually showed her chops as an actress. Ian McKellan's Magneto and Patrick Stewart's Professor X could be hosting a talk show on Fox and command complete attention for two hours. And Kelsey Grammer as the Beast . . . well.

OK, I really didn't know what to expect on this one, and readers here know that I am a fan of the beautiful blue-furred Beast, but Grammer just nails it. Either he's a big comics fan from the same age that I hale from, when Hank McCoy was strong, agile, thoughtful AND humorous, or he's done his research. I expected the Beast to have a secondary role, much like other comic mainstays like Colossus, but he was a key figure, embodying one of the major plots, and portrayed incredibly well. I was impressed.

And the movie stayed mostly true to its material, though it takes that material in different ways with unexpected (though perhaps more realistic) outcomes. The period it harks back to is the post-Jim Shooter, post-John Byrne, still-Chris Clairemont X-men (author Clairemont has a cameo in the film as "Man with Lawnmower". Stan Lee is "Man with Hose"). We have a whole fistful of plots all playing out at once. The threat is Magneto's mutant terrorists. No, wait, the threat is that Angel's father has come up with a "Mutant Cure". No, wait, the threat is that Jean Grey is back from the dead as Dark Phoenix and is disintegrating people. And then there's a pair of relationship triangles. And Magneto and Professor X both pushing their own agendas. There always has been a great ethical murkiness with the X-Men and the whole "Mutant Problem", and the movie embraces that murkiness. By the end of the film you're saying "Charles Xavier is right, but . . ." and "Magento is a bad guy, but his point is valid . . . "

It's philosophy in spandex. And the plot unspools neatly and quickly AND the fight scenes are choreographed well, in that they are have a structure and it is clear where the characters are what they are doing, as opposed to just a collection of high-speed wire stunts and CGI. AND everyone gets their moment - its closer to an ensemble cast than the story of one particular character. Colossus, Kitty Pryde, Mystique, Iceman. Heck, even Jamie Maddrox, the Multiplying Man, gets a good bit.

The thing is, I'm enjoying this film at the same time as I'm dumping most of my X-books from the weekly buy. The mighty marvel mutant marching society has been spiralling out of control for me for years, producing some interesting tales (Grant Morrison's extremely weird tenure) but mostly just line maintenance. A writer will get on the book, add his favorite X-Men from his personal golden age, advance a few ideas, then be replaced by another writer, who brings on his favorite characters and ideas. Rinse and repeat. Even Clairemont's latest version deals with characters that I don't really care as much about. The breaking point was a nasty little mini-series called "Deadly Genesis", which retconned into the mythos another set of X-Men, gave Cyclops another long-long brother, killed off a favorite old-timer X-Man, Banshee, and firmly established Professor X as being a complete cad. So I'm down to Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men (though he is deeply engaged in "torture the characters" mode, so the clock is ticking on him) and Peter David's new X-Factor, which seems to be the source material for the Multiplying Man's character in the film.

Anyway, this is a good movie to catch - the Summer Blockbuster, a fun afternoon. You can follow it even if you don't have "Geek" on a second audio channel, but you do have to pay attention. And, of course, the Beast is really cool.

More later,

*Interesting thing - I started this writeup last night, after seeing the movie, using the Imdb for names and spell-checking. On Friday night, the screenwriters were listed. As of Saturday morning they were missing. Will someone seeing the film check to see if there is a script credit on this film?