Sunday, May 28, 2006

Musing Pictures: X-Men: THe Last Stand

More can be said for conviction than one might expect. The third film in the "X-Men" trillogy, "The Last Stand" delivers only some of what it promises.

Remembering the first X-Men film, which was made and released in pre-9/11 America, I recall finding it refreshingly slow -- an action film that was more about characters and concepts than the typical action film. Although it suffered in the same way that any first-in-a-series film suffers (it has to squeeze a lot of back-story in to two short hours), it gave me a good sense that an interesting, complex world had been created, and that subsequent films would make good use of that world.

The second X-Men film is the reason for the first line of this post. "X-Men United" was a film made by a team that believed what they were doing. Whereas the first X-Men film was a foray in to new, uncharted territory, the second X-Men film was approached with the confidence of people who knew what they were doing -- who knew what world they were in. It was a surprising film in that it came at a time when we still believed that sequels are never as good as their predecessors -- X-Men 2 is partially responsible for deconstructing that belief.

X-Men 3 concludes the story (although the parting shot leaves us wondering about what happens next, there are clearly no plans for yet another X-Men film, nor should there be.) Sadly, whereas the first X-Men film successfully built the world, and the second successfully textured that world's deep, painful dramas, this third X-Men film (directed by Brett Ratner, rather than Bryan Singer (who helmed the first two films, and whose work we'll be seeing soon, when "Superman Returns")) is back where the first one began -- unsure of itself, unsure of the rules, and unsure of the real root and heart of the story. A story's ending is like the end of a gymnastics routine -- it has to stick, and in order to stick, it has to be told with conviction. A storyteller who does not believe the ending of his story is in trouble from the start.

What does lack-of-conviction look like on screen? For the most part, it comes across in performances. When the incomparable Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen sound like they're acting, it's a good hint that someone (probably the director) isn't so sure what he wants, and as a result, the actors can't be sure of their characters anymore. But it also comes in inconsistencies, and this particular film, especially the ending of this particular film, happens to contain inconsistencies that are simiply inexplicable (and here I mean narrative inconsistencies, not the occasional mistakes of continuity that can creep in to a production).

I do not believe that "X-Men" went 'one film too far'. I just wish that the production's footing was more sure before the film was produced.


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