Thursday 1 June 2006

Thursday 1 June 2006
Cert: 12A. Duration: 104 mins.
DIRECTOR: Brett Ratner WRITERS: Simon Kinberg & Zak Penn
CAST: Hugh Jackman (Wolverine), Ian McKellen (Magneto), Patrick Stewart (Professor Xavier), Halle Berry (Storm), Famke Janssen (Jean Grey/Dark Phoenix), Kelsey Grammar (Dr Hank McCoy/Beast), Anna Paquin (Rogue), Rebecca Romijn (Mystique), Shawn Ashmore (Bobby Drake), Ellen Page (Kitty Pryde), Vinnie Jones (Juggernaut), Ben Foster (Angel), Aaron Stanford (Pyro), James Marsden (Cyclops)

When a cure is found to treat mutations, lines are drawn amongst the X-Men, led by Professor Charles Xavier, and the Brotherhood, a band of powerful mutants organized under Xavier's former ally, Magneto...

With director Bryan Singer busy on Superman Returns, the third X-Men movie was handed to Brett Ratner (Rush Hour) after original second-choice Michael Vaughn (Layer Cake) dropped out due to the tight schedule. X-Men III has been savaged by insiders throughout its gestation, with criticism heaped upon its apparently poor script, mediocre choice of director, and rushed production schedule. But has X3 risen above its detractors?

Well, no. X3 is by no means a total disaster, but it's undoubtedly inferior to both previous movies on most levels. The reasons for its failure were correctly predicted during production –- the script is an amalgamation of stolen comic-book ideas (the mutant cure, the Phoenix subplot), weak characterisation, too many additional characters, and set-pieces that are sprinkled liberally throughout the movie to detract from its failings with pyrotechnics and CGI.

There are two main components to X3's narrative –- the cure for mutation, and Jean Grey's resurrection into super-being Dark Phoenix. These are two ideas born in the comics and given iconic status by X-Men readers, so it's disconcerting that a live-action movie fumbles the ball so badly with such excellent material to work from. In particular, Jean Grey's transformation into her Dark Phoenix alter-ego is interesting to begin with, but by the time she's decided to join forces with Magneto she's become little more than a stooge.

Likewise, the mutation cure is little more than a plot-device to reheat the increasingly tired battle of ideology between Xavier and Magneto. All potential for interesting character moments with the cure is practically ignored, save for Rogue deciding to take the cure (with a neat parallel to abortion clinic guilt).

Hugh Jackman does solid work as Wolverine, but given less depth and more excuses to slash bad-guys in his vest. Patrick Stewart disappoints as Xavier for the first time, giving a hit-and-miss performance that goes nowhere fast. Ian McKellen survives unscathed through pure acting chops, but even his character is just repeating itself now.

Kelsey Grammar does great work as Dr Hank McCoy (a.k.a Beast), managing to carve a likeable character from behind all that blue fur. Famke Janssen does what she can, but beyond looking sexier than before and getting to glare behind zombie-esque make-up, she's wasted. Halle Berry fought for a bigger role in X3, but still seems moderately embarrassed to be there, and the way her character is shoe-horned into most scenes begins to grate.

The new supporting cast is plentiful and occasionally distracting. Vinnie Jones' Juggernaut is okay as a comic henchman, Rebecca Romijn continues her excellent work as Mystique, newcomer Ellen Page outperforms everyone with her limited screen-time, James Marsden is totally wasted, and the dozens of other mutants just blend together as examples of quirky CGI (porcupine kid, fast girl, multiple body boy, etc.)

The special-effects are generally very good, with a few standout sequences (the Golden Gate bridge, Jean's home ravaged by telekinesis, Magneto stopping the convoy), and some good human-CGI -- but it's nothing that hasn't been seen before. The overall design of the movie continues the general aesthetic of Singer's films, but the tight schedule is clear with the silly new costumes (leather and tattoos) and boring design of new locations such as Alcatraz.

Overall, X-Men III is watchable on a basic level but struggles to reach the heights of X-Men II. The script mishandles its plot, the characters don't evolve believably, some story elements go nowhere (what was the point of Angel, exactly? Why didn't Leech figure into the resolution?), Ratner's direction is competent but uninspired, and three major character deaths just… happen. There is no emotional pay-off to dozens of moments that should have been inducing goosebumps and the whole movie just seems rushed and undisciplined.

X3 sets itself up for a sequel, despite claims this is the final part of a trilogy. I'd welcome a fourth movie, but the excitement and wow-factor of X-Men has been tarnished here. X4 will need to put the emphasis back on character and story if it's to regain the respect of those for who X3 was a bitter disappointment…