Sunday, May 28, 2006

Movie Review of X-Men: The Last Stand
A friend and I had tired of viewing Netflix DVDs on our 13-inch monitors and thought that over the Memorial Day Weekend, we'd treat ourselves to a visit to the big screen. The next question was what to see on the big screen. Oddly, it turned out that we were individuals who shunned fads. Both of us had neglected to read the Da Vinci Code and I myself had to admit to only knowing what "Sex in the City" was all about until several years after its debut on HBO when I was able to rent all the DVDs from Netflix and watch the smashing conclusion with Mikhail Baryshnikov, which is to say that we didn't want to see the Da Vinci Code.

I, instead, suggested that we see the third X-Men movie, having read positive reviews with intimations of a drug that had been found to cure the mutants of their weirdness. It offered the possibility of an intelligent movie that was fun at the same time: moral choices with character development and lots of computer animation.

I was game and so was my buddy. So despite the fact that I had confused the movie times with another theater, we found ourselves in front of the big screen, having missed all but one of the noisy trailers and quickly sitting down for a recap of the last two X-Men movies as Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) recruit young mutants from the sofa of their parents' living rooms. (This might be, I thought, a science fiction version of Harry Potter.)

Quick Disclosure: I am unfamiliar with the two other X-Men movies preceding this one, and score low on series trivia tests.

The movie was overall entertaining. Storm (Halle Berry) knows how to roll her eyes into her head until the pupils disappear better than anyone I know, if you go in for that sort of thing. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is hunky enough, but didn't have the real pathos of Lon Chaney's Wolf Man. (Is it wrong to ask for depth?) Mostly, as the movie ensued, I bemoaned all the lost opportunities to grapple with some tantilizing issues. For instance:

Why does Magneto flash his concentration camp tattooed numbers on his arm when some young mutant upstart insists on seeing his mark? (Forgive me if this is explained in previous episodes.) What I really want to know is how his experience has turned him into a sort of warped genius, in some ways not unlike parents who survived the Holocaust not ever discussing the pain of that experience with their offspring, but succeed in fucking them up nevertheless.

Why is the choice to take the drug and lose mutant individuality not a bigger moral question?

Only Rogue (Anna Paquin) grapples with the issue, if only for a few moments of screen time. Her special powers don't allow for physical contact with other human beings and she wants to get close, really close to the Iceman (Shawn Ashmore). But what about other more philosophical issues that could've been explored? Sure, a few of the characters proclaim, "There's nothing wrong with us," and in the end, regular hum-drum humanity gets to co-exist with the mutant population who now have a representative in the White House in the character of Hank "Beast" McCoy.

But what about examining parallels with the thousands of people in the United States who rely on mood-enhancing drugs to control their neurosis, which is not a judgment call, only a question. At what point does the quality of our lives become so terrible that we surrender ourselves to the cure or to the pill, or to an operation? The choice for HIV and AIDS patients is surely about life or death. But what about cases that are more subtle? What if someone doesn't want to be chosen by their special gift and grows tired of its demands?

Then I was confused by the internal "them" and "us" scenario -- the older more schooled X-Men who've benefitted by Professor Xavier's tutoring on how to use their gifts (don't let the power control you, something many of us learn in driving school), versus the younger tattooed and pierced hordes who team up with Magneto to kidnap and kill a bald boy who's hidden in a drug company's corporate headquarters on Alcatraz Island. His DNA is the source of this miracle drug.

As a group, Magneto's crew are a lot less sophisticated then Xavier's, who've had the benefits of a sort of ivy league education in the mansion. So what kind of comment is this upon public education as school becomes increasingly focused on passing tests and less upon critical thinking? Is our educational system producing unruly children who consider violence a viable solution?

A few other questions: Does it really take blowing up and moving the Golden Gate Bridge to Alcatraz to accomodate one of the punky mutants, the Juggernaut (Vinnie Jones), who's never learned how to swim? You'd think that an intelligent older guy like Magneto could come up with a more energy-saving solution.

Then what about the human population at large? How do they feel about the mutants merging back undetected into their ranks? Neighborhood populations always seem to be uneasy when child predators are paroled back into their communities.

And what about the nature of life once a grand mutant like Magneto, now stung with the drug's needle, is condemned to sit at a park bench, trying to stir the pieces of a chess board with his outstretched finger? How does it feel to be ordinary and to sit around remembering your old glory days?

I applauded for a moment where there's a scene with Patrick Stewart on the mansion's lawn, discussing the nature of violence. But it comes and goes too quickly.

I know. I'm too serious, and the film is based on a comic book. However, why not think graphic novel? I bemoan lost opportunities to explore provocative questions that the script raises. I refuse the notion that a sci-fi thriller can't do that. (What about 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick?)

Maybe I'm one of those mutants who expects more.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You need to write your own story.