Sunday, May 28, 2006

The all new, mostly dead X-Men

So we saw the new X-MEN movie, X-MEN III: EVERYBODY ACTS LIKE A RETARD, today. And, geez, folks, if that doesn't tell you there are going to be spoilers in this entry, I can't see how me putting a big SPOILER ALERT!!! in bold letters is going to help you much, either.

This movie was, for the most part, a great many interesting visuals, edited together to create a narrative of such hyperkinetic velocity that (I assume the entire 'creative' team fervently hoped) no one in the audience would have a chance to think about anything presented to them from opening to closing.

I judge whether a movie is good or not based on a few criteria. The primary one is the characterization -- is it interesting, is it internally consistent, is it credible, is it three dimensional, is it fun to watch.

Then there's other stuff, like, you know, does the plot make sense, is there memorable dialogue, does the director know how to develop and release tension and/or create evocative visual atmosphere, does the movie manage to surprise me... if it's historical drama, is it, to the best of my knowledge, historically accurate... that sort of stuff.

You don't have to hit everything. STAR TREK II has plot holes large enough to fly a Romulan bird of prey through, but the characterization more than makes up for that to me. TIME AFTER TIME works similarly. On the other hand, movies like MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON and THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY have reasonably flat characterizations, but the period detail in both is beautifully precise and the atmosphere is so dense you can nearly squeeze it in your hand like sponge rubber. I like that.

With this movie, honestly, there's very little going on that's worth talking about besides the visuals. Unusual looking people leap around impressively. Objects, many of them of truly ludicrous size, levitate. Bulky things, some of them with arms and legs attached, get flung through walls with mad abandon. Razor sharp claws hack dozens of humanoids into bite sized chunks, in an utter absence of gore or other visible viscera. Rebecca Romijn gets naked. The basic laws of physics as we understand them get ignored in favor of cool CGI effects roughly seventeen times a second. It's all very much like THE MATRIX movies, except, you know, with fewer trenchcoats, and no Keaneau.

If one were inclined to do it (and generally, I am) one could find something to carp about in any random five minute sequence of the film. (Here come the spoilers.) Why does Jean evaporate Cyclops? She doesn't hate him. Even her wild, crazy alter ego, which calls itself the Phoenix, so long suppressed by that dastard Charles Xavier, has no reason to dislike ol' Scott. I mean, she evaporates quite a few other people in the movie, but all of them are trying to do mean things to her at the time, so it's understandable. Why disintegrate the guy whose raging optic beams just precipitated her resurrection from the depths of Alkali Flats Lake? It makes no sense. But in that regard, it hardly feels like the Lone Ranger.

Why do the authorities imprison Mystique, and a bunch of other powerful mutants, in a mobile prison specifically to thwart rescue attempts by Magneto, and then foolishly construct the entire mobile prison, as well as all of its heavily armed escort vehicles, out of metal? It's not like they don't know the dealio when you're messing with the Master of Magnetism, after all -- in the first two movies, they built an entire prison out of plastic just to hold him, and in this one, they re-arm the entire United States Armed Services with plastic weaponry just so they can fight him. All of this, of course, is after they stick Mystique in a great big metal box, just so Magneto can show up and break her out.

For that matter, given that the authorities now have a serum that cures mutation, and they've captured a bunch of inarguably evil mutants, why lock these bad hats up in a special mobile prison when you can just inject them with some neutralizing shit and then put them in Riker's instead?

It's all very well for Madrox the Multiple Man to pretend to be a big mob of mutants to lure the Feds out into the woods, while Magneto and his actual mutant mob go elsewhere and do otherwise. But I'm thinking Madrox didn't exactly think things through when Magneto outlined the plan. Sure, the heavily armed troops with their mutant suppressing dart guns surround him instead of the Magneto mob, and that's all good... but then what? The last thing we see of Madrox, he's raising his hands over his head and saying, with a big grin on his face, "Okay, you got me". We don't see what happens half a second later, as he suddenly sprouts more injector-darts than a porcupine has quills, and probably dies of toxic shock syndrome half a second later.

And then there's the scene where the Prof and Magneto track the newly resurrected, wildly out of control Jean Grey down at her parents' house. Chuck tries to slap some mind control on her to get her back on the reservation, and she vaporizes him, and Magneto is upset by that, and, you know, he's wearing a helmet that keeps her from reading his mind, and she's all tired and freaked out over what she did, and what does he do? Well, he doesn't frickin' kill her, which is the only reasonable response to all the insane whacked out completely out of control scary ass psycho shit she's been doing, and will no doubt continue to do whenever she takes it into her head to start up with it again. No, instead, he decides to take her along in his mutant mob, and mess with her head to try and get her under his control, pretty much like the Professor did, without having any actual mind control powers himself. Yeah. There's a brilliant idea. No way that one can go bad on you, Erik, you master schemer, you. I mean, you saw how well that worked out for your old buddy Charles, right?

And why are Magneto's mutants all camping out in the fucking forest primeval, anyway? Doesn't he still have his cool underground headquarters? Well, we know he does, because he's in it with Juggernaut and Jean Grey and Pyro like five seconds before we see everyone hooting and yowling out in the woods. And where did they get all those tents? And how did they get out there, anyway, from, you know, Gotham City, or wherever it was he found them in that weird theater? And why would they even go, anyway? Most city folks don't want to go hang out in the woods; there's like, bears out there.

There's a lot more nonsense I could harp on, but instead, I'll just fast forward to the end, where Jean Grey is going nuts and disintegrating everyone within ten miles of her. Wolverine says "I'm the only one who can stop her!" and orders the rest of the X-Men to get the fuck out of Dodge, which is insane, because I don't care how fast you heal, when the most powerful mutant in the universe is vaporizing you on a molecular level, you just die, and Storm could hit her with lightning from five miles away, besides.

But somehow, Logan manages to get close to her, despite her doing her best to disintegrate his basic atomic structure with every step he takes, and they have this little bit of wonderfully touching dialogue, and Jean resurfaces long enough to beg Logan to kill her before she hurts anyone else, so he buries his claws in her chest. And then drops to his knees and takes her in his arms and raises his head and howls his grief to the heavens, just like in that one issue of the ZOT! Earth Stories.

But here's the thing about that -- there are thousands of mutant suppressing injector darts lying around. Wolverine's crew just managed to take out Magneto using a bunch of them, so it's not like no one's considered this strategy recently, and for the love of God, they actually LIKE Jean Grey... so why kill her? If we assume Logan can somehow get close enough to stab her with his claws, why not just stab her with a frickin' dart instead?

Leaving aside all this, though... well, it just wasn't a very good movie. But, on the other hand, it did raise an interesting issue, namely -- do people have some kind of 'right' to have superpowers? Or, to put it another way, if there really were mutants, and they really did have these kind of powers, would the government have the right to take them away, if it could?

Obviously, we're meant to come down on the side of the mutants. After all, they're all really cool, and this is a superhero reality, where the bad mutants will always be held in check by the good mutants (although if this movie is any indication, on occasion the bad mutants will do a cataclysmic amount of damage and kill a great many normal humans before the good mutants manage to show up and kick their ass). But fearing and hating mutants in the Marvel Universe is not the equivalent of real world racism -- normal people have valid reasons to fear and hate mutants. I won't even use any evil mutants as examples of this, instead, I'll use two of our heroes.

Scott Summers is only an eighth of an inch of ruby quartz at any given time away from mass slaughter. Sure, he doesn't want to do it, hates his powers, and yearns more than anything to be a normal human being, but that doesn't keep him from walking around in crowded environments (like on field trips to museums with the students) wearing nothing to restrain his optic blasts but a pair of sunglasses. If he trips, if he walks into something, if someone bumps him, and any of that results in those glasses coming off, a great many people could very well die. Should Scott Summers be dosed with mutant suppressing serum, even if he doesn't want to be? Oh my jesus yes.

Then there's Storm, the mutant who can screw with the weather over the entire Eastern seaboard just by getting into a pissy mood. I mean, there's a scene at the start of this movie where she's feeling sorry for herself out on the veranda and it looks like a hurricane is starting to form in the sky above her. In X-MEN II, she fought off two fighter jets by, basically, creating a couple of colossal wind vortexes in the air that certainly had to shift weather fronts for thousands of miles around her, abruptly and unpredictably. This is pretty serious shit, with very serious consequences for millions of people... people with farms, people in airplanes, people on ships, people living in coastal areas or flood zones, people without storm cellars because they live in an area that doesn't normally experience violent winds of this nature. Should Storm be walking around with that kind of power and apparently without the personal resources to keep it adequately in check? I say thee nay, True Believer. I've got a mutant suppressing dart with Ororo's name on it right here in my bandolier.

And these are the good guys. Mystique is kicking Federal agent ass from here to Hoboken and back again in a jail cell while she's handcuffed. Magneto is stealing the Golden Gate Bridge and throwing around cars with people in them, while Pyro sets them on fire.

Now, sure, there are mutants whose superhuman abilities aren't so insanely powerful, or so wildly out of control. There's no need to take Warren Worthington's wings away from him if he wants to keep them; yeah, he can use his ability to fly for criminal purposes, but he's not bulletproof. But should the government have the ability to pre-emptively remove superhuman powers if those powers present a clear and present danger to the safety of normal humans around them? That's a big "HELL yeah" from me, at least.


  1. What makes you think the government isn't already doing this?

    I won't go into my paranoid rant, but I don't know what is scarier: Mutants who can do me harm, or the government deciding which people get to live (and don't kid yourself, it would be a death sentence for any "undesirable") based on what they are capable of doing.

    It's the phrase "what they are capable of doing" that scares me. Perhaps it's the libertarian in me or perhaps it is genetic (I could join the DAR if I wanted to, but that's another rant for another day about judging people by their ancestors), I can see it starting with mutants with powers and ending with people who are too intelligent.

    Think this is crazy? Just look at what the Patriot Act did.

  2. Julia,

    I don't think your hypothesis is crazy at all. What I do think, however, is that anything anyone posts on the Internet has hostile eyes reading it. Which is why I didn't publish the paragraph I originally had in the movie review, about the chilling resemblance between what Professor X did to Jean to control her (deliberately fragmenting her personality to create a more malleable 'alter' that he could program to suit himself) and certain highly classified government programs I've been reading about recently on various 'woo woo' websites.

    I doubt the writers of the movie have much knowledge of such programs... but who knows? Maybe the whole bit was a coded message to those in the know.

    It's much more fun to talk about these things in a fantasy context, though.

  3. Sometimes, the only safe way to talk about these things is in a fantasy context.

  4. Much of it was excusable in the Matrix films since that was a sort of cyber-magic where the properties of matter and rules of physics were reduced to V.R. coding. Here... it's a mix of lack of thought and catering to narrow censor requirements.

    I didn't lean on the seeming death of Scott largely because it didn't make sense that she'd incinerate him, and as we were left with only his goggles it struck me as more likely that she came to come compromise and put him away somewhere. Aside from the Professor, and in a significantly different way, Scott was the greatest danger to the Phoenix personality as he was the strongest validation of an adult, responsible, self-controlled and restrained Jean Grey. Phoenix would definitely want him G O N E, so it's really just a matter of whether one believes the repressed personality was so ascendant at the moment as to burn him up in a moment of lustful passion or if Jean would have been able to stop it and save him somehow. The Phoenix would have an excellent reason for doing it, knowing that not only would one danger be gone but Jean would blame herself and would be more inclined to give up, unwilling to face a reality beyond redemption.

    The issue of people having a right to innate superpowers was one of the things I had hopes (scant, but there) might be examined, but they left themselves little to no time for it. The audience was left to react on an emotional level and that was all.

    I can't go for the big "Hell yeah!" to pre-emptive depowering, though I could definitely see requiring registration just as one does for concealed weapons, and having the "cure" be part of a criminal penalty.


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