X-Men: The Last Stand — Subtext-Men?

X-Men: The Last Stand has some lovely images of British Columbia scenery and Vancouver architecture. But, um, I just don’t get the buzz off of it that I got off of the first two movies. Not at all.

Is it just me, or does anyone else get the feeling that these actors are trapped in a franchise that has jumped the shark, etc., etc.?

I mean, think about it. In 2000, when the first movie came out, Halle Berry was just another pretty face, and Hugh Jackman was a complete unknown, and Ian McKellen was little more than a successful stage actor who had gotten some good press for a flashy Shakespeare movie (1995’s Richard III) and an Oscar nomination for a decent little arthouse movie (1998’s Gods & Monsters).

But then, in 2003, whoa! Halle Berry had actually won an Oscar, for Monster’s Ball (2001)! McKellen was internationally famous as Gandalf and still had one more Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) film to go! And the first film had made Jackman a star — though if none of his other films since then had been huge hits, well, the second X-Men gave him a chance to prove that he still had what it took. Y’know, kinda like how Harrison Ford had to play Han Solo twice before his own star rose as a leading man in his own right.

The first film was a career boost. The second film struck while the iron was hot, hot, hot! But this third film…?

McKellen doesn’t really need films like this any more. Berry, after the embarrassment that was Catwoman (2004), might need to prove she isn’t box-office poison. And Jackman … well, isn’t it about time Han Solo became Indiana Jones? And I don’t think the rumoured Wolverine spin-off movie is quite the ticket.

I had sensed this “franchise fatigue” some time ago, in the trailers and in reports from the set — and in the fact that director Bryan Singer quit the series to make Superman Returns. But seeing the third X-Men movie itself just confirms the point — especially the way it kills (or permanently alters, same diff) a rather high number of characters from the first two movies. When their death scenes came, I didn’t so much mourn what might have been as I hoped the actors enjoyed their freedom to go and do other things.

Important side note: Stay to the very end of the closing credits.

And never forget that producer Ralph Winter got his start on Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), which was all about undoing the biggest plot developments of the previous movie.

Anyway, while the new movie isn’t very good, it is still interesting to examine the film for any possible real-life political subtexts.

One of the recurring themes in this film is the question of whether mutants ought to be “cured”. Ian McKellen and others have said that this touches on the debate over whether gay people ought to be “cured” of their homosexuality. But it occurs to me that a better analogy might be the deaf community, rather than the gay community. Deafness is an objective fact, like mutancy, in a way that homosexuality isn’t. Whether a person is gay or not does depend, to some degree, on whether they self-identify as gay; but a person’s deafness can be objectively measured. And some deaf people are profoundly protective of the special culture that they have (according to Wikipedia’s current entry on Deaf culture, “culturally Deaf people do not look on deafness as a disability”), to the point of not wanting their children to be able to hear.

The one thing that makes this film seem like more of a Gay story than a Deaf story is the fact that not one of these mutants appears to have any children. Instead, they are all children themselves, or they are single adults, and while some of them have lovers, none of them have families. It would be very interesting to see how these mutants would react if they were to have children of their own, and their own children turned out to be non-mutants. (Cf. the status of “squibs” among magical folk in Harry Potter‘s world.)

But beyond the Gay and Deaf analogies, there is also a scene where one of the main characters, who is tired of the drawbacks of being a mutant, joins a line-up outside a clinic where mutants can be “cured” of their illness. Across the street are a bunch of mutant protestors who yell that they are not sick and do not need a “cure”. The most obvious real-world parallel to this, I think, would be the protestors who stand outside abortion clinics. But wait a minute … in our media culture, the right to choose abortion is generally considered a good thing, so if that is the parallel here, then the right to choose a “cure” for mutancy would also be a good thing. At any rate, it is hard to sympathize with the protestors. So, hmmm, now the “cure” theme is beginning to look a little more complex.

Oh, and is it just me, or does Kelsey Grammer’s voice — he plays the Blue Beast — remind anyone else of Robert Foxworth?

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  • Peter, I have the Joss Whedon-scripted graphic novel “Gifted” if you want to take a look. I don’t know if the story has any connection to the script of X-film #3, but it also concerns a “cure” for the mutant condition. It makes the comparison with homosexuality explicit.

    I’m sorry to hear the movie doesn’t measure up to the first too….we’ll probably save it for a rainy day excursion while we’re on vacation…

  • ” especially the way it kills (or permanently alters, same diff) a rather high number of characters from the first two movies.”

    Pete…I haven’t seen it yet. It opens to day so noone but you probably has. I don’t want to seem cranky but jeez –
    I don’t want to know until I see it. I’ve kept away from it on purpose and I trust you to give spoiler alerts to save people like me from learning stuff like this that I didn’t want to know about movies like this one until I see the movie TONIGHT like I”ve been waiting to do for months now.

    SPOILER ALERTs for Gods sake!

  • Good review … I’ll be going to see this Saturday, but am worried it will suck

  • matdonna wrote:
    Peter, I have the Joss Whedon-scripted graphic novel “Gifted” if you want to take a look. I don’t know if the story has any connection to the script of X-film #3, but it also concerns a “cure” for the mutant condition.

    Thanks, I’d love to read it. A friend of mine told me about it, and I believe Whedon was involved in one of the earlier drafts of the X-Men 3 script, so the similarity between the storylines may not be all that coincidental.

    Geosomin wrote:
    SPOILER ALERTs for Gods sake!

    Sorry ’bout that. At one point I thought about making a reference to Scary Movie 3 and the one character’s reference there to the fact that “all bets are off” in the third part of a trilogy; perhaps that would have been subtler. But anyway, suffice to say that if only one character had died or been permanently altered — or if the deaths and permanent alterations had all been bunched up at the end of the movie — I probably would have kept my lips shut.

    FWIW, I had written this a few days ago and waited to post it until today; and when I checked Rotten Tomatoes this morning, I found this quote from L.A. Weekly‘s Scott Foundas: “This third screen outing for Marvel Comics’ signature band of genetically enhanced superheroes is by far the daftest of the lot, and the one in which the stars’ contractual fatigue is evident in the number of major characters who meet their demise before the first couple of reels are up.” So I guess I figured it was safe to mention that here, too.

  • RC

    interesting thoughts…you’re right that jackman needs to do something more than a wolverine spinoff…

    my goodness.

    –RC of strangeculture.blogspot.com

  • I had read that Bryan Singer did not “quit” the X-Men series to make Superman; rather, he got an opportunity to do Superman, and wanted to come back and do X-Men 3 afterwards. Although I liked X-Men 3, I wish he had been given that chance.