X-Men: The Last Stand – A Movie Review

So the fanboys and the critics have been telling me that X-Men: The Last Stand is awful, yet the movie going audience has been flocking to this baby.  Like the responsible movie fan I am, I had to see for myself.  Read on for my spoilerific review of X-Men: The Last Stand… 

I have to tell you, when Bryan Singer, the director of the first two X-Films, left to direct Superman Returns, I was a little concerned about the fate of our favorite mutants.  I don’t have any antagonistic feelings toward the replacement director, Brett Ratner, like so many people seemingly do, but I believed the quality would drop just a hair because Singer was so loyal to the source material. 

Ratner, on the other hand, is loyal to making a summer blockbuster.

What I mean by that is that X3 is an entertaining, fast-paced, short, action-filled thrill ride.  What it is not is an in-depth story with well-rounded characters.  In fact, Ratner seemed to feel quite comfortable with breaking routine X-Convention, especially any foundation the first two films laid.

That is part of what made this film so fun, but also part of what made it so frustrating.  Let’s just get a big spoiler out of the way:  Ratner kills off some major, major characters in X3.  So many big characters that an X4 seems pretty unlikely.  The heart of the X-Men are gone, and they were gone pretty early into the film.  That being said, I knew then and there that all bets were off and no one was off-limits.  That certainly increased the tension and suspense for my movie going experience.

But, the deaths of the characters were so out of place, so out of character, they truly seemed forced and rushed.  And that is my ultimate summation of X3-forced and rushed.  It had great moments, some were actually genius, but overall the film had many, many holes.  The sheer number of heroes and villains required four hours of story to avoid any shortcomings, and as the film lasted only an hour and forty-five minutes, well, you can imagine how crammed things got.

However, what worked, and worked wonderfully, were the special effects.  If you want to see these mutants using their powers in all the glory of your wildest imaginings, you will not be disappointed in X3.  It truly felt like a comic book come to life.  You get to see the powers of Iceman, Beast, Phoenix, Colossus, Shadowcat, Pyro, Magneto, and Juggernaut in their full glory, just the way you want to see them.  The only problem is you just don’t get to see enough of them.

Would I recommend this film?  You bet I would.  The spectacle and special effects alone are worth it.  The acting of Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Kelsey Grammar, and Patrick Stewart are top-notch for those moments where they’re actually allowed to act.

I think if you are a hardcore X-Fan you will be very disappointed with the directions they took with some of the characters in X3, but if you look at it as just another summer action movie, you’ll be more than entertained.

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Superman Returns – A Movie Review

*minor spoiler warning*

Let’s get something straight: Superman is, by nature of his super powers, always in danger of being utterly boring.  Everyone likes Superman, but few people think he’s terribly interesting.  Let’s face it, how much suspense can a Superman story have when the guy can lift mountains and get shot in the eye with bullets and be fine?  So, if you’re going to jumpstart a Superman movie franchise, you’d better bring something different to the table.

And Bryan Singer, the director of Superman Returns, has done just that.

You all know the premise of the story for Superman Returns.  It takes place five years after the events of Superman I and II from the late seventies and early eighties (but pretend those movies only happened five years ago).  Superman III and IV have been erased from existence.  

Superman left Earth five years ago and has returned to a world that has moved on without him.  The love of his life, Lois Lane, is engaged and has a small child.  In fact, she has won a Pulitzer for writing an article about just how little Superman matters.  Of course, the heart of this story deals with Superman trying to adapt to the changes that have occurred with the woman he loves.  Does he respect her new life, or does he try to win her back?  This is truly a fight that Superman’s powers will not give him an advantage with.

Now, does that mean that Superman Returns is just a sappy love story?  Not at all.  There is action to spare in this film, and finally, finally, technology has caught up to what we all want to see from Superman.  You will believe a man can fly.  You will be cheering from your seat.

I thought our newest Superman, Brandon Routh, did just fine.  Yes, Singer is paying homage to Superman I and II, but I didn’t see Routh as simply imitating the iconic Christopher Reeve.  There were consistencies with the character of Clark Kent and Superman between the two actors, and I think that is done to satisfy the audience who enjoyed the previous films.  But let’s understand something: Superman is a big, dark-haired, blue-eyed, square-jawed guy.  Of course Routh and Reeve are going to look similar!  They both played Superman!  Their both big, dark-haired, square-jawed guys!

Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor was great.  He harnessed the comedic timing of Gene Hackman from Superman I and II, but he also brought some real danger to the character.  At times I laughed hysterically at Spacey, and at other times he gave me nervous chills, and I had no problem with that.

Kate Bosworth was not given a fair shake as Lois Lane.  With the small possibility of spoiling a small part of the film, Lois sucks as a mother.  Seriously, she’s got to be the worst mother of all time.  My wife and I both walked out of that film saying, “Wow, they really painted Lois Lane in a poor light, didn’t they?”  I think Bosworth is a decent enough actress, she just didn’t have a great depiction of character to work with. 

I took slight issue with a major component of the film that presents itself near the end, and I won’t spoil it, but it certainly rubbed me a bit wrong.  However, I understand this is a Superman for 2006 and they are desperately trying to make him a character in need of emotional resolution, so I’m not going to make a big stink of it.  I’d rather have a Superman with change I don’t care for than the same old stereotypical Superman that everyone would get tired of after a few movies. 

There were also many, many plot holes, but as my old Shakespeare professor use to say, “We must employ the suspension of disbelief.”  In other words, don’t think about things too hard, just enjoy the show!

I’ll tell you this, the music made the film magical.  The intro was just like the intro to Superman I and II, and that was a perfect touch.  I literally had goose bumps as that wonderful John Williams’ theme song started up with some updating by composer John Ottman.   

In other words, for me, this movie worked, despite some early concerns.  The special effects were magnificent, the costume and the small “s” shield were just fine, the acting was more than adequate, and the movie had real heart, especially because it embraced the Superman movies that came before it. 

It definitely lived up to my expectations and then some.

Goodbye Superman Returns

Over at Newsarama, they’re reporting that Warner Brothers has opted to reboot the Superman franchise, following the lead of dismissing Ang Lee’s Hulk with last summer’s The Incredible Hulk.  This means an all new, fresh start, also such as what they did with Batman Begins (which, I’m sure, had little influence on this unexpected decision).

Personally, I’m all for it.  Bryan Singer is a superb director, but I’m not sure he, nor the script, understood the essence of Superman.  Now, I want you to know, I’m no die-hard Superman fan, but even I have some basic needs that must be satisfied when dealing with the Man of Steel.

Superman needs to be courageous, noble, charismatic, and respectable.  Superman Returns gave us a Superman that was a stalker, an illegitimate father, and a deadbeat dad with an unhealthy messiah complex.  Furthermore, Superman Returns basically offered the same real-estate plot as the original Superman when it came to his foe, Lex Luthor.

I loved the Christopher Reeve and Richard Donner Superman – loved it! – and it will forever have a soft spot in my heart, but its time is over.  We still have it on DVD; let’s begin anew with our cinematic Superman mythos.

The Superman reboot should NOT rehash his origin – we all know it.  Let’s pound straight into the action.  Let’s have Superman with a worthy opponent such as Brainiac, Mongul, Metallo, or, what the heck, how about the daddy of all baddies: Darkseid.  Please, please, please don’t fall into the cliche of the “opposite hero” such as Bizarro and if Lex Luthor must be present, let it only be peripherally such as on advertisements and in headlines.  Save his actual appearance for a later movie; make him something we dread.  In other words, build him up as the ultimate villain and not a rabid real-estate developer.

Along with big action and giving something super for Superman to do, give us a love story where he and Lois Lane actually seem to like each other.  Half his appeal is the love of an equally super woman.  I don’t care if she knows Clark Kent is Superman or not (it seems kind of insulting in this day and age that an award-winning journalist couldn’t put that little ditty together), the dynamic could work either way.  Just have them actually be in love for this old romantic. 

Superman is the best of our fictional super heroes – he is the beacon of light in the sea of despair.  He is the one who never gives up on his morals, his belief system, who always strives to do the right thing.  Please don’t darken him and make him “grim and gritty.”  What works for Batman does not, and never has, worked for Superman.

Finally, sorry Brandon Routh, but in my opinion, you just don’t have the spark in your eyes necessary to play the Man of Tomorrow.  When we look at Superman, we should see confidence, strength, intelligence, and ironically enough, humanity.  I’m afraid Routh never looked comfortable in the role.  Reeve had those things.  Finding another actor to so perfectly fill those red boots will be difficult, to be sure.

I’m excited about the reboot.  I’m excited to see a fresh approach to Superman that isn’t tied down to past continuity.  Again, I loved the old Reeve movies, but it’s time to do something different.

Just remember, the “S” on the chest isn’t what makes Superman so super, it’s all those things he is that each of us admires and aspires to become.

The Psychology of Superman

Superman is a conundrum for me.  What I love about his character is also what I hate about his character.  When I look at him, I see an icon of truth and justice.  I see a symbol of fair play and selflessness.  I know that in his world, in his stories, he will never turn his back on the innocent; he will forever strive to save you, me, and the world.

And, because he’s Superman, he will prove victorious.

Which is also why I hate him.  From a characterization standpoint, what can you do with him?  The man is invulnerable.  He is among the most powerful entities on Earth and in most of the universe (depending).  And, beyond the anatomical augmentations, he is also a good man with a good heart who always wants to do the right thing.

So, in small doses, Superman is a joy!  He is everything the ideological hero-worshipper in me wants.  However, in long doses, as in any serialized format, Superman quickly becomes boring.  He feels stale because there is no real sense of danger surrounding his physical adventures, and, for the most part, his character is squeaky clean, thus reducing the potential for nonviolent interpersonal or psychological conflict.

As I said, what I like about him is also what I hate about him.  For example, when they tried to give him a little edge in Superman Returns, it just felt wrong.  I had a horrendous time accepting Superman as an illegitimate father and, furthermore, a deadbeat dad.

But, I believe they were sort of on the right track with that.  Since we cannot relate to Superman on a physiological level, we could potentially relate to him on a psychological one.  For example, we can all relate to notions of guilt.  However, most of us have strong opinions on absentee parenting, and so they went wrong with that particular plotline involving Superman’s guilt over his son.

However, I like the idea of Superman struggling with inner conflict.  I absolutely do not want to see him as a brooding avenger driven by overwhelming guilt—that is not who he is.  I have to admit though, when I (over)think about what it would be like to be Superman, the first idea I have is, “How would I sleep at night?”

I mean, how could I get in my solid eight hours of snooze knowing that somewhere out there someone needed saving?  For a man who can traverse the planet in mere heartbeats, he must realize he is constantly needed as a savior.  I would love to see a storyline fleshing out this dilemma.  I think it would be fascinating to experience Superman rationalizing time spent outside of the Superman identity.  Somehow I have a hard time envisioning Superman saying, “Sorry peeps, I needs some me time.”

After all, it’s difficult to imagine how can he hang with the JLA and JSA at Thanksgiving, gobbling up turkey, when a village burns hundreds of miles away with people suffering.

How can he justify staring at a table of photographs debating the merits of potential team members when a wildfire threatens the longevity of an entire civilization?

That is the hardship when thinking too deeply about Superman, because you then begin feeling resentment towards him when he’s having coffee with Lois or working on a news story for Perry.  Suddenly, when I think of my niece in danger, and I can’t get to her in time, and Superman is working on a story about possible political corruption, I can’t help but get angry with him.  Keep the tights on, dude!  We need you 24/7!  We have Brian Williams for what you’re doing at the Daily Planet!

Alas, I realize this is a fictional character and I am utterly overanalyzing him, but these are the sorts of issues that would interest me.  Of course, I’m not sure how many people want to read a comic book with panel after panel of Superman contemplating his obligations to the world, or watch a movie showing nothing but rescue after rescue after rescue.  Most of us want Superman fighting giant monkeys or aliens from outer space, or maybe even other super heroes.  Something dynamic and catchy.  But we also want a little bit of Clark Kent pretending to be just like us.  That way we can sort of relate to him.  But don’t give us too much of that.  Just a little bit.  Otherwise we’d just be reading a comic book or watching a television show about ourselves.

So, for me, that is the ongoing saga of my love/hate relationship with Superman.  Everything I love about him is exactly what makes him so boring.

(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)