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X-Men: The Last Stand

June 1, 2006

X-Men: The Last Stand
4 out of 5

For those of you uninitiated into the most excellent world of comic books, there are a couple of things you should know. Historically, readers have been divided along the lines of the two major publishers, DC and Marvel. DC is generally known for having the best characters (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman), while Marvel is known for having the best stories.

More specifically, the "DC Universe" consists of mostly fictional locations like Metropolis and Gotham City, while the "Marvel Universe" is rooted more firmly in actual locations like New York City.

Growing up, I was a DC fan. Not only were the actual comic book stories more entertaining for me, but there seemed to be more involvement by the characters in other forms of media.
As a child, there were the Adam West's "Batman" and Lynda Carter's "Wonder Woman" television shows. As a teenager, there were the Christopher Reeve in the Superman movies. And as an adult, there were the Tim Burton Batman movies.

But DC didn't manage their franchises very well. For example, the final Batman movie in 1997 ("Batman & Robin") saw the Dark Knight devolve from the first real reflection of the comic book detective eight years earlier into a campy caricature with nipples on his bat suit.

In a move similar to the ongoing battle between Coke and Pepsi, when the other guy (DC) blinked, Marvel took over at the box office with a string of well-received hits like "Spider-Man" and "X-Men." For the first time in history, DC struggled for media dominance.

In fact, it was only last year that an attempted comeback was started with "Batman Begins." The comeback continues later this summer with "Superman Returns;" however, Marvel is already there with the third X-Men movie, "X-Men: The Last Stand."

One reason the Marvel films have been so successful is that they remain true to their comic book origins. Indeed, "X-Men: The Last Stand" is strong in the areas for which Marvel is famous -- story and reality. Within the framework of a newly discovered "cure" for the mutant gene, which causes so many citizens to develop amazing powers, the screenwriters manage to weave elements of one of the comic book's most popular storylines, "The Dark Phoenix," as well as introduce for the first time many popular characters.

Class 5 mutant Jean Grey, who apparently died at the end of "X2: X-Men United," is resurrected here. But we learn that she has a split personality and it is the evil side that is now in control. This Jean Grey is extremely angry and powerful. She thinks nothing of killing long-time friends and allies and doesn't hesitate in joining arch-villain Magneto when he rallies mutants in a deadly campaign to destroy the "cure."

It's a classic dilemma ripe with conflict and heartbreak, and it's handled here in a fairly compelling and competent manner.

But here's where controversy arises. Director Brett Ratner was brought in for the project barely a year ago as third choice for the job. There were promotional posters for this movie before principal photography had even begun.

For me, it's backward to set a release date for a movie before it is even made. It means that you're committed to delivering something on a specific date, with barely a year to prepare it, and you have no idea how good that product will be. For that reason alone, it's quite an achievement that "X-Men: The Last Stand" is as good as it is.

Always an allegory for oppressed minorities, both the X-Men comics and movies have done an excellent job of causing audiences to relate. Directed by Bryan Singer, the first two X-Men movies were heavy on this aspect, lighter on the action.

In "X-Men: The Last Stand," the opposite is true. Fans were in an uproar when Ratner was hired, and it's easy to see why. He makes action the focus. But I liked it.

You can't continue to make the same movie every time. And the character relationships are not completely lost. When you take a breath afterwards, you realize that while not as much screen time was spent on them, they are still what drive the movie.

Plus, it makes "X-Men: The Last Stand" a lot of fun. Yes, it's a very dark and angry movie, but the action sequences are incredible. As a comic geek, it's cool to see your favorite mutants come to life with their unique powers. And as a non-comic geek, it's still cool to see someone who can walk through walls or generate protective armor around his body.

In the final battle, we see things that-- even in this day and age-- we never thought possible. There's no need to leave anything to the imagination when computer generated special effects are your cinematic tools.

A final irony here is that Bryan Singer, the man who began this successful film franchise, left "X-Men: The Last Stand," a Marvel Comics property, to direct rival company DC Comics's "Superman Returns," which opens five weeks later.

The original director for that movie was Brett Ratner. Who will prove to be the most popular: Ratner or Singer, X-Men or Superman, or Marvel or DC?

It's a battle made for the comic books, and right now I'd say the standards have been set pretty high. Superman sure has his work cut out for him.

  • Jeff Owens is co-owner of Couch Potato Video in De Soto and an avowed movie buff.

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