Pharyngula

Things blowed up real good: X-Men 3

The plot:

Imagine that people have invented a “cure” for mutants, which is housed in an isolated building, guarded by swarms of soldiers armed with guns that fire hypodermic needles loaded with the cure and bombs that send clouds of cure-shrapnel flying through the air.

Now imagine that you are the cunning mastermind of an army of mutants who want to destroy that cure. You personally have vast mental powers that let you move immense pieces of architecture around like they were legos. Your army has diverse powers: they can fly, they can teleport, they can move at lightning speed, they can camouflage themselves perfectly, etc. You also have under your control the MOST POWERFUL MUTANT IN THE UNIVERSE, who can make things disintegrate by giving them a peevish look. You want to destroy the cure. What do you do?

A) Put together a strike team with complementary super-powers that allow them to penetrate the building and take out the source of the cure.

B) Use brute force. Use your powers to pick up the Golden Gate Bridge, for instance, and drop it on the building. Everything goes squish, mission accomplished.

C) Use your powers to pick up the Golden Gate Bridge, and drop it a hundred yards short of the building. Tell your mutant army to run across it and go jump on the soldiers, who are armed and showering the killing ground with nasty sharp needles that turn them into normal humans…although it’s not as if they were using their mutant powers much in the assault anyway. After your army is annihilated, petulantly and belatedly start flinging flaming cars at your enemy, while letting them run up to you. Maybe later your disintegrator mutant will zap a few people…of course, they all seem to be the ones on your side.

Guess which strategy the movie used. If you need a hint, which choice would involve the most explosions and mutant rasslin’?

The characters:

This is a movie that trots out character after character, each given about 30 seconds to demonstrate some freakish CGI, and then poof, they’re done, until they get tossed into the meat-grinder climactic battle.

Purportedly, the central character conflict revolves around the resurrected Jean Grey, who now has mega-powers and a child-like, impulsive mind. This deep inner struggle, however, is portrayed by having her stand around a lot looking blank, and every once in a while slathering on some bluish-purple veiny makeup and having her look cross. Then she disintegrates people for a while, before going blank again. Then a fellow mutant does something dramatic, and poof, the conflict is resolved in about 30 seconds.*

Forget the characters. They could have saved money if they’d just posed some of the movie’s line of action figures on the set.

The “science”:

I was concerned going into this that there’d be a lot of painful pseudoscientific gobbledygook in an attempt to explain how all this stuff worked. There was one throw-away line about how all these different powers are produced by a single X gene, and they can be blocked with an antibody, at which I boggled and was ready to shake my fist at the screen and embarrass my kids…but then the movie threw all this super-powerful magical impossible stuff at me, and a proper sense of perspective was restored. It’s all BS. You gotta go with the flow.

Final grade for the movie: D. The writers were stupid, the director was a hack, the story was trivial, and the actors were little more than armatures for CGI. Things blowed up good, though.

Oh, and there was that final few seconds after the credits. I won’t say exactly what it is, but apparently the disintegration CGI didn’t necessarily always mean the victim was disintegrated. And unfortunately, there will be an X-Men 4.

*If you want to see this kind of story done well, watch season 6 of Buffy.

Comments

  1. #1 John Wilkins
    May 27, 2006

    Curse you, Myers. Now I have to feel guilty when I take my son to see it. Didn’t anyone tell you that comics are supposed to be a step down from pulp science fiction? It’s supposed to be stupid…

  2. #2 ericnh
    May 27, 2006

    Unfortunately I’ve heard similar complaints from reviewers — long on action/effects, short on character/plot. Since character/plot was what drew me to the first two films, I wonder how much this was due to Bryan Singer being locked up to direct Superman Returns and having the director of Rush Hour take the helm.

    I’d be curious of your opinion of the first two films, PZ.

  3. but then the movie threw all this super-powerful magical impossible stuff at me, and a proper sense of perspective was restored. It’s all BS. You gotta go with the flow.

    I was wondering when you’d come around to seeing that. This ain’t a science movie. Heck, it’s barely what could be called a science-fiction movie, considering the source material. All the movie has to do is be consistent within its own world of BS. 🙂

    And besides, isn’t the bad biology in most of these superhero movies usually vastly overshadowed by the horrible physics? (let alone the bad chemistry, engineering, etc…)

  4. #4 MtMan900
    May 27, 2006

    SPOILERSSSSS

    PZ, you’re a bit wrong on the thing that happened after the credits. Disintegration DOES mean disintegration, but of the body… I hope you remember earlier in the movie when they were discussing the ethics of using their powers to put the brain of an unhealthy person into the body of a healthy vegetable. I’m pretty sure you can piece it together from there…

    Furthermore, the whole notion of stupid fighting was the best part. Also, you were bound to miss out on a lot of the jokes made for those who would get some of the pop culture (I’m the Juggernaut, bitch!).

    In any event, my peers gave it a thumbs up. At the very least it wasn’t A Teamish, where people shoot guns at each other all day, with nary a cut or scratch.

    SPOILER DONE

  5. #5 PZ Myers
    May 27, 2006

    Aaargh, I didn’t make that connection. Nurse Moira! Of course!

    OK, that was a clever twist. It doesn’t make up for the rank stupidity of the plot, though.

    And yeah, WIlkins, I know comics are supposed to have that element of dumbness to them. But still…if the writers had followed my choice A, there would have been at least some more interesting dumbness, and opportunities to showcase those neglected mutants who were used as cannon fodder.

  6. #6 cfeagans
    May 27, 2006

    Hey, its for the kids after all. I can sit through the BS for their sake.

    Now I just need to borrow someone’s kids. Maybe There’ll be some at the theater. 🙂

  7. #7 Jan Andrea
    May 27, 2006

    Playing devil’s advocate here, because I haven’t seen the movie yet, but couldn’t the single X gene be sort of a “go wild, make whatever proteins you want from the junk DNA” switch? Something that, perhaps, in normal mortals is well-supressed, but in mutants is not? Like the so-called cancer gene, you know.

    Of course, that’s the hypothesis of the chair of the Department of Things Removed from One’s sphincter, and trying to rationalize movie “science” is always an exercise in stupidity, but… well, why not?

  8. #8 rrt
    May 27, 2006

    Right on about Buffy S6, PZ. In many ways, that’s my favorite season, despite being painful to watch.

  9. #9 C.J.Colucci
    May 27, 2006

    It used to bug me when the Silver Age Green Lantern, whose power ring wouldn’t work on anything yellow, confronted a yellow-clad bad guy and didn’t just pick up a nearby brown or gray boulder and dump it on him.

  10. #10 woofsterNY
    May 27, 2006

    Argh. Everybody’s being all coy about those final seconds after the credits. Which I missed, of course. Now I’ll have to shell out another $8.75 to find out.

    You’re all in league with the movie people, right?

  11. #11 Ithika
    May 27, 2006

    Well, in spirit of not spoiling it for everyone else, woofsterNY — it turns out that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father. Can you imagine?

    Yeah, I know; I was a bit freaked out about that too.

    (For everyone who *did* see the post-credits scene: is it not a bit odd that the voice came with the character? I prefer how they did it in Face/Off. where Nic Cage and Travolta just tried to act like each other. But I won’t say any more in case the spoiler boogeyman come after me.)

  12. #12 MtMan900
    May 27, 2006

    woofsterNY

    I wrote quite enough earlier so that you can easily infer what happened. Just know it deals with someone you thought disintegrated, the vegetable body suddenly having a working brain, and a nurse who was close friends with Charles recognize immediately who it was.

  13. #13 Shan
    May 27, 2006

    I am an avid X-Men fan, but I wholeheartedly agree. The more I think about the film, the less I enjoy it. None of the characters did anything spectacular. The Phoenix, Angel, Rogue and Juggernaut were quite disappointing. Cyclops was essentially -traded off- in favour of the Phoenix, but she did nothing but obliterate people… and there was no fire enveloping her, but you could tell when she was evil by her dilated pupils and red clothes. Halle Berry is a terrible Storm, but the character was poorly written once again. Xavier’s death was truly sad.

    And as my cousin pointed out, why didn’t Wolverine give her the Cure when she said “Save me”?

    The best character was Beast, unfortunately the movie did not have enough time to show more of him.

  14. #14 Greco
    May 27, 2006

    Another major disappointment: wo got hints of the Phoenix Effect in X2, and what do you have in this movie? The full ultra-cool thing? No, a decomposing corpse make-up!

  15. #15 MtMan900
    May 27, 2006

    Well, to be fair about the Pheonix, in the comics she had come from a very different place. In this movie they had to either have Jean Grey say “Hey, Scott, remember that one time we went into space? Yeah, apparently I’m the Pheonix” or do what they did. It wouldn’t make too much sense to give her flames around her body, because there’s no reason to believe a mutant whose powers are telekenises and telepathy would have direct control over fire.

    You can’t expect this movie to hold true to the comic X-Men universe, just like you can’t expect the Batman movies to hold true to each other much less the Batman comics.

    And, like I’ve said a million times, it was time for whiny Scott Summers to go. Cyclops was my favorite as a child, but in these movie his character was annoying.

  16. #16 Ithika
    May 27, 2006

    Since it’s apparent that this thread is turning into a spoiler-fest, I thought I’d mention these little nuggets. The little kid in the white room (Johnny? Something like that) apparently nulled everyone else’s powers. So what would happen when *he* stood next to the Phoenix? And could Rogue and Bobby get raunchy together if little Johnny was in the next room separated by a very thin partition wall.

    Inquiring minds want to know. 🙂

  17. #17 Joker Cross
    May 27, 2006

    ithika said:
    (For everyone who *did* see the post-credits scene: is it not a bit odd that the voice came with the character? I prefer how they did it in Face/Off. where Nic Cage and Travolta just tried to act like each other. But I won’t say any more in case the spoiler boogeyman come after me.)

    Ah, but if it was his MENTAL voice it would be the same, yes? He is the world’s most powerful telepath after all. They didn’t show his face when he said it.

  18. #18 Shan
    May 27, 2006

    I don’t expect them to follow continuity, but with all the other liberties they were taking, I think it would’ve been okay for her to acquire the fire. Maybe Pyro could’ve tried to attack her and then she could’ve let the flames surround her as she controlled them.

    As for Jimmy a.k.a. Leech, if he had a more active role it would’ve been interesting.

  19. #19 plucky punk
    May 27, 2006

    Yeah, I too wondered why they didn’t send the mutant power nullifying kid to run up next to Jean Grey and grab onto her leg or something.

    And why does Wolverine keep trying to fight Magneto? You’d think he’d have learned his lesson in the first movie.

    Yeah, I was heavily disappointed by this movie. (Or, my low expectations were fulfilled. Ever since hearing it was directed by the same guy who did Rush Hour as opposed to the guy who did The Usual Suspects, I pretty much figured it was going to blow.) It’s kind of sad, though, because the storyline about a cure for mutants has the potential for a lot of rich allegory…especially with all these “ex-gay” people around lately. They pretty much didn’t even try to go there.

    But, what do you expect from the screenwriters who brought us XXX 2?

    I kind of do hope they make an X-men 4, with a different director and definitely different writers. Because X-men 2, in my opinion, totally rocked. I’d hate for this crappy movie to be the last of the series.

  20. #20 antid_oto
    May 27, 2006

    I’m sorry, but Season 6 suuuuuuucked. The only thing worse was Season 7.

  21. #21 Caledonian
    May 27, 2006

    The X-gene grants a certain kind of psionic ability to humans, who are unable to consciously control it and whose superpowers are determined by the particular way their bodies and minds express that ability.

    No, ultimately it doesn’t make sense in light of actual science. Duh. We don’t know how to build a hyperdrive, warp drive, or even NAFAL drive. Nor have we found alien monoliths on the Moon, nor does passing through a wormhole (in all likelihood) resemble doing a lot of bad acid.

  22. #22 Phoenician in a time of Romans
    May 28, 2006

    Damn – missed the bit after the credits too.

    I am an avid X-Men fan, but I wholeheartedly agree. The more I think about the film, the less I enjoy it. None of the characters did anything spectacular. The Phoenix, Angel, Rogue and Juggernaut were quite disappointing.

    Kitty Pryde managed to display some nous in combat (which, given a pretty naff power, she’d have to), so why the hell did the writers have someone who was, in the comics, an intelligent and spunky character with which readers to identify, turn into an insipid dishrag of a love-interest outside of all the rough stuff?

  23. #23 arc_legion
    May 28, 2006

    Agreed. X-men 2 was where it was at. Less characters, more real story.

    Spider-Man 2 was good too.

  24. #24 Jesurgislac
    May 28, 2006

    …uh. Spoilers? “Below the fold”?

  25. #25 C.J.Colucci
    May 28, 2006

    And while we’re at it, what kind of neck muscles must Scott Summers have had to keep his head from snapping back and breaking his spine each time he let out an optic blast?

  26. #26 Steviepinhead
    May 28, 2006

    I saw Last Stand last night after reading PZ’s scathing review and the bulk of the comments here. Thanks, by the way, for the tip to hang around till the end of the credits!

    Sorry, grumpy movie-goers, but–while I acknowledge that any movie of this kind can rather trivially be nit-picked to death (heck, the deck of a suspension bridge isn’t going anywhere once you’ve ripped apart the suspension cables), I thought it was awesome!

    Scott’s optics? As PZ has patiently explained, development accomodates an amazing range of variation…

    Despite the multitude of mutants and plot strands, the arc of the movie built inexorably toward the ultimate and moving confrontation between Wolverine and Jean. The huge number of mutants and their staggering range of silly powers was constrained to the colorful sideshow that it was, rather than being allowed to overshadow the main action. And, speaking of action, there was VERY LITTLE of the Pow-Kaboom school of meaningless special explosions for the first two-thirds of the movie.

    Some of ya forget to check your precondeptions at the door. Y’all need to lighten up and enjoy yourselves, ya heah! Or at least learn to figure out what kind of stuff you’re likely TO enjoy!

  27. #27 Eclogite
    May 28, 2006

    My wife and I just got back from seeing the show. We both enjoyed it and I’m a big X-Men fan. Does it follow the plot line of the comic book? No. Does it feature my favourite characters enough (Colossus and Wolverine)? No. Is it good, summertime entertainment? YES! It was a fun movie to watch and we both had a good time. It helps that I was able to drink two pints while watching. 🙂

  28. #28 Troutnut
    May 28, 2006

    I just saw it and had a lot of fun, but I am very good at suspending disbelief to enjoy fiction.

    Now, if the movie had ended with, “and this is why evolution is bad,” then we might have a problem…

  29. #29 NatureSelectedMe
    May 29, 2006

    I had the same thought about why not send the null-field kid up to Phoenix. But I think she would have disintegrated him before he ever got close enough. His powers were short range in the movie.

  30. #30 Ginger Yellow
    May 29, 2006

    I must be one of the few people who preferred the first X-Men to the second, becasue it kept things simple and stuck to the X-Men formula – mutants face persecution, a slightly but not really morally ambiguous conflict with Magneto, team uses individual powers and teamwork to overcome adversity. X2 tried to have its cake and eat it. It stuffed so many characters in that none of them had any chance to do much (remember Colossus, anyone?), while at the same time trying to move away from team-based action toward melodrama with Wolverine’s past. It all jarred horribly for me. It sounds like the third one is going to be more of the same, unfortunately.

  31. #31 David Harmon
    May 29, 2006

    I’m going to see it today, but a couple of background points:

    (1) Cyclop’s eye-blasts don’t have recoil, they’re an energy projection, possibly emitted through a “dimensional” rift. Marvel uses what they call “dimensions” — actually adjacent universes and smaller continua — to explain a lot of things. For example, a “Hell” is just a very unpleasant continuum, typically ruled by some exceedingly hostile character or species. (Anybody remember the Dire Wraiths?)

    (2) Over the years, the comics have made it clear that even the “meta-powers” such as Leech’s null-field and Rogue’s power-grab are subject to power limits, and can be suppressed or overcome by greater powers of appropriate type. So, Phoenix could telepathically suppress Leech or Rogue’s powers.

    (3) Forget continuity, they threw that out the window with the first movie — their starting team was a mix of the original (American) and “second wave” (international) teams.

  32. #32 Karey
    May 29, 2006

    The pseudoscientific explanations behind superhero stories annoy me too. The only ones I can relax enough to watch are ones with supernatural explanations, oddly. Like buffy.

    The only sciency superhero that made some sense was the Hulk, thanks to the reason being that his father kept injecting himself with various treatments, must have mutated some gametes and one if them was incorporated in the conception of his son. Works so much better than the usual being bit or irradiated and majically changing all the DNA in all your cells with the same modification. It was a relief, until later on in the movie when they ruin it all by having his father finally successfully mutate himself into having superpowers. So the one plausible explanation must have been purely accidental.

  33. #33 David Harmon
    May 30, 2006

    Well, I saw the movie. As expected, they screwed up the continuity even worse than before, but they put on a decent show, and they actually did pretty well in terms of the “unwritten rules” behind the franchise. To address some of the points of prior commenters:

    1) Lifting the Golden Gate bridge was indicated as Magneto seriously stretching his limits — thus, he needed to get to the bridge center to pull the stunt. He’s also a major show-off….

    2) He’s also very bright and totally Machiavellian. Clearly he figured there would be some sort of response to his prior exploits, and he used his ‘pawns” to probe the defenses without exposing himself.

    3) In the Marvel universe, super-teams are often drastically restricted by what powers they have available — for example, the early New Mutants didn’t have a flier, and were too young to drive. They actually had to take the bus to at least one fight!

    Iirc, in the climax, Magneto had a couple of distance attacks, a couple of bruisers (one dumb as rocks!), one high-mobility type, and a seriously unreliable demigoddess. Most of the “pawns” were presumably short-range physical types like the spikey kid and Toad, with little discipline or training. Remember, he’d already lost his metamorph, though using Maddox as a decoy was a nice touch. And while his own powers were impressive, the humans had already adapted to his specific weakness.

    In this case, the X-men were actually better off in terms of power mix: two distance attacks, two high-mobility (Storm and Kitty), and three “bruisers” (counting Beast).

    4) At the point when Jean said “save me”, she’d already disintegrated all the needles within reach. Logan did what was necessary — that’s his specialty. (And in the Marvel Universe, “power suppression” is an iffy business in general, as honored in Magneto’s final scene. Note that in X4, he’s liable to regret abandoning Mystique!)

    5) As far as terminology, remember that the word “mutant” merely means “changed”. In the Marvel universe, they’re using it for something *other* than what we think of as “genetic mutations”.

  34. #34 Sub-Evil_Boy
    June 2, 2006

    Here’s the thing, man. My review is too long for a comment, so just come see my blog and realize that your wrong PZ, your wrong. http://www.unhinderedbytalent.com/subevilboy.

  35. #35 becca
    June 3, 2006

    I did not see an answer to this question anywhere (someone did ask above), and i do not follow the comic so maybe you guys can answer this for me…(big spoiler)

    Why, when all those cure shots were flying around, did Wolverine kill phoenix instead of giving her a shot? And why yell “stop” when the armed forces shot tons of them at her (though she stopped them herself). Maybe because they knew it would just piss her off? My only guess at wolfy’s actions is he was being blown to bits and did not think of bringing a shot with him. Or I guess she’d read his mind and know he was gonna cure her so she’d blast him to bits. Either that or she would have blown up the world before it took effect. why, why, why…

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