Monthly Archives: May 2006

X-Men: The Last Stand

So a few years ago, they made an X-Men movie. Despite having played an X-Men video game for the NES in the 80s, I really knew nothing about them except that Nightcrawler was fun to play in that game and Wolverine was supposed to be pretty cool. Comics and me have never really gotten along to the extent that I would expect them to, considering how much I enjoy the movies and games and other trappings of the comic book industry, not to mention how much I enjoy, y’know, books and television. So, there I am, with no expectations. And the movie met or exceeded them. It was fine for what it was, but nothing crazy exciting or groundbreaking. Then they made another one, and man, it was really good. Meaningful character interactions, tough choices with tough consequences, that storytelling meme where the guy that you used to dislike turns out to be really stand-up and helpful when compared against the new opponent that hates all of the characters equally, so the established people have to put aside their petty squabbles and face the new thing together. That’s an idea that has rarely failed to wow me.

And now, the trilogy has been completed. X3 is kind of a weird movie to me. I mean, not the plot. The plot was fine, with its paired external struggles of mutants against government and mutants against mutants and internal struggles between certain sets of key characters, its allegorical hearkening back to the original film, and its pyrotechnics and combat by virtue of leaping through a lot of air at your opponents. So, that was all fine. (Okay, I’m lying about the leaping through the air thing. It didn’t take very many such leaps to start looking really dumb. But, whatever.)

No, X3 is weird to me in that it has so many successes and so many failures. On the one hand, you’ve got the subtle brilliance in the contrasting character development between Magneto and Wolverine, even including an ironic mention of it in conversation between them. But on the other, you’ve got reference to the comicbook love triangle between Rogue, Iceman and Kitty Pryde that goes absolutely nowhere despite ample screen time to make some kind of point. Mix that in with a choppy editing job early on, and I’m forced to conclude that although the spectacle of it was almost total greatness and although the story from all three movies was wrapped up cleanly by the conclusion of this one, it nevertheless falls well below the bar set by X2. Still, though, far better than the original. After all, unlike that (and unlike a lot of first entry comicbook movies, really), it had a plot with deeper complexity than good guys versus bad guys.

A Storm of Swords

And so, my third and final reread of the recent era, A Storm of Swords. As previously, I read this over a little too broad of a time- and bookspan to really dig deep into it, but over a lesser span than before, so I’ll see what I can do.

Certainly, as the name implies, it was a bloodier and more dire book than its predecessors. The scattered hints of doom have coalesced into a thing that, though still rarely seen, is now believably dire enough to plunge the entire world into shadow; if only there were enough people who knew it was coming to stop with all the other stuff and, y’know, fix it. For the most part, though, it felt like a plot-driven book with just a few good character studies again. I don’t mind that, really, as I am really enjoying the chock-full-of-politicky-goodness plot. But it’s light on theme, and the book reviewer in me has little to catch hold of. As it is, though, the people to watch for are Jaime Lannister, Brienne of Tarth, and Stannis Baratheon, and in that order. There’s a lot going on there. I could name plenty of other people I liked, but for character growth, there’s your fun. (Prediction: the next one is going to be Sansa’s book.)

I have a feeling that my review of my first time reading of A Feast for Crows is going to suffer from this timespan thing. Hrmm. I might have to cheat and read ahead as I go, much as I hate the idea of it. Unclear. Maybe I’ll take notes? Hard, when I always wait for a whole picture to start coalescing my thoughts. Problematic, this.


A thing that qualifies as unlikely: I’ve never read Dune before. Unlikely, yes, but all true. I expect I would have gotten around to it, but was reminded prematurely by this girl who inspired me to pick it up because it’s one of her favorites. In a more optimal world, having read it would in some way that I’m failing to imagine inspire her to become suddenly interested in me as date material. Because of a defect in my brain that allows me to conceive of that kind of world, I now have read the book, and therefore, I will talk about it.

In a trend that fits more well with the actual world, I’m left a little bit mystified by the whole experience. I pretty well understand what happened, and now want to go back and watch the movie and see if it makes more sense. Except for the part where I don’t actually understand what happened at all. The discrete events made perfect sense, yes, but I’m really unclear on what it means to have gotten to the end of the story. It feels like there’s this symbolism rumbling around below the surface that transforms it from entertaining sci-fi vengeance war into shining, brilliant example of the genre, and I’m just not seeing it. (Spoilers for a forty-year old book below the cut. Panic!)
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Mission: Impossible III

Here are the problems with the summer movie season.

1) It starts too early. First weekend in May? Inevitably, by mid-July all of the exciting movies are over, and you’re left watching previews for a voodoo horror flick for 3 straight months because it’s the only thing the movie studios think anyone will actually bother to see, and by the time it finally comes around, all you can do is thank God that the previews aren’t on anymore, all desire to actually look into the movie having been leeched away by repeat after repeat of that stupid, terrible, no-good preview.

2) Hollywood has learned, like an undisciplined child, that all attention is good and to be craved, regardless the actual quality of the action that garnered the attention. That is, any movie that is a sequel to a successful movie or has stars I’ve ever heard of or has explosions and car crashes, people will go see it in droves, cranking millions of dollars of profit into the studios, regardless of whether the film in question is actually good. The goal isn’t to make a lasting product, just to bring in money. Used to be, they’d make their money over time by having a film people wanted to see, instead of making it all in the first weekend. (I openly admit to being a part of the problem in this regard. But still, it would be nice to see good movies.)

3) No boobies. All of the nudity in the year comes in December when people are trying to win Oscars for Important Roles where shirts come off only because it is Relevant to the Plot, or else in February/March, aka horror movie season. (And I think we all know those pickings are getting slimmer even as they’re getting fatter.)

The good news, though, is this. Mission: Impossible III has glossed right over the failure of point #2, coming up with a sequel that’s actually worth seeing. More amazing still, it followed a pretty bad sequel, which is usually the kiss of death for an ongoing franchise. I think most of the credit for this can be laid squarely at the feet of J.J. Abrams and his skill with the Alias series. He may still be finding his sealegs in the mysterious / spooky sci-fi genre, but the boy knows how to handle spies, both (obviously) the exciting wetwork and (less commonly by far) their lives outside of those deadly mission into Prague. I mean, get this: I cared what happened to Tom Cruise’s love interest. That right there is an impossible freaking mission, let me tell you.

The only real flaw, and it’s minor, is that the villain is a bit of a hollow shell. Hoffman certainly pulls it off well, creating a sufficiently cold, unaffected, and downright dastardly bad guy that I didn’t notice that there was nothing really there until the credits were rolling. Evil and diabolical, sure, but nothing like reasonable motivations or character development. A pretty cool obstacle, and nothing more. I’d expected better after all those seasons of Alias I’ve washed down over the past year, but then again, it’s only a two hour movie. (I should also say that my ability to map out all the twists and turns an hour in advance is a flaw, but I’m enough used to that to only count it as a plus when a movie actually succeeds in tricking me, these days.)