Third time’s a charm?

X-Men: The Last Stand Review

The X-Men franchise was one ripe for movie making. It remains incredibly popular among comic book aficionados and can even motivate Grade-A talent like Joss Wheadon to write a few issues.

I generally liked the first two movies and I “geeked” out a bit when Wolverine popped his claws during the first movie and when Jean went all “Phoenix force” in the second. In fact, I think the attack on the President by Nightcrawler in X2 is by far one of the most amazing action sequences ever filmed and extremely “comic booky” in a good way. Which brings us to the third installment of the series: X-Men: The Last Stand.

One of the problems of doing a comic book movie based on a team book is that you end up with too many characters and not enough screen time. In this latest installment of the X-Men movie franchise, we get character overload and everyone gets shortchanged except for Wolverine, Magneto and to a lesser extent Storm. Angel and Rogue were effectively buried and James Marsters as Cyclops had what amounted to a glorified cameo this go around. Of course, this is why they are planning a Wolverine movie and not X-Men 4.

Having a lot of characters is fine, if you devote enough time to develop them. Case in point, The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Here you have a ton of characters and we get plenty of development across three rather exciting, visually interesting, 3-hours long and capably acted movies. It’s the difference of planning three movies and creating one movie and two sequels.

Basically, the entire movie is centered on three key sequences: the battle in Jean Grey’s childhood home, Magneto rescue of Mystique and the Golden Gate Bridge/Alcatraz grand finale. I thought the first sequence was okay, but not exciting. I loved watching Magneto tossing cars aside like they were Hot Wheels as he frees Mystique. Speaking of the special effects, I thought some were done marvelously and some were done crappy. Angel flying = good, Beast jumping around = bad. Fastball special = good, Xavier and Magneto playing themselves young = bad.

All in all, the movie was a nice bit of escapist entertainment. It’s too bad they didn’t plan on making a trilogy from the beginning.

Mission Impossible III Review

I’m one of those movie-goers who genuinely enjoyed the first Mission Impossible movie. I thought it was incredible fun. The second one was not nearly as memorable save for the slow motion car chase, the doves and the motorcycle jousting. Well, okay it did introduce me to the loveliness that is Thandie Newton.

So, here we are with the third installment featuring a post-crazy Tom Cruise who doesn’t even put his name in the opening credits and a writer/director who made his mark with TV fare. What do we get? Well, I could be glib and say it’s a glorified episode of Alias, but it’s better than that. Let’s just say it’s on par with the average James Bond film.

One thing J. J. Abrams really excels at is casting. After all, he found Jennifer Garner and Evangeline Lilly. He convinces Phillip Seymour Hoffman to play the heavy in the flick and he brings an extreme sense of menace to the role. His lines are delivered with utter distaste for who he’s addressing. The entire, “You’ve got a wife, a girlfriend…” sequence is a great character moment. I think the writing is better than the direction, with some Bondian lines for both Cruise and Hoffman.

I like the Abrams style of starting in the middle of the action and then backtracking to the beginning and working to where we started. It’s a good writing trick that was used all the time on Alias and makes an appearance in Lost with all the flashback scenes.

The attack on the bridge, the kidnapping of Hoffman from the Vatican and the “base jumping, swinging from building to building, sliding down the roof” piece was just good summer movie fun and was obviously an idea that Abrams really wanted to do on Alias, but simply never had the budget.

Unfortunately, Ving Rhames doesn’t have much to do. Billy Crudup would speak and I kept hearing the MasterCard commercial voice, which was a bit annoying. Simon Pegg basically plays Marshall from Alias. Laurence Fishburne brings a nice sense of weight to his role and limited time on screen. I’m not sure I was exactly sold on the whole romance angle, but c’mon this is an action flick… romance is for The Break-Up.

The best part was watching Cruise and not once thinking, “what a whack-job,” which, if anything, has got to be one of the films finer accomplishments.