Don’t X-pect Anything Good

X-Men 3: The Last Stand left such a bad after-taste that I had to go see Over The Hedge again just to get back on track.

The track record for this summer has been pretty ugly. Out of all the summer blockbusters I’ve seen thus far—Mission: Impossible 3, The Da Vinci Code, Poseidon (which has the distinction of being the worst film of the year), Over the Hedge and now X-Men 3, the only memorable blockbuster was Hedge, the animated film about animals stuck in suburbia. So far, the summer blockbuster season hasn’t impressed me much.

The X-Men franchise should go out with a bang, and if this latest installment is said to be the last, well, it definitely went out with a limp fizzle. The first two films were strong efforts, and X2 United was considered by many to be one of the best films of that year. So the franchise has quite a track record to uphold. When news came that Brett Ratner was directing the third installment and not Bryan Singer, it left unease in many fan’s hearts such as myself. Well, unfortunately, our expectations for Ratner we’re met and he proves time and time again that he is incompetent; he’s more in it for celebrity status than actually being a good director. Scenes in X3 feel so ill-prepared and thrown together at the last minute that you wonder if Ratner spends more time using up his monthly VIP passes to the Playboy Mansion than actually prepping for a scene in a film he’s directing.

Brett Ratner gives directors a bad name.

Forgive my rant on him. Back to the topic.

The major problem with the X-Men movies have always been the overload of characters. So it seems the filmmakers wanted to clear the overstuffed screen, follow modern film conventions and have just one archetype of each character. So the film, at its core structure, almost feels like a roll call—we can only have one room for a femme fatale so now that Jean Grey is the saucy Phoenix, off you go Mystique! We can only have one brooding leading man, so off you go Cyclops and welcome to your new seat, Wolverine! Too many smart mutants so let’s kill off Professor X and give the expository lines to Beast! Brett Ratner, who is so stupid that he completely trashed the idea these films are ensemble pieces. Instead, he and his writers give most of the work to Halle Berry (fresh Oscar clout), Huge Jackman (box office draw) and Sir Ian McKellan (for panache and his popularity thanks to a little film about a Renaissance man and his codes).

There are wonderful themes and issues in X-Men 3 that could have been beautifully drawn out, reflecting today’s hot-button issues such as immigration, citizenship and homogenizing society. Instead, Ratner resolves to “orange fireball cinema.” Nothing is really accomplished. The issues of acceptance, differences and diplomacy are brought to the table and are just left there to rot while we marvel at the CGI, which were downright unimpressive. A good amount of the film takes place in San Francisco but the city streets sure didn’t look or feel like San Francisco. All the effects felt as real as an XBOX 360 demonstration. It’s clean, no doubt, but its still just pixels on a screen. Nothing really comes to life.

Characters are wasted for the sake of eye candy, which is a common trait found in most of Ratner’s cinematic fumbles. It’s too bad too, because to his credit, he delivered a pretty good first act. It just goes down hill from there.

The last scene in the film is supposed to give you hope. Instead you groan at the possibility of a fourth film. And at the tail end of the credits (if you sat through it) is a scene that solidifies the notion of a fourth film. One can only pray.

This could have been an excellent film due to its premise. Instead, it ends up being rather . . . X-traneous.

RATING: D

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Decoded, yet Clueless

In all honesty—religion and theology aside—my drive to see The Da Vinci Code sat purely on my strange fascination of Tom Hanks’ new ‘do.

 

After reading Dan Brown’s bestseller earlier this year in preparation for Ron Howard’s big screen adaptation, I felt cheated. The book was an utter bore akin to reading a police procedural mixed in with pseudo-theological “facts” thrown in. It was a second rate Michael Crichton novel with so-called history substituting for science. And much like Crichton and his novels, it was a chase story with characters devoid of character. Each chapter got more and more preposterous in its revelations, finishing off with obvious cliffhanger endings and ‘uh-oh’ moments to reel you into the next chapter.

 

I did, however, managed to enjoy the film despite major flaws and heavy-handed moments. Overall, it worked due in part to Tom Hanks and Ron Howard’s visual treatment of the film. Hanks is a trooper. No matter what you throw his way, he’ll make it work. Robert Langdon has got to be one of the most paper-thin characters ever written but somehow Hanks has managed to pull it off, despite some really awkward lines and revelatory moments, particularly the last revelation. I couldn’t help but laugh.

 

The execution of plot, clues and flashbacks are rather clever which seem to borrow from the Bee Season, where the little girl, using her kabbalistic magic, visualizes her spelling clues right onto the screen, appearing in thin air. All of that in Da Vinci is cleverly and masterfully done. Hans Zimmer score, though highly unoriginal, which has become expected of this once great composer is serviceable. His score is a mixture of Batman Begins and King Arthur. The score fully soars when Zimmer goes liturgical, particularly his Kyrie for Magdalene piece. The film’s strength is in its style and execution, but in all reality that’s just beautiful gift-wrapping for an empty box.

 

The core of the film is rather shallow and inert. Too many speculative theories to throw around. Too much exposition. “Who is Opus Dei? What is the Priory of Sion?” And to have Hanks’ Langdon remind us at the end of the film that ‘what matters is what we believe’ is, well, rather obnoxious. After the debates and theological arguments this book and film brought up, don’t you think we kind of figured that out ourselves? Duh.

 

But I’ll give the filmmakers this; the movie is much better than the book. The real problem of the film, and the book for that matter, is that it takes itself way too seriously. That’s like taking National Treasure seriously. Sure, the dollar bill has clues to a hidden treasure. Give me a break.

 

Everyone else seems to be wasted in sketches of character, especially Jean Reno playing Bezu Fache, yet another gruff French cop. Didn’t Bezu Fache help Steve Martin’s Inspector Closeau catch the Pink Panther earlier this year? Sir Ian McKellan plays yet another physically tormented yet brilliant old chap. And poor Audrey Tatou from Amelie, who is completely miscast in the role of Sophie. Were Mission: Impossible’s Emmanuelle Béart and Braveheart’s Sophie Marceau too busy or too booked to do a high profile summer blockbuster? Audrey Tatou has completely killed off any aspirations to star in another English-speaking film due to her thick French accent. To make matters worse, her and Hanks had zip chemistry.

 

As I was walking out of the theatre with my friends, I realized that the true problem with the Da Vinci Code as a phenomenon is that it feeds off society’s laziness. The catch-phrase in the poster and advertisement simply states to seek the truth. But as a society, faithful or not, we’ve blurred the lines of fiction and truth. What matters is what we believe, Langdon reminds us. Perhaps the true reminder is not what we believe, but why.

 

I believe in a lot of things. I believe in good filmmaking and good storytelling.  And yes, a lot of things brought up in Da Vinci Code are worth scrutiny and fascination.

 

But it’s not as fascinating as Tom Hanks’ hairdo.

RATING: C