It's sad but true that more and more you can't separate the movie from the movie-going experience. This is especially true when you visit your local multiplex on a holiday weekend to see the latest blockbuster on its opening weekend. I know that's just asking for trouble, but what is better suited for a large screen with a huge sound system and an excited crowd than a movie like X-Men: The Last Stand.
Even if this lastest X-Men movie was halfway decent, and I would argue it isn't, it would probably be hard to enjoy any movie if you had to contend with the particular group of people who gathered at 4:45pm on Sunday, May 29 at the Fenway Theater. On one side, there was the fifteen-year-old kid who combined the pungent aromas of hot dogs, cheese sauce, and a popcorn bucket's worth of whatever cologne fifteen-year-old boys take to these days. On the other side, you had the two separate families who felt that crowded theaters filled with jarring images and loud noises was the perfect environment for infants. It hardly mattered, though, since the parents talked more than most of the characters in the movie.
Now for the movie. X-Men: The Last Stand has been getting some pretty good reviews from some pretty respectable critics. My theory is that a lot of movie critics don't really enjoy these types of movies for the same reason real audiences do. Most will gladly give a thumbs up to a movie that may be tedious and boring but has some sort of progressive social message they can nod their heads in agreement to (See V For Vendetta). The hook with this movie is that pharmaceutical companies have developed a drug to "cure" the mutant strand, turning them into regular folk. This brings up all sorts of interesting questions about genetic engineering, racial tolerance, and nature vs. nurture, or at least could of raised interesting questions if this movie was good.
What myself and probably most of the audience came for was a big, exciting thrill-ride with lots special effects and action. Bryan Singer, who made the first two X-Men movies, did a beautiful job weaving the socially relevant themes inherent in the comics into great entertainment. Brett Ratner, who took over the helm for this third movie, is a major step down. Known primarily for the Rush Hour movies, and another horrible third installment of a movie, Hannibal Lector's Red Dragon, he's basically a slick hack with a clunky, awkward sense of storytelling.
Fittingly for a movie called The Last Stand, quite a few of the X-men and their chief antagonists led by Magneto meet their makers. This is a surprising twist given how far in the series we've come, but even more surprising is the lack of emotional pull any of this has.
One major misstep is that much of the story focuses on the character of Jean Gray, who has the misfortune of being portrayed by the cinematic equivalent of cauliflower. Gray is supposed to have turned towards the dark side, but actress Famke Janssen pretty much plays her like the good Jean Gray, only with more frowning and staring.
What's even more distressing is that Wolverine has been turned into a real wuss. His attraction to the dead fish Jean Gray never made much sense, but here this relationship asked to pull much of the emotional weight. The result is that the once menacing and magnetic Hugh Jackman is now a whiny, sensitive lonely-heart.
X-Men: The Last Stand has the distinct feeling of one sequel too much. One can only hope that Bryan Singer one day does exactly what he's supposedly doing with the upcoming Superman Returns; forgetting the third installment never happened and picking up where number two left off.