My primary complaint is that the writers tried to cram two movies’ worth of plot into one, and thus failed to do justice to either. True, as Lily pointed out, this was probably because the lead actors were under contract for only one film, but in a perfect world the mutation cure storyline and the Jean Grey/Phoenix storyline would have each been covered in its own film. As it was, the action and pacing were fine, but the character development consistently felt muted and stunted to me.
For example, the death of Scott Summers should have had more impact; instead it was like, See Scott. See Scott brood. Can you hear Jean, Scott? See Scott see Jean. Scott and Jean are in love! See Jean kill/eat Scott. Whoops. Goodbye, Scott.
Professor X nor Magneto were also both shortchanged by the script. Xavier struck me as unpleasantly paternalistic whenever he spoke to or about Jean/Phoenix; too often he seemed to be saying “I know what’s best and how dare you question me,” rather than explaining why letting the Phoenix act unchecked would be A Really Bad Idea. His intransigence was obviously a shield for his fear of the Phoenix and his genuine guilt and regret over what he’d had to do to Jean, but I would’ve liked a better look at those underlying emotions, since up to now Xavier has always been presented as a man of great moral strength. Fortunately, Stewart and the writers managed to redeem the Professor with his gentle admonition, “Don’t let it control you,” before his discorporation.
As for Magneto, I have mixed feelings about the scene in which he bids farewell to the “cured” Mystique. It is consistent with his behavior elsewhere in the film: his quick acceptance of the death of his old friend, Charles; his use of the Brotherhood’s new recruits as cannon-fodder; his willingness to murder the source of the cure even though it’s an innocent child. Clearly, in his devotion to the mutant cause, Eric has not only ceased to see Homo sapiens as people, but has come to regard other mutants as expendable. Still, I have a hard time believing he would walk away from Mystique so quickly. Yes, he would tell her that she can no longer be part of his crusade, but surely they were close enough that he would consider her a martyr and not merely a broken weapon to be discarded, especially since, as he says, she took that cure dart for him. Lily argued that he had to reject Mystique to give her a motive for revealing his camp’s location to the government, but I don’t buy it because (a) I don’t believe she would ever collaborate with those responsible for the loss of her powers and (b) it would have been easy to provide an alternate explanation for the camp raid: “We’ve reviewed the spysats’ telemetry and found something promising.” I suppose that the point was to contrast Magneto’s intolerance with the X-Men’s acceptance of the post-cure Rogue (who moved right back into the Manor)...which brings us to my problems with the film’s treatment of Rogue.
So, okay, I can buy that of all the X-Men, she’d be the most tempted by the prospect of a “cure.” God knows the previous films have spelled out the drawbacks of her abilities in ten-foot letters of fire. That said, Logan’s statement, “I hope you’re not just doing this for some boy,” was right on the money. Rogue’s verbal denials of the charge are flatly contradicted by her actions; if you watched her scenes with the sound off, you’d conclude that she took the cure because she was terrified of losing Bobby to Kitty Pryde. Personally, I would have been happier if she’d decided against taking the cure, or at least delayed doing so until after she’d tried to help her friends deal with Phoenix (what Lily dubbed the Give the Scary Lady a Hug Option; Leech is obviously another candidate for that tactic, but the X-Men probably wouldn’t send an untrained boy against the deadliest person alive).
Finally, there is the death of Jean Grey at Wolverine’s hands (or claws if you’re a stickler for detail). I can just about accept that his healing factor would allow Logan to reach her, but since everyone made such a point of saying that Phoenix, a Class Five mutant, had nigh-limitless powers, I have trouble believing that she wouldn’t have been able to heal her wounds and proceed to reduce the planet to its constituent atoms. Yes, Jean Grey was clearly doing her best to restrain the Phoenix, and it was obviously Jean who pleaded with Logan to end it, but I would have found it more satisfying (and canon-compliant) if Jean had managed to wrest control of the Phoenix’s powers (“Will you control them, or let them control you?” asks Obi-Wan Xavier) and used them to unravel herself. As it is, she leaves poor Logan with the karmic burden of her death.
Having said all that, there was much that I liked about the movie.
• The flashback to the pre-rift Charles and Eric meeting Jean. As I told Lily, “Such a couple.”
• The surreal tableaux that attend the Phoenix: floating rocks on the shores of Alkaline Lake; a furiously boiling water cooler as Professor X and Magneto enter the Greys’ kitchen; the entire Grey house rising into the air and shaking during the telepathic duel between Xavier and the Phoenix (that last is like a dark reversal of Dorothy Gale’s arrival in Oz—this time, Dorothy is bringing Oz to her, and Kansas is buckling under the strain).
• The ethics class at the Manor, reminding us that above all, Charles is a teacher.
• Kelsey Grammer as Dr. Hank McCoy, a.k.a. the Beast. “As Winston Churchill said, ‘There comes a time when a man—’” Punch! Leap! Rend! Decimate! “Oh, you get the point!”
• Halle Berry as Storm, finally. As the actress said when asked how the characters’ personalities had changed in the new film, “This time, Storm has one.” Plus, trust the black woman to be the first to say, “Aw hell no!” when news of the cure breaks.
• The post-credits coda, which made me yelp “Yes!” in the theater. I know some people think it’s a cheat, but hey, they laid the groundwork about an hour earlier, and just...yay!
Final judgement: glad I saw it, but I won’t be buying the X-Men DVD boxset, because at heart I’m a DC girl.
Speaking of DC, I read in the New York Times that DC Comics is debuting a Chinese superhero team, the Great Ten. While I’m stoked by the concept—Dude, there will be Shaolin robots!—I am doubtful about one of the team’s members, Mother of Champions. Her power is, get this, giving birth to twenty-five super-soldiers every three days.
“That’s her power?” I said to Lily. “Whelping like a rabbit? Also, China’s population isn’t big enough already?”
“Oh my god, you’re such a snarky bitch.”
Finally, I may be a snarky bitch, but I’m a snarky bitch who inspires supercute Jeeves/Wooster fan art.