Director Brett Ratner keeps finishing what other people started. Unfortunately for him, he has always had a lot of pressure put on him, because of the filmmakers he has had to follow. In the Hannibal Trilogy he had to follow the always-solid Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs) and the legend – Ridley Scott (Hannibal). While his film – Red Dragon, was probably, the weakest of the three, that’s not saying much considering the excellence of the two previous films, and to tell you the truth, it definitely holds up with them. In fact, it almost seemed like he took notes from the two previous movies and combined both of their styles into one. He took Demme’s thematic symbolism and Scott’s visual style and had a very complete film, both in feel and look.
With this film he is forced to follow in the footsteps of another great filmmaker – Bryan Singer whose X-Men and X2: X-Men United began the story of the misfits attempting to fit into the human society. So Ratner was brought on to the project to finish a trilogy off again, and instead of looking back at Singer’s work, he took the story and production into his own hands and created something bigger, more ambitious and fan-pleasing, and ultimately – the best X-Men movie of all three. Yes, I’m not afraid to say that, because while Singer attempted to invoke more emotion than Ratner does here, it all seemed so fake, and Ratner’s seems more tangible and when a character dies in his movie, the scenes after really do hold more impact (except for one of the characters).
By replacing the previous two writers of the X-Men films – Dan Harris and Michael Dougherty with Zak Penn and Simon Kinberg, risks were taken by the producers and Ratner, because they have the opportunity to come into an ongoing trilogy and add their own signature to it. Adding your own signature can really alter the opinion of the all-important pre-established fanbase. But, I think it is a commendable move by the producers to do that, because it adds excitement. Truthfully, I wouldn’t have liked this film as much if it was another – X-Men vs. Magneto movie. This is not just that. Yes, there is a big clash at the end between the two sides here, but the film’s focus is a lot more on individual characters, especially Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Jean Grey (Famke Jenssen), and to a certain extent Angel (Ben Foster) and Iceman (Shawn Ashmore). By focusing the thematic elements of the film on only a few characters, the others lose importance. Even Storm (Halle Berry), even though she has more screen time is only a part of the action.
Still, individual attention to only a few mutants is way better than Singer’s attempts to give each character their big shining moments. Ratner’s way simply makes the film easier to watch and be excited about. The plot involves a new cure for mutants that will help them turn back into humans. Magneto’s (Ian McKellen) goal is to stop it before humans use it against mutants. The conflict here is that there are mutants who actually want to be cured (Rogue, Beast likes how it feels too), and some that don’t (Storm, Angel, Woverine, Magneto…). So, conflicts begin to build within both sides (more so on the X-Men’s side), and that adds a little uncertainty about the end of this film being happy.
The cast is great, with the stand-outs being Kelsey Grammer as Beast, Ellen Page as Kitty Pride and Famke Janssen as Jean Grey. Other than that everyone else seems a little off. Even Ian McKellen’s Magneto is a bit iffy, but of course that’s unnoticeable, because it is Ian McKellen. If there is one thing about Patrick Stewart’s Charles Xavier I don’t like is that he is always the same way. I mean he did show some life in X2, but here, he’s back to adviser mode and it seems like a waste of a good actor. Halle Berry’s ego is way too big, and that ego has forced Ratner and Co. To unwillingly make her the main character in the film. Storm is supposed to be a supporting character, not the leader.
Another change that came with Ratner being on board is the switch from hand-to-hand combat to big action scenes. Instead of resorting to one on ones like Singer did, he stages grand scenes of group combat. It’s great to see all the mutants finally use their different powers in a battle. Storm is spinning while dodging Pyro’s fire, etc. It makes for some really great action. Also there is a great set piece involving The Golden Gate Bridge which looks flawless, and considering how ridiculously spectacular it is, that’s saying something. The rest of the technical virtues of the film are also good, especially the music by John Powell, whose action music is definitely original. Also, the cinematography, done by two experts at it – Phillipe Rousselot and Dante Spinotti is really pretty to look at, especially when Angel is in flight.
Overall, I recommend this film really strongly. It’s the strongest blockbuster of the year so far, although not by much, but that is still saying a lot considering its great competition. Yes, Ratner focuses more on the action than on the thematic material, but he also creates a film which represents the main reason why we go to the movies – to be entertained, and he is great at entertaining. Still, I’d love to see what Michael Bay can do with a fourth X-Men movie. He’d make it awesome.