This is the story that, when the X-Men franchise started being filmed, I was dying for them to do: the Phoenix Saga. I wanted it so bad I could taste it…and then they did it. X2 ended with the shadow of the Phoenix underneath Alkalai Lake, and we all knew it was coming. Who knew it would be nothing like what we were hoping for.
Now, I’m not completely an X-Men III hater. It was a fun film. It just paled in comparison with the first two. It should have been bigger and better, particularly with that brilliant, richly emotional source material. It certainly was better, but it could have been much better.
It starts with a younger Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr (still played by Sir Patrick Steward and Sir Ian McKellan, via some nifty CGI) visiting a young Jean Grey in order to recruit her for Xavier’s school. This sets the tone for the film: this is as much the story of Jean Grey as anyone else. I think that it should have been more focused on her and the Phoenix, but that’s the problem with the third in a trilogy: they’re often too big for their britches. This is the case here. It’s too big, too unwieldy. Within the first half hour, we have quite a few plot threads, all quickly intertwining as escalating. Jean’s return as the Phoenix, the Mutant Cure, Mystique‘s capture and Magneto’s subsequent rescue of her. It’s a hard moment when Mystique is attacked with the cure, saving Magneto before directly being abandoned by him.
Jean-Phoenix is erratic, intense, and difficult to comprehend. She has the power of the Phoenix, but I don’t think that Famke Janssen–a solid actress–has the opportunity to demonstrate that gravity inherent to the Phoenix story arc. There are just a lot of special effects masking what could have been really brilliant. The scene at Jean’s house, when Xavier is killed is emotionally intense. Patrick Stewart plays it well, right to the end.
I also was rather displeased that they made Kitty Pryde to be somewhat of “the other woman” in Rogue and Iceman’s relationship. Kitty is one of my favorite characters, and I thought that was a little uncalled-for. Ellen Page, however, plays her very well. She plays Kitty’s emotional vulnerability, tempered with a quiet strength.
Admittedly, it’s a pretty great moment when Magneto lifts the Golden Gate Bridge over to Alcatraz Island. It’s memorable and terrifying. You finally get the sense that he’s done playing around, this is the war he’s been speaking about throughout the trilogy. It’s an intense battle, which does not take advantage of all the fun that they could have with hundreds of mutants battling. There are some good moments, but mainly with the primary characters. This could really have been a Smörgåsbord of the minor mutants.
I think what would have worked best was to have a film where they confront the cure much like they did here, and then a (go-figure) character-driven film which deals with Jean as the Phoenix. It could have still been a huge, effect-riddled blockbuster. But here they killed Scott Summers, Jean Grey, and Charles Xavier! Really? Yes, there’s certainly precedence for killing Jean, but you effectively wiped out a good amount of the X-Men lineup. Even taking Magneto’s powers is quite a lot. There’s a certain amount of appeasement by Magneto’s little move with the chess piece and the little seen post-credits scene where Xavier seems to have transferred into the body of a coma patient–glimmers that there might be sequels or a continuation in some form.
I don’t hate this film like some people, and despite my reservations about it, it’s still an enjoyable, exciting movie. It just was a little too convoluted for its own good. It pales next to X-Men or X2; that being said, it’s also no Wolverine…
2.5 out of 5 stars