Retro Movie Rant: A Brief Defense of X-Men 3

I think I was one of the few people who actually had anything like good feelings for the last X-Men movie of the original trilogy, X3, The Last Stand.

And there were things that upset me about it, most notably Scott “Cyclops” Summers’ death offscreen.

But overall, I found that the complaining was without much merit. It seemed to me that mostly, the audience was upset that the screenwriters and director had chosen to make a tragedy, in which the old X-men fought, and half of them died, for their ideals.

I mean, I have some sympathy with those who get stuck with a story they didn’t want. But in many ways, I felt the movie did an excellent job of portraying the costs of war, both between humans and mutants, and between mutants and mutants. You don’t go into that and not suffer loss. You don’t go into it and not come out scarred. And the characters who survived took up roles they had never really wanted, and found that they could do what their mentors would have wanted.

It was, to turn a phrase, not the movie we wanted, but perhaps a movie that we deserved to see.

15 thoughts on “Retro Movie Rant: A Brief Defense of X-Men 3

  1. In my opinion, this film demonstrated the flaws in the entire series, and that’s why fans disliked it so much. On a fundamental level “characters who are an unjustly persecuted minority” and “characters who possess god-like destructive powers” just don’t mesh well.

    In the first two films the focus was more on mutant vs mutant conflicts which meant that the characters were punching in their own weight class. The “humans are scared of us” bit was a big element, but the stories were about how two different groups dealt with that.

    The third film felt more like a horror movie where we were supposed to be rooting for the monsters. There was a strong element of “look what you made me do” in the mutants’ actions. Their response to the existence of a cure for mutation (a concept that makes zero sense scientifically, BTW, since all life of Earth is a mutant form of something else according to evolution. But I consider the films to be fantasy.) seemed to me to be proof enough that they need to be cured, and fast, before they wipe out the human race.

    And that made me reconsider the events of the previous two films. For me it was less that X-Men 3 was a bad movie, and more that it made the whole series bad movies, if that makes any sense.

    • Minor correction: the ‘cure’ didn’t suppress all mutation, just one specific (fantasy) gene.

      And I’d always thought we were supposed to be rooting for Xavier’s dream of coexistence rather than the extremes of mutants supplanting humans or humans exterminating mutants. The basic inspiration being the turmoil of the 60s/70s when these comics were first conceived, but the brilliance of the concept being that the mutants don’t align one-to-one with any specific racial or ethnic or religious group. In the context of the story, ethnically and culturally the mutants arose within the surrounding society.

      I will say that one of the (many) flaws of the movie is that it never adequately addressed the fact that, yes, some mutants ‘need’ curing. Like Rogue. That mutation isn’t always good, and can be counterproductive to survival and really dangerous to everyone, and it isn’t automatically ‘this is just who I am and there’s nothing wrong with it!’ No: evolution is messy and there are a lot of dead ends.

      Ironically the comics themselves and many of the shows addressed this maladaptive element. The Morlocks, for example. But the one who most directly addressed this was a villain, Sinister, who was an unapologetic eugenicist and resolved to wipe out all the maladaptive mutants so that only the evolutionary successes could go on.

      There’s a lot of interesting complexities in the X-Men that the movies don’t go into. Possibly due to time constraints. Possibly because the implications run counter to Hollywood values…

    • Yes – X-Men as a concept is heavily flawed, and stories based around them succeed or fail generally based on how much they focus on the X-Men on a conceptual level – the more they do the worse it is.

      • I’d argue that the element that makes the X-Men concept compelling, for me anyway, is also it’s weakness: with traditional superhero stories, winning is a matter of fighting the bad guys and restoring either a status quo or more generally, peace. With the X-Men, an element of turmoil is introduced with the very concept of mutation, and the readers (and unfortunately the writers as well) don’t know how things will turn out in the long term.

        I think that’s why so many X-Men stories deal with time travel from alternate futures…

      • That is not the issue. The issue is the constant framing of us vs. them as a moral issue, as if there is no logical reason to be afraid of mutants outside of bigotry.

        This is clearly not true, as X3 shows clearly, which is why the whole edifice holding up the X-Men crumbles at first though.

      • Flawed as it is approached by SJW writers who insist on making mutants = homosexuals or one ethnic group or another, but the concept had yielded many deep and complex stories. Just not in the actual movies. The comics and animated shows are another matter. I think I addressed that in an earlier Reply to Misha Burnett

      • But the X-Men were meant to be a minority stand in from the get go, so my research shows. Talk of folks who oppose them as villains immediately runs into the issue of X3 – they’re correct and this mov9e shows why.

      • That may be the case, that they were meant as stand -ins, but by making it about mutation, the fictional ‘reality’ continued to break through.

        Will elaborate more later. Am at work and hate talking with my thumbs.

      • Okay, I’m going to be working longer than I thought. Suffice it for now to say I find the concept brilliant (even if the creators stumbled on the concept by accident while trying to do something else) but the execution can very easily be flawed.

        And now that I think about it, there are no shortage of dangerous, destructive mutants even in the movies. Nightcrawler’s teleporting assassination attempt in X-2, and the implication of how Jason was before his lobotomy, Sebastion Shaw, Mystique’s impersonation of elected officials, and the general threat that mutants might supplant humanity like the Neanderthal.

        I’d argue that even the good guys have an unsettling element to them. The X-Men’s show of strength to the president at the end of X-2. Xavier’s powers in general. There was something very unsettling in those moments. Something extra-legal. I very much got the sense that the X-Men aren’t like, say, Superman, when so long as he can’t prove Lex Luthor hasn’t committed any crimes, Luthor can get right up in Superman’s face and taunt him, knowing Supes won’t do anything about it.

        But when Xavier told Wolverine to stop smoking in his presence or he’d give him the mind of a six-year-old girl…I got the feeling he might just do it.

        That said, the X-Men are still trying to promote ethical use of mutant powers and ethical behavior by mutants.

        And I still thin X-3 dropped the ball.

      • But my whole point is that all of those X-Men have powers that make them extremely dangerous around normal people, perfectly rational to be apart from, and even dumb NOT to fear.

        With a Magneto around, why, exactly, SHOULDN’T I want precautions made surrounding the X-Men? Why SHOULDN’T I be afraid.

      • I think an associate of mine put it best: “I can’t have an AR or a gun that shoots more than 10 rounds, but I think the government should be keeping tabs on the kid that can cut a building in half by taking off his glasses, and that makes ME the bigot?”

        You definitely should fear them. Not just for what they can individually do but what they represent: the replacement of humanity.

        And think of the stories that can come out of such a concept!

      • Have any of the movies NOT placed them in the position of persecuted minority? I don’t think so. Comics, ya got me except that I can point out that conceptually they were always intended as minority stand-ins.

      • But in the first two movies and many after the third, both sides of the issue were shown fairly, with the mutants portrayed as sympathetic (because they’re still people) while still being dangerous and frightening.

        Oh, and yes: X-Men Apocalypse showed mutants as definitely NOT persecuted: they were tyrannous gods and demigods who had to be bravely resisted.

  2. There’s a lot I don’t like about the movie, but above all the rest in the utter butchering of Magneto’s character.

    The visionary and brilliant strategist of the first two movies, who’s ruthlessness was always levened by compassion (seriously, there were many instances where he conveyed that he understood what he was doing was wrong and regretted it, but believed it was necessary) is replaced by a stupid cartoon villain.

    His whole brilliant plan MADE NO SENSE! Does he want to capture the source of the cure of kill it? If he wants to kill the mutant kid, why not just drop the bridge on top of Alcatraz? Does he suddenly want to capture the source of the cure and use it against other mutants who won’t follow him? WHY? If he intends to use the ‘cure’ on his enemies, that subverts the whole moral justification of his war!

    And ‘in chess the pawns go first’ is contemptible and utterly against his established character of VALUING MUTANT LIVES! It’s also stupid: in chess the pawns go first, but in modern warfare you pound the enemy with the long guns and air strikes, then send in troops to mop up. Even without Phoenix, Magneto still has enough heavy hitters to wipe New York off the map!

    It’s not even good CHESS strategy! In chess, a pawn can be pivotal in the game if it’s positioned correctly. Magneto of all people should know this!

    As for the rest, particularly the killing off of Cyclops and the ruining of any type of redemptive arc for Phoenix and resolution of the Cy/Jean/Wolvy love triangle, I blame Halle Berry wanting more screen time and a better role.

  3. Both The Last Stand and the first Wolverine movies suffered for taking beloved properties (the Phoenix saga and Deadpool, respectively) and fumbling them. Both underrated, but both mediocre movies at best. I rewatched all ten movies recently, and X-Men Origins: Wolverine and The Last Stand were the worst and second-to-worst movies, respectively. But outside of Logan, which is truly great, there isn’t a whole lot of distance between the worst and the best.

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