The current phenomenon of superhero movies of quality can easily be traced to Bryan Singer's 2000 X-Men movie, in which it was proven that it was possible to translate four-color melodrama into celluloid entertainment sans irony or camp. Singer's 2003 sequel X2 raised the bar in terms of budget and action... but then Singer seemingly defected to the Distinguished Competition, choosing to helm Superman Returns rather than the third movie in the series. Brett Ratner (the Rush Hour movies and Red Dragon) took over, to the consternation and concern of fandom. As to whether the concern was warranted depends on who you ask.
X-Men III picks up the threads of the previous movie, which set up the cinematic version of the comics' Phoenix saga. Telekinetic Jean Grey (Famke Jannsen) miraculously survives a fatal experience (in both cases saving her teammates and lover Cyclops (James Marsden)), by becoming the Phoenix - a being of almost unlimited power. The movie strays significantly from the comic by first eliminating Cyclops (Marsden had a role in Superman Returns, shot at the same time), then making Phoenix the true face of Grey's powers, suppressed by super-psychic mentor Xavier's (Patrick Stewart) mental meddling. Concurrently, a means to completely eliminate -permanently - a mutant's abilities is developed. leading to the inevitable opposition of Magneto (Ian McKellen) and his Brotherhood of Mutants. Magneto successfully recruits Phoenix to his cause, leading to the Last Stand of the title, and the destruction of a lot of property.
This certainly feels the most comic book-ish of the three movies; Singer's previous efforts to ground the proceedings in a somewhat realistic light go out the window when Magneto twists the Golden Gate bridge to a curved ramp that his mutant army may march to the Cure facility on Alcatraz Island; it's an image one can imagine in the original book, with art by the late Dave Cockrum nearly crowded out by huge balloons of interior monologue by Chris Claremont.
But where the movie's tenor may change for the worse is in the performances; there's a shift in the portrayals of the characters, from the intimacy that Singer fostered in his actors -particularly in the case of Stewart's Xavier, who becomes much more abrupt and authoritarian, seemingly with little cause.
And yes, I was concerned about the casting of Kelsey Grammer as Hank McCoy, "The Beast". The reworking of the Beast, though, is of a nice piece with the retconning of established Marvel characters in the series... and they got him to say "Oh my stars and garters!" after which I was totally okay with it.
This is the usual high-quality offering from Fox video. a flawless transfer with excellent audio. The one bit of creativity that stands out from an otherwise thoroughly corporate offering, though, is the option to "Join the Brotherhood" or "Take a Stand" at the very beginning, which cloaks the menus in two slightly different skins.
As mentioned, there is a price to pay for the fine quality of the audio and video on the disc, and that is Fox's realization of a captive audience to be exploited. No MTV cut quick collage of recent offerings starting off the disc, no, there are full commercials for Ice Age: The Meltdown, Behind Enemy Lines II: Axis of Evil, and Thank You for Smoking. Sharing Menu heading room with things like "Play, Features, Scenes and Languages" is A First Glimpse at the Simpsons Movie (a black and white animatic) and a full preview of the Ben Stiller vehicle Night at the Museum.
There are two commentary tracks. The first, by director Ratner and writers Zak Penn and Simon Kinberg, is short on hard information (outside "You wrote that line, didn't you?") and gets very old very quickly. the second, by producers Avi Arad, Lauren Schuler-Donner and Ralph Winter, is more informative.
There are also 24 Deleted Scenes, with encompasses actual deleted scenes, alternate takes, and three alternate endings. These are viewable with commentary by Ratner and the writers (sometimes welcome, often annoying). Extra points for the Play All feature.
Trailers are simply labeled Trailer A (an extended teaser) and Trailer B (the theatrical release) - both are excellent examples of the editor's craft. Oh yeah, there's also one for 24, Season Five.
Don't get two excited when you click on The World of Marvel, it's not a documentary, it's more corporate shilling - This time, trailers for Fantastic Four, Daredevil, and Elektra, none of which, honestly,belong in the "quality" category alluded to in the opening of this review.
There is also a Collector's Edition available, which includes a mini-comic written by series creator Stan Lee. Whether that is worth the extra ten dollars will be left to the individual consumer.
Dr. Freex, 12/3/2006