I don't care what the "official" title is. I call it X-Men III. Cards on the table right off the bat: I was very impressed by the original X-Men, if a little surprised at the seriousness of tone and a little underwhelmed with the (admittedly budget-restrained) scope and scale of superhero action. I absolutely loved X-Men II and thought they completely nailed pretty much everything - the action, the characterization, the story, all of it. And X-Men III? I thought it was a step back from its predecessor, but only a minor step. In short, I loved it and thought they did, on the whole, a fine, fine job.
Now, I've read many negative reviews of the film. My goal here will be to answer some of the specific criticisms I've heard (many delineated by Harry Knowle in his review at Ain't It Cool), and this will mean getting into real, specific detail. Which means, say it with me, spoilers. So - this will be the disembarking point for those who have yet to see the film. Really. Go away now. OK? OK. All gone? Good.
OK - so what I'm going to do is to address one-by-one some specific complaints I've read in various places about this film, and where I think the complaints are wrong-headed.
Wolverine is too cuddly
Cuddly? I know we don't see them in full, gory detail (PG-13 and all), but he does kill a bunch of people in that big final battle. No, this is not a full-on Wolverine story, but would we really want it to be? Especially if they are going to be following up with a Wolverine solo film? And the storyline he does figure in, the whole reworking of the Phoenix thing, was handled very well. More on that later.
Storm is boring
I'll readily agree that the handling of Storm has been one of the series weak spots, and that Halle Berry is a rare bit of miscasting in a series that's been exceptionally well-cast otherwise. But her bits here, and her designation as the most hard-line of Xavier's proteges in dismissing the "cure" as something no mutant should ever want, was handled well. And we finally get to see her unleash some real power in a few spots. While I by no means loved Storm, in any of the films, she didn't particularly bother me here.
Cyclops is misused
I actually love what they've done with Cyclops in these films. Sure, an argument can be made that Cyclops is a much more integral piece of the X-Men mythos than he's been portrayed as being in the films, and that it's a sin that he's been so little used here. But the fact is that there are a lot of X-Men, and that film is a very, very different medium than comics. And in film, there is simply no way to handle all of these characters in an in-depth way. Understanding that, what they've been able to do in the film is to take a key X-Man, treat him as such in the first film, give him a real, tangible history and a real sense of command, create a credible history between him and Jean Grey, a believable love story, and then use him to really help cement the tragedy of Jen Grey in the third film. They were able to use him to affect a real surprise, and a real jolting moment here, as well as create a very believable and effective tragic spiral of an important character. And I am all sorts of good with that. In the film's version of the X-Men mythos, the X-Men lose their field leader (and their real leader) fairly early on in their history. To me, that's a bold choice and one that should be applauded.
I've heard some complaints that Beast is the wrong shade of blue. Sigh. Kelsey Grammar is spot-on perfect as Hank McKoy. He gives us the proper sense of size and power, the eloquence and richness of voice, the sensitive nature - it really is an inspired bit of casting. Now, at the end of the film, when we see him fight, no it's not everything we might have dreamed of. And yet it's hardly bad. And it's appropriate for the character - we see the leaping, the agility, the ferocity we need; we simply don't see it in as extended or clear shots as we might have liked. I can more than live with this.
Too many characters
Here's the thing. With a film based on the X-Men there are really two options. The first would be to do a film with really only two or three characters. My guess is that the supposedly in-development Wolverine movie will be like this. We will focus on a select few characters and really get to develop and know them. But then it's not X-Men, but X-Man or Two. Now, remember that these movies are adventures - so a lot of screen time is given over to action and exposition, and a lot taken away from character development. Maybe if you did My Dinner with the X-Men you could really get to know and flesh out seven or eight X-Men as real, deep characters. But given the restraints of the form, you simply can't. The second option, and the one the filmmakers took, is to essentially accept that many, many characters will be sketched. They will support the plot, we'll get to know them slightly, but we won't go anywhere deep. What many fans seem to want is an impossible option--a big action-adventure film with many X-Men in which we get to know each mutant really, really well. I agree - that would be nice. But it's also impossible. Given those restraints I was thrilled with how they handled Beast. Angel was a minor character, but that's OK. This is not the Angel movie. Juggernaut was barely developed - and, again, that's OK. The alternative would be to use no recognizable names from the comics and just use new, made up mutants for these minor parts that the plot needs. But that would be a silly way to go. This series could go to six or seven films, and there'd still never be time to do all the characters fans are screaming for "right." The fact of the matter is that it would take an ongoing series to really do what so many fans seem to want--to really delve into many, many characters. And, sure, that's be super-keen. But, again, in a film, this is the nature of the beast. And they've made the right choice. Harry Knowles makes a case in his review that just showing us a Sentinel hidden by shadows is lame - that it should be all or nothing. But it will never be all. And that given, wouldn't you rather have the something? I would.
They changed the Phoenix story
Of course they did. It's three films, not dozens and dozens of comics. So they had to condense it. And they had to bring it down in scale. But really, I have to admit to liking this version better anyway. That Jean Grey in the comics wasn't driven mad by power, that she wasn't a tragic example of the dictum that "absolute power corrupts, absolutely" always struck me as a copout, Making the Phoenix some kind of alien force was a total flinch. Here, we get a Jean Grey who can't control her power, or more accurately, doesn't want to. Her power is too much for her, and it corrupts her. That's a more powerful story, to my mind. As for shifting the character who must sacrifice her to Wolverine instead of Cyclops, that change is absolutely in keeping with the dynamic of these films. Like it or not, the films have made it clear that Wolverine is the "lead" X-Man. And it made absolute sense, story-wise, for him to carry that climactic plot point.
Magneto's betrayal of the de-powered Mystique
Some have dismissed it as out-of-character. I think they've gone to great pains in three films to make it clear that this is precisely what Magneto would do.
The lack of emphasis on Rogue
Again, we can only focus on so many characters. And I thought they capped her story, if in a slightly rushed way, still effectively.
Let's leave off with some things I loved, shall we?
Young Xavier and Magneto. Cool effects.
The shredding-like portrayal of Jean's telekenetic powers gone mad.
Kitty. Very well done, and very well-played. Anyone else have a hunch that she'll have a bigger part in the inevitable X-Men IV?
The continuity. Director change aside, this really did feel like a piece of the larger whole.
The epilogue(s). Implying that the cure is only temporary is a brilliant bit of foreshadowing. And the Xavier bit was genius. And planted too--that I didn't see it given the otherwise-pointlessness of the Moira McTaggert bit early in the film makes me sad.
The final fight. Nicely epic, with some great usage of powers (especially Kitty's).