A boy is in the bathroom, making strange noises, while his dad pounds on the door. If his son doesn’t open up, he’s going in there, anyway. When the dad does manage to barge in, he catches his shamed son in the act — of cutting off his wings.
The X in “X-Men” is like the algebra variable — it can stand for anything. Being a mutant is code for being a geek, being gay, being black, being anything that makes you feel like you just don’t belong. “It’s a fictional minority, so there are an unlimited amount of parallels,” said Aaron Stanford, who plays a flame-spewing mutant called Pyro in the film versions of the long-running comic book franchise. “And I don’t know anybody who [at some point] felt like they weren’t an outcast.”
What prevents the series from devolving into an after-school special is how well-imagined the “X-Men” universe is, thanks to director Bryan Singer (who helmed the first two films) and, of course, to the comics. With soulful characters like Wolverine and engrossing story lines like the Dark Phoenix Saga, “X-Men” comic writers and artists have kept readers flipping pages for decades. So it’s no big surprise that the first two movies were just as magnetic at the box office, grossing a combined total of more than $370 million in the U.S. alone.
According to the usual Hollywood calculus, that kind of money would mandate many sequels. But here we are with “X3″ — sorry, “X-Men: The Last Stand” — out May 26, and the surprising news is right there in the title: adios! Major characters die. Others lose their powers and become human again — for some, a fate worse than death. (“I’m sorry, my dear,” Magneto, played by Ian McKellen, tells one of his fallen followers. “You’re not one of us anymore.”) It’s a plot that seems to prevent a sequel, but it’s all for a good cause, the filmmakers say: This time, the metaphor becomes a message.
|“X-Men” Comic Art
“X-Men: The Last Stand” Photos
In Focus: Halle Berry
Flick’d: “X-Men: The Last Stand”
The stars discuss being faced with a “cure” for what ails you — when what “ails” you is what defines you.
In “X-Men: The Last Stand,” the mutants are faced with “the cure” — a vaccine of sorts that would suppress their powers permanently. “We all know that [’X-Men’] is about discrimination, fear of the unknown, persecution of minorities and things like that,” said Hugh Jackman, who plays Wolverine. “But I think it’s clearer in this movie.”
That may be in part because director Brett Ratner was hired to replace the departed Singer, whose own distinctive X now marks the spot on the upcoming “Superman Returns.” When Ratner stepped in, just eight weeks before the start of production, fans were aghast — how could the director of the lighthearted “Rush Hour” movies possibly do justice to Singer’s weighty vision of “X-Men”? (see “Brett Ratner Shrugs Off Critics, Promises More Humor In ’X3′ “ ) Ratner had a few doubts himself, so he called Singer for “some words of wisdom, some encouragement,” Ratner said. “He told me, ’Whatever you do, don’t read the Internet. They’re going to say bad things about you, because they said the same bad things about me when I did the first movie.’ ” So Ratner decided he’d let the film “speak for itself” — and speak it does. There’s a lot of talk about what the cure could mean, and most of the action stems from the schism between mutants who reject it peacefully and those who say it means war.
The militant group of mutants led by Magneto believes the cure is the beginning of a genocide — in one heavy-handed sequence, Magneto reveals a concentration camp number tattooed on his arm, vowing, “No needle will touch me again!” Some rival mutants are simply offended (“Since when did we become a disease?” Storm asks), but then find themselves having to physically defend the humans who created the cure. Those action sequences might have suffered due to Ratner’s lack of prep time; fortunately, expensive sets such as the Danger Room had already been constructed for “X2,” but were never used. “Prepping a movie of this kind is a six- to nine-month job,” said Patrick Stewart, who plays Professor Charles Xavier. “And he just had weeks to do it.”
So Ratner had to keep things moving at a quick clip. Where Singer was what James Marsden (who plays Cyclops) called more “introspective and measured,” Ratner was “the Tasmanian Devil — and you can see it onscreen.” Ratner’s more memorable action scenes include one in which Magneto bends the Golden Gate Bridge to his will, and a sequence that showcases a slightly different kind of “action” — a rousing make-out session between Wolverine and Jean Grey/Phoenix (Famke Janssen), in which they practically have sex on a lab table. “She’s just pure rage and passion,” Janssen said of her character’s transformation. “She’s the most powerful mutant, but she can’t control her powers.”
Because Phoenix (who can literally rip people apart) and Rogue (who absorbs other mutants’ life forces when she touches them) can’t get close to anyone, for them the cure isn’t an open-and-shut issue. “[Rogue is] missing out on a lot of stuff,” Anna Paquin said of her character’s quandary. Her dilemma makes the cure seem potentially beneficial — are you really giving up so much if you’re gaining the ability to love and be loved? Don’t people change themselves all the time in order to become more loveable, more desirable? “If you don’t have boobs, you get boobs,” said Halle Berry, who plays Storm. “If you don’t want a bump on your nose, you get it taken off. Then the question is, do you feel better on the inside? We struggle as a society to figure that out.”
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“On a very simple level, if you have the choice, for you or someone you love, to take a pill or a vaccine to get rid of the thing for which you’re persecuted, would you take it?” Jackman asked. “Or that thing that you just don’t like about yourself, or that people pick on a little bit — if you could get rid of it, just like that, would you do it? Or does that thing make you who you are?”
There are plenty of real-life examples of the situation dramatized in “X-Men: The Last Stand” — groups like Exodus claim they can “cure” homosexuality with prayer — however not every cure is cosmetic, or even feasible. “I could not change the color of my skin if I wanted to,” Berry said, “and I’m happy about that.”
And how do the “X-Men” actors and actresses (the ones who don’t die or lose their powers in this third film) feel about their new limitation — the inability to return in another sequel (see ” ’X-Men’ Director Says Movie Will Really Be ’The Last Stand’ “ )? Well, Berry has a feeling that that may not be the case. “There might be a fourth X-Men movie,” she suggested hopefully, “if this movie does well enough at the box office.” Plans are already under way for spinoff films about Wolverine and Magneto — origin stories that would require filmmakers to employ the same reverse-aging software that enabled McKellen and Stewart to play younger versions of their characters in this current “X-Men” installment (see “Ian McKellen Sticks Up For Evil In ’Da Vinci Code,’ ’X-Men’ “ and “900-Pound Juggernaut Weighs In On ’X-Men’ Spinoffs, Feels For Amanda Bynes” ).
Ratner says he’s not attached to direct either of those future films — yet — and that as of now there are no scripts for either of them. But if he had his druthers, the character he’d most like to spin off into his own movie is blue-haired Beast, the boy who — in the film version, anyway — starts to grow blue hair after he hits puberty. “We were all mutants once,” he laughed.
|As the X-men characters learn, there’s no such thing as “normal.” Find out how you can be more tolerant in your everyday life:|
|Check yourself: Do you discriminate?|
|Change your biased behavior from the inside out.|
|Find five ways to fight discrimination.|
|The eradication of “undesirables” is nothing new. Learn more about the horrors of genocide– past and present.|
|Embrace people’s differences and respect those living with disabilities.|
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