Review Briefs

BY MATT JUSTUS

X-Men UnitedDirector: Brett RatnerStarring: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry

This film, the third in the X-Men series and first for Ratner after previous director Bryan Singer’s departure for Superman Returns, was one of the most eagerly anticipated blockbusters of the 2006 season. Plotwise, it partially follows one of the more famous storylines from the X-Men comics, “The Dark Phoenix Saga,” as Jean Grey returns from her watery death at the end of X2, newly consumed with the extent of her power. Meanwhile, a pharmaceutical company has begun synthesizing a supposedly voluntary cure for the “mutant virus,” leading to violent reactions from people such as Magneto (Ian McKellan), who believe that there is no virus to cure. Mutant mayhem ensues. Also notable is that this film represents the first instance this summer of a film’s fanbase having an impact on the final print, as the line “I’m the Juggernaut, bitch,” was lifted from a popular fan-created YouTube video.

In short, the film was a disappointment. Ratner crammed so many major events into the script (one national landmark is destroyed, two major characters are killed, and another three are permanently de-powered) that his ability to recapture the sheer awesome of the second film seemed certain, and yet there was something missing. Maybe it was the poor pacing of the story. Maybe it was the strange characterization, or the missed story possibilities. Maybe it was just too much Halle Berry.

Rating: **

Superman ReturnsDirector: Bryan SingerStarring: Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey, Marlon Brando’s Ghost

It took nineteen years, but after the abomination that was Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Superman finally made it back to the big screen this summer (comparatively, Batman only took eight years to come back after Batman and Robin, possibly the worst movie ever made). The result is Superman Returns, a film that pretends that the last two Superman films never happened and takes place five years after the end of Superman II. In the meantime, Superman left Earth to investigate the wreckage of his home planet, Krypton. Superman (Routh) arrives back home to discover that while some things have changed, namely that Lois Lane (Bosworth) now has a son (about five years old…) and a fiancĂ©e, others have not, as Lex Luthor (Spacey) was released from prison and seeks both revenge and real estate.

The film has loads more heart than its mutant competition, and is often quite beautifully shot. The special effects are masterful and for the most part elegantly woven into the story, though the ending goes over the top in that respect. The performances are all competent, and Spacey certainly appears in his element as a madman. The main problem with the film is that it actively invites comparison to the original, and in that sense it fails to measure up. Routh and Bosworth do a good job, but they are essentially imitating Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder, and that shows.

Rating: ***

Clerks IIDirector: Kevin SmithStarring: Rosario Dawson, Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson

Not strictly a “superhero film,” but one whose characters almost care more about Spider-Man and Star Wars than about their own lives, Clerks II comes back to revisit Randal and Dante, the twenty-something store clerk slackers depicted in Clerks. The two are now thirty-something store clerk slackers, though the store has changed. Dante still wrestles with his future and equivocates over whether or not to move to Florida with his fiancĂ©, as Randal continues to enjoy mocking Lord of the Rings and Transformers fans, and Jay and Silent Bob continue to sell pot in the parking lot.

Smith’s dialogue is the primary selling point of his films, and, for the most part, remains outstanding in this movie. Conversations on the best film trilogy of all time and whether a racial slur can be “taken back” by someone outside the target racial group will not disappoint (or at least will not disappoint nerds from New Jersey). Though it is refreshing to catch up with Dante and Randal after so long, and most of the film captures the feel of the original without re-treading the same ground, there are two problems. First, the gross-out humor can be off-putting. Gene Shalit walked out of the film during a discussion of human/animal relations, sparing him from having to see the bizarre staging of said act later in the film. Second, the incredibly sappy ending diverges too far from the characters’ prior behavior to be believed. Maudlin ending aside, the film serves as a fitting sendoff to Smith’s View Askewniverse, at least until the next time he decides to visit it. Plus the random dance number is pretty funny.

Rating: **1/2

Next Week: Non-superhero movies, Hollywoodland, which could be considered a superhero movie, snakes, and planes.

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