Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...
Okay, I know, I know. I’m late with this. But you can thank Earthlink for that. Nine days without service of any kind. Amazing. I was starting to think that Avi Arad and Fox had paid Earthlink to crash my service.
Now, before we begin, let’s clarify a few things. Harry and I have not read the X-MEN 3 script, any version of it. We’ve got a new spy who has, though, and I’ve been able to verify that the version of the script he read was the “six-day-draft” that Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn wrote under the supervision of Matthew Vaughn. I like both Kinberg and Penn as writers, and I know that both of them are genuinely going to try to do right by the characters. However, this isn’t a case of two writers doing whatever they want. If it were, I don’t think there’d be anything to worry about.
You want to know who the main villain of X3 is going to be? Tom Rothman.
One of the reasons I started reading AICN, before I ever contributed anything to it, was because it demystified the development process. So often, blame (or credit) is assigned by fans to people for no particular reason. It’s easy to point a finger at a director or at a writer or even at a company like Marvel and assume that they were responsible for something, but having gone through the development process several times now for different studios (including Fox), I can tell you that more often than not, the truly terrible decisions can come from people whose names you never see onscreen.
When I call Rothman a villain, I’m well aware of how loaded that word is. I can’t think of anything more shocking this year, though, than the speech he gave at this year’s Saturn Awards. Here’s a show specifically designed to celebrate genre, a room filled with SF, fantasy, and horror filmmakers, and Tom Rothman gets up and not only lambasts everyone who writes about those genres, but also has the nerve to call himself a geek.
You, sir, are no geek. A geek would not have stripmined the ALIEN and PREDATOR franchises the way you did. A geek would not consistently value release dates and fiscal quarters over getting material right. Listening to him talk about what a friend he is to genre filmmakers was akin to being at a Shoah Foundation dinner where the guest of honor was Joseph Goebbels. This is the guy who chased Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin off an ID4 sequel after they made $600 million for the studio because he wanted to pay them half of what they made on the first film. This is the man who browbeat Stephen Norrington until he quit the business altogether. This is the guy who almost convinced Alex Proyas to give up filmmaking. How many genre filmmakers... great genre filmmakers... do you see returning to Fox over and over to make their films? And why, exactly, do you think that is?
By the way, Rothman... telling a ballroom full of people that you’re a geek because you fuck the star of SUSPIRIA and PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE every night? Classy. Very, very classy. But still... not the point.
If you’re a Fox stockholder, now is the time to be concerned. X-MEN is the only proven major franchise that Fox currently has up and running. Who knows if FANTASTIC FOUR is going to work or not? Maybe it’ll be great. Maybe it won’t. ALIEN VS PREDATOR marked the end of two franchises at the same time. STAR WARS was never yours in the first place. Studios depend on these types of films. There’s a reason they’re called tentpoles. This is what you build the entire rest of your release year around. If you manage one of these properties the right way, it’s the gift that keeps on giving. Look at the way Sony has handled SPIDER-MAN so far. As soon as they release one, they start developing the next one, giving them plenty of time to get the script just right. They don’t start shooting until this winter, but they’re already doing FX and costume tests, and they’re deep into the writing process based on an outline that Sam Raimi and his brother have been tweaking since last year.
You know when Rothman finally gave the go-ahead to start putting together the treatment for X-MEN 3? This February. I’m a chronic procrastinator, and even I think that’s piss-poor time management, man.
Here’s the thing about X-MEN. It may be one of the most flexible and durable film franchises I’ve ever seen. By the very nature of who the X-Men are, you can rotate cast in and out of the series without having to scrap continuity. This is already off to a better financial and creative start than the Bond franchise was, and you see the legs on that one. Why, then, would you allow a personal grudge to lead you to make decisions that will not only kill the golden goose, but also rape it and eat it?
And make no mistake... the rush to make that Memorial Day 2006 release date is about beating Bryan Singer to the screen. The acrimony involved in the Singer/Fox break-up is rich enough to write an entire book about, especially if it leads to the destruction of the franchise. This could turn into one of the all-time great displays of executive hubris in Hollywood. You want to know why you lost Singer to Warner Bros. and SUPERMAN in the first place? Because you took over a year to negotiate his deal to direct X-MEN 3. That should have been one of the biggest no-brainer decisions you could have ever made, but maybe you have to have a brain to make a no-brainer decision. You strung him along and strung him along and strung him along, and then when you had finally proven to him that you weren’t going to make things easy... you were too late. Alan Horn took full advantage of Bryan’s almost-fetishistic love of Donner’s SUPERMAN and your hesitancy, and he stole him from you. I don’t know what’s funnier... throwing Bryan off the lot using security guards, or the fact that you had to let him back on the lot immediately thereafter so he could shoot HOUSE for the studio.
What’s really amazing is how X-MEN was something Rothman hated from the start, no matter what he says now in public. I’ve spoken to at least ten people close to the production who have provided me with laundry lists of the ways that Rothman tried to fuck up the first film. Remember when they cut the budget and moved up the release date on the first X-MEN? You know why? Rothman was cutting his losses. He really, truly anticipated that the film would come out and vanish without a trace, and he would finally be rid of what he saw as a corporate albatross. Instead, the film clicked, and on the second film, Bryan Singer and his writers and the producers were all able to muster enough muscle to get Fox to give them the room they needed to make something even better.
That must have stuck in Rothman’s craw something fierce, and that’s what led to that massive slow-down after X-MEN 2. They should have made Bryan’s deal the following week, and they should have also locked in Dougherty and Harris and Tom DeSanto and Lauren Shuler-Donner and Ralph Winter and the entire production team and the cast and everyone else that was part of the creative alchemy that made the first two films work. I remember one year at BNAT when Tom DeSanto talked about the way they had been planting the seeds of the Dark Phoenix storyline and several others since the very first scenes of the first X-MEN. Who knows? Maybe someday Marvel will let DeSanto and Singer do a graphic novel or a limited-run series where they do the story they had in mind for X3 and X4 on the comics page so we can at least see where the films were originally headed. As it is, Rothman’s firmly back in charge of the franchise now, and that distaste for the material seems to be seeping back in.
Which is not to say that all the news is bad.
When I was first contacted by The Big Hurt, our new spy, I almost dismissed the review he sent us. Too much detail is almost always the giveaway for someone trying to troll you. But I was able to verify this with multiple sources all the way up the chain of command at Fox and Marvel, and I can tell you... even though some of the details of the script are still being hammered out, the spine of what you’re going to see onscreen next summer is right here. Harry seems to have implied in some of what he’s written that he feels this is an unmitigated disaster. I’m not so sure yet. I do know that there are some valid complaints here, particularly regarding the way the main menace of the film is almost a carbon-copy of the menace from the last film. Also, one of Rothman’s chuckle-headed notions that he kept trying to shoehorn into the first film, the idea of Storm and Wolverine having a steamy sexual relationship, has resurfaced now. Gee, I wonder why. But there’s stuff here that I like, and it sounds like there are some amazing sequences in store. Keep in mind also that what our spy read was rough, so even if the substance of a scene was right in the draft he read, the way it’s actually handled may be very different in the final version. Dialogue, the description of certain effects, the way an action scene is fleshed out... it’s still early days yet. And even with all those caveats, this is mostly a positive review.
I’ve really wrestled with how much to reveal of the spoilers, too. In the end, I hope we’ve erred on the side of caution, but I want to give you a sense of exactly why Avi Arad calls this “the most controversial film of the series.”
Next summer, Fox is cleaning house, and there are going to be a lot of bodies on the bonfire. Check this out:
If it’s an X3 bonanza you wanted, let’s get it going all the way, ay…
(Warning: Spoilers! And also a side note: I’ve only read the first two acts as the third act was locked down tighter than a Sharon Stone Basic Instinct vice grip on Michael Douglas’ groin.)
“A large silver BLADE slices through the black screen. Wolverine’s claw?
No. It is a STRAIGHT RAZOR, gleaming on a white counter in—
INT. UPSCALE BATHROOM – DAY
More MACRO SHOTS of: a rope, rubbing alcohol, steel brush, other strange instruments. Suddenly, we hear KNOCKING.
INT. PENTHOUSE HALLWAY – DAY
WARREN WORTHINGTON SENIOR, a patrician father in an expensive suit, knocks on the door. Concerned.
Warren, son, what are you doing in there?”
Yeah, so it gets bloody. Junior is trying to cut himself. But unlike the normal teenager who does it to alleviate pain by causing pain, he’s actually trying to cut something right out of himself. He’s trying to cut the mutant right out of his body; he’s trying to cut off his wings. But the blonde boy is unsuccessful, and we’re given Warren Jr. (not officially Angel just yet) as our first new X-Men character.
The very next scene shows a young Xavier and a young Erik Lensherr (Magneto) in the back seat of a car driven by a furry blue Beast of a man. The two have a conversation that is essentially a prequel of their confrontations to come. They are friends now, but combative and, in Erik’s case, somewhat competitive.
As their car slows down, the name on the mailbox outside the car is revealed – GREY. Both Xavier and Erik walk in confidently. Erik makes mention of not wanting to meet “every one of them in person,” and Xavier responds that “this one is special.” This interior scene parallels the Iceman/parents scene from X2, except Jean is only 13 and pretty obviously powerful beyond her years. She’s already reading Xavier’s thoughts and she manages to lift the entire neighborhood street’s worth of cars into the air. This isn’t the same Jean Grey we’ve known and loved in the first two films. This is something different.
Finally, the last introduction scene gives us a revisiting of the White House scene from the opening of X2.
“INT. WHITE HOUSE – HALLWAYS – DAY
A large, blue figure passes the PRESIDENTIAL SEAL on the wall. Something is moving, fast, through the corridors of the White House. It is eerily reminiscent of another blue creature at the start of another movie.
We see more glimpses of this thing: his big blue furry feet move deeper and deeper into the core of the building. Finally, he swoops past two MARINE GUARDS with machine-guns.
By the time they look up, he is already gliding through an imposing, high-tech door with the Presidential Seal over the words SITUATION ROOM. An alarm BEEPS, as we…
INT. WHITE HOUSE – SITUATION ROOM – DAY
You’re late, Hank.
On the monitors, scanners have identified his genetic signature: HENRY MCCOY. SECRETARY OF MUTANT AFFAIRS. The alarms go silent.
Sorry, Mr. President. Traffic on the beltway.”
It seems the new presidency is much more accepting of mutantkind. But here we see what is both one of the strengths and one of the weaknesses of this script as a whole. The parallels to the first two films don’t go away. In fact, we see more of the exact same. In both the first two films, we had interesting and hearty character interactions and rapports, a well-developed villain in Magneto who is more greyly shaded than many realize, and some fun intros and boisterous second acts. Again, we have some interesting character introductions (heck, with such a plethora of good characters to choose from, it’d be hard not to get most of these right), and I’ll get into both Beast’s and Angel’s effective scenes in just a bit. But the villainous sidekicks always seem to get reduced to near Bane-like levels of idiocy (Sabretooth in X1, Lady Deathstrike in X2, and in X3 we have a listless Juggernaut, who is nothing more than a henchman among Magneto’s Brotherhood.) Also, the second act in X3 doesn’t cook nearly as much as the Military vs. the School of Mutants in X2, and it’s more discombobulated, like some of the scenes out of X1. We need one X-Men member to shine in the second act and basically take over the show (like Wolvie did in the school), but we’re not given that here.
Also, the main arching plot in these films is always some lame attempt by someone to change mutants to humans, humans to mutants, or kill one or the other. It’s no different in this script, too, as the plot consists mainly of Worthington Sr.’s plan to de-mutant the collective homo sapien superiors of the world by injecting them with a de-mutant serum. That’s right. A frikkin’ de-mutant serum that glows blue. What is it with the writers for this series and their fascination with serums and machines that alter genetic make-ups? So no, there is no Apocalypse. There are no Sentinels. What we have here is a good ol’ fashioned serum of death as our enemy of choice. And to prove it works, we get a firsthand glimpse of our favorite pseudo-naked blue mutant, Mystique, as she is injected with the serum and she becomes a no-longer-blue version of herself – I just hope she’s still naked when the transformation occurs.
Ok ok, it’s not all bad. There’s a prison break sequence involving a bunch of bad muties on Alcatraz Island. Magneto, amidst all the hubbub of the deadly serum, has once again decided to fight the homo sapiens with his homo superior force. Amongst those that he breaks out are Avalanche, Cannonball, and…
“That Cajun-looking fellow with a thick mop of hair: GAMBIT”
Also among those broken out of the prison is one Cain Marko, otherwise known as Juggernaut. But as mentioned above, he serves no other purpose than to be a lowly henchman for Magneto for the first two acts. What a complete and utter letdown. Gambit, too, doesn’t have anything interesting to do in the first two acts. His appearance is nothing more than a cameo, although he could play a role in the deciding fight at the end of the film, no doubt. Lastly, there is one prisoner who defies all laws of mutantcy and actually masks other mutants’ abilities whenever they near him. His name is Leech, and he is the focal point of the serum. Much like in X2, we have a pretty lame mutant who provides some sort of bodily secretion for a crazed man wanting to get rid of mutantkind – lame and vapid writing if you ask me. The scene ends with Magneto destroying the Golden Gate Bridge in order to build a new bridge for he and the escaped muties to flee on. His powers are on awesome display, and I again wonder why it is that he doesn’t just kill anyone in his path if his powers are so unbelievably strong. And if you say it’s because of Xavier, well, just keep reading.
On the X-Men front, Rogue is having trouble with Ice Man because they can’t touch each other. He begins flirting with Kitty Pride (aka Maggie Grace from “Lost”), and Rogue decides the mutant “cure” might be her best and only option to be with Bobby long-term. She also attends Brotherhood meetings, although the script is unclear if it’s because she’s spying on them or if she actually is contemplating joining. Rogue is again given one of the roundest and most dynamic roles in the film, and it’s too bad the script can’t find a way to make her more of a centerpiece instead of the occasional side moment. On the cool side of things (both literally and figuratively), Bobby and Kitty both share time in none other than the Danger Room. It’s a relatively short sequence, and it’s not all that well-written (of all the things you could do in something as neat as the Danger Room, why have a bunch of bullets flying at two mutants during a World War II setting?!?), but at least it’s given a nod in this film instead of completely forgotten about in the others. It’s easy to feel Bobby’s teenage desires kick in here over his loyalty and relationship with the untouchable Rogue. The X-Men scripts nail the interpersonal relationships of the X-Men and the Brotherhood (well, at least as far as Magneto and Mystique are concerned), and this film is no exception.
Beast has an interesting scene with Iceman and Kitty Pride when they infiltrate the Worthington company to decipher if the advertised mutant “cure” is for real or not. If done right, it could be one of the best sequences in the first two acts. The key will be getting Beast’s super dexterity to a realistically believable level. The script describes his movements as:
“breathtaking to behold. He is beyond agile, a blur of acrobatic blue fur. He works his way through the final gauntlet of security, and enters the main lab, where he snatches a sample of the cure.”
I just don’t want to end up with a big CGI-fest of movements like those that Yoda or the Emperor perform in Episode III. Talk about jarring and pulling you out of any semblance of reality… ugh. And the Kelsey Grammer casting isn’t exactly awe-inspiring either. Beast could end up being a cluster-fuck of a character if they don’t nail his CGI appearance and movements down.
Finally, in terms of the X-Men, my favorite scene in the script involves Warren Jr.’s decision to not undergo the “cure” to his mutant birth. With his wings held under his trench coat by a complex harness, the scene unfolds…
Wait, I don’t want to do this.
Warren, just calm down.
Worthington joins the orderlies in trying to hold him still.
Do it. Quickly!
Warren’s thrashing starts loosening the straps. He strains against his harness and suddenly…
The harness breaks into pieces and…
HIS WINGS UNFURL!
It is a magnificent sight, truly inspiring to behold. Everyone in the room freezes.
Even his father is speechless. For a moment.
Warren… we discussed this. This is what you want.
No. It’s what you want.
Seeing the guards blocking the door, Angel spins to the glass windows –
And dives through them!
EXT. WORTHINGTON INDUSTRIES
The line of mutants look up as glass fragments explode out from the faÃ§ade of the building. They watch in awe as…
AN ANGEL SOARS OVER THEM.
Some cross themselves, others merely stare, but none of them will forget this moment. They shield their eyes as ANGEL disappears into the sky.”
I have no idea what they plan on using Angel for in the future (Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, anyone?), but he ends up at the X-Mansion at the end of Act II. It’s where he belongs. For what little he is in the script that I have read, he’s given plenty of room to shine. It will be interesting to see what actor they get for the role and also what part the character will play in the finale.
Big surprise – Jean Grey does come back, except she’s not that shy, selfless girl learning to find and use her powers anymore. She’s something else entirely, and it’s a doozy. They don’t call her Phoenix, but it’s obvious she is no longer Doctor Grey. She has very little control of her powers at first, too. And when I say very little control, I mean it. Take this first encounter with her when our washed up Cyclops, with full-on scruffy look, decides to risk a trip back to Alkali Lake…
“The water parts.
Something emerges from the center of the lake.
A flicker gets brighter, lighting the lake.
A creature of PURE ENERGY rises from the depths.
It glows like a living star, emanating wave after wave of telekinetic energy.
Scott watches, awestruck, as the star slowly descends, and the maelstrom of gravity passes. As the glow flutters, Scott takes his first step forward.
He is shocked by what he sees in the epicenter:
She is alive. Jean Grey is reborn.
She looks at her limbs, her skin. Stunned, disoriented.
A dream… Has to be a dream…
But she looks up. She seems real. She blinks, slowly recognizing him, memories flooding back now.
Her voice makes him believe. His tears of pain turn to tears of joy. He steps toward her.
How… how could you come back?
Jean looks at her limbs again, feeling her power.
I don’t know.
Scott doesn’t care. He takes her in his arms, and holds her close, hugging tight. He pulls back, looks at her.
Take these off.
She reaches toward his glasses. He reels back, protecting her. She shakes her head, feeling her strength.
Trust me. I can control it.”
Except she can’t. The script describes Scott’s skin as “shivering” until he is simply de-molecularized. No more Cyclops. Poof, he up and vanishes like a fart in the wind. Now, I don’t have a particular fondness for the character of Cyke, and if he were the only X-Men character that she decimates, it might actually work for the better. James Marsden was never a particularly strong actor, and his only legitimate place in the first two films has been as the thorn in Wolverine’s side in acquiring the love of Jean Grey. But even Wolvie can smell something fishy about this particular version of Jean. And he finds out from the Professor that Xavier himself put mental blocks in Jean’s mind when she was young (remember the 13-year-old visit?) so that she couldn’t harm anyone with her extraordinary powers.
Unfortunately for Xavier, not only are those mental blocks now gone, but she also finds out from Magneto that the Professor put those blocks in without asking her. Big mistake. In a trip back to a setting from the beginning of the film, both Magneto and his Brotherhood (including henchman-like Juggernaut) meet Xavier and his X-Men at Jean’s old home. Jean, or what’s left of her, is inside and the Professor and Magneto go in alone to see her. This is when Magneto reveals to her that the Professor was the one who blocked her mind. She seems none too pleased with this, and the two mental powerhouses lock minds. [OKAY... HERE’S WHERE I HAD TO REMOVE A CHUNK OF THE MOST SPOILERY STUFF, SIMPLY BECAUSE I CAN’T RUIN IT IN GOOD CONSCIENCE THIS FAR AWAY FROM RELEASE - Moriarty]
I guess that’s one way to go about writing the Dark Phoenix Saga…
:rolls eyes and makes wretching motions toward the script:
So Cyclops is dead, and an annoying but sexually active Storm has taken his place as field leader. Magneto is ready to seize his opportunity of freedom to destroy mankind, although without his most helpful of mutants, Mystique, who is no longer a member of homo sapien superior-kind. And Phoenix is flying all crazy-like somewhere, just waiting to de-molecularize the next person who tries to kiss her or screw with her mind. Act III probably won’t be able to top the first two acts, both in effective character-building rapport (probably the best thing about the X-Men films, really) as well as sheer lunacy. The deaths or de-mutantinizations of four important characters from the first two films absolutely screams of problems with contract renewals. Oh well. I just hope they get Angela Bassett to lead the X-Men, because I sure as hell ain’t gonna buy into weak-assed Halle Berry leading the charge.
What works? The character interactions, especially the X-Men, are top-notch. I’m very wary about the Storm/Wolverine relationship, mostly because the two don’t do anything in the first two acts except screw each other, but besides that, the interplays between the characters are well done. The threesome of Bobby, Kitty, and Rogue are developed in a cogent and convincing manner. As mentioned above, Rogue is given some fleshy material for her character, and Paquin could run with it. Beast has an honest chance to stand out, too, although that could be for either good or bad reasons. The character is given a decent work-up as one of the original X-Men of Xavier’s school, and his interactions with the current X-Men and his physical feats are both well-written. Is it too much to ask that an actual artist be given the reins of animating his dexterous moments and blue furry self as opposed to some vacuous CGI wannabe? I think having a true artist in charge of these CGI moments is going to be paramount to whether or not Beast actually works on-screen or not. Also working in the script is Phoenix’s electric bursts – I may not agree with how and why the script makes her do what she does, but her power is undeniable. Let’s just hope that the effects look a little more interesting and real than the cartoonish fire Jean was emitting at the end of X2. Magneto, too, is given an interesting moment with Mystique as he recognizes she has been devolved into a human being. Whereas the X-Men band together, we see the divisive nature of the Brotherhood in action here, and it works. Lastly, the character intro for Angel as he flies out the window is nailed.
What’s not so hot? Well, the plot sucks, and that’s never a good sign. When the driving point of the plot is a blue serum derived from a useless mutant (read: Plot Device), I’d have to say the studio probably got its money’s worth out of the monkey assembly line in the basement. Ouch. If the Sentinels show up in the third act, it’s redeemed. Otherwise, this feels like a cop-out of sorts. Meanwhile, Wolverine feels like he’s been neutered (or is it just pussy-whipped by Storm?), and really doesn’t do much except hang out with Storm the whole time – not the best use of the most well-known X-Man around. And Storm’s annoying as usual. If they really want to hand the face of the X-Men over to Halle Berry, woe to the unsuspecting fan who walks into that theatre. Cyke dying wasn’t so horrible (he may’ve been the glue for the X-Men team, but he was just anal enough for me not to really care – plus, as I said above, Marsden was pretty mediocre), but [THE SECOND CHARACTER TO DIE] went out with almost nothing but a whimper. His character in this film is severely underdeveloped, and what’s worse is that they add Cain Marko just as [SOMEONE] is killed off? Weirdsville. The Mystique devolution really blows, too, as she’s the only character who could hold a candle to Magneto on the Brotherhood side of things. Say what you want about how they’ve overused the character in the first two films, but Romijin has actually grown into a decent actress in the last few years. Losing her feels like a punch in the gut to the credibility of the Brotherhood. Oh, and did I forget to mention the lack of decent action pieces? The Beast infiltration of the Worthington Industries lab isn’t bad, but it’s written as if it’s a 60-second montage, not a driving scene. Magneto’s break-in of the prison could be interesting, too, but it’s certainly not written as such on the page. The director is going to have to have vision to pull off both of these sequences, which leads to…
Good luck to the director who takes on this project. Vaughn probably knew this one was about to blow up in his face, and that’s why he ran. Maybe a strong writer can come in and still make this an effective script, but the main plot, and the utter oblivion of [ONE OF THE CHARACTERS] especially, are currently a death knell in this project. And now that Ratner’s aboard, well, good luck X-Fans is more like it.
Hope this message finds you and finds you well…
The Big Hurt