Howdy gang, I wrote a short piece on 8-Bit Cinema for Open Culture...check it out…
Dir. Brett Ratner
As a comic reader (never enough $$ to be a collector) as a kid, my love for tragic stories probably comes from the Dark Phoenix saga of the X-men. Not that I could ever buy that particular “death of Jean Grey” issue, but I could make out what I had missed in the lead-in and the aftermath. It was also their handling of the death later on that turned me against superhero comics right around age 16.
So I do have a soft spot for the X-Men. The fact that Jean Grey could not control her powers, destroys a planet in a frenzy, and is then sentenced to death, finally sacrificing herself lest her lover and her friends step in to stop justice from proceeding, gave me a little look into themes that would be dealt later in more adult literature (though writer Chris Claremont is responsible for a lot of Marvel’s maturity). A tragic flaw that cannot be rectified with anything other than death–it paved the way for me to read Hamlet later in high school, etc.
There was also the mind-blowing issue of What If? that examined an alternative universe where Jean Grey did live. The final act of the issue shows Dark Phoenix out of control, annihilating the entire X-men one by one (Kitty Pryde, for example, is blasted into a charred skeleton). It fried my mind! Superheroes don’t die, right? But here they were, felled one after the other. This probably also explains my love of stories in which everything goes spiraling downwards, such as the last episode of “Twin Peaks” or something like “Gonin” in which everyone is dead by the end.
So it was heartening to see some of this taken into account for X-Men: the Last Stand, which may not reach the heights of the original saga, but does have its moments. Several main characters die at the hands of Dark Phoenix, and a sense of gloom pervades the film, compared to the good-natured quipping of the first film. It’s not often you see an action film where the death of main characters affects the others for the rest of the film–we usually get a scene or two of mourning and then everyone is smiling away again. Not so here.
But there isn’t really enough Jean Grey (the beautiful Famke Jannsen) to make us care about her fate–once she joins the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants under Magneto, she stands around a lot in a stylish maroon overcoat and bodice and looks upset.
So what we have left are action sequences, and despite being directed by Brett Ratner, they’re actually kinda good. So I guess he’s learned a bit from the what-the-hell-is-going-on days of Rush Hour. The film even gives us some high quality moments of mainstream surrealism, such as the abandoned lakeside, post-Phoenix, with stones floating in the air, and Jean Grey’s childhood house, which is all-a-vibratin’ with the potential energy about to be unleashed (boiling Sparklets bottle, floating furniture). It also that should be noted that within a genre where strength is usually all, here the most fearsome characters are the ones with mental agility.
There’s a bravura sequence when Magneto rips the Golden Gate Bridge from its moorings and uses it as a footbridge to get to Alcatraz. The quality of the CG is so high that the sequence is neither real nor unreal. It just exists. On the other hand, apart from showing off, it makes no sense–if Magneto has the power to move a suspension bridge, why can’t he just levitate his mutant army over the water. Or rent a bus and fly that? Oh well.
To complete my story of my comic-reading years, when Chris Claremont killed off Jean Grey, I bought into it, and it affected me. So when they resurrected her character, I felt betrayed enough to give up on the whole superhero malarkey. Check out this explanation of what ‘really’ happened when she originally died and returned as Dark Phoenix (from Wikipedia):
It was later revealed that Jean’s original body was actually placed into a healing cocoon in the depths of Jamaica Bay and the Phoenix Force helped Jean psionically clone a new body using her genetic template, and then transferred almost all of Jean’s mind and soul (save for a few fragments of her spirit which refused to leave Jean’s original body) into the cosmically created clone’s body. It was the stubborn soul fragments which prompted Phoenix to place her old body in the healing cocoon, as she could not bear to extinguish their spark. Since the Phoenix Force replicated Jean’s body so perfectly (and because Phoenix had transferred Jean’s mind and soul to her new body), not even Professor X could detect the difference between Jean and the Phoenix.
In other words, pure codswallop created after the fact.
I think there’s a moment in any boy’s life (or girl’s, you tell me) where you either call bullshit and grow up, or you accept what they’re feeding you and well, I don’t know, remain a spotty manchild who plays Magic the Gathering in Borders and you’re THIRTY-FUCKING-TWO.
So I called bullshit. And then that summer I discovered Love and Rockets, Peter Bagge, and Robert Crumb, and well, there you go.
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