- Providing plentiful evidence for the argument that movie series—and superhero-movie series in particular—suffer a precipitous drop in quality in the third installment
- Combining two of the best story arcs in the history of X-Men comics—Chris Claremont’s Dark Phoenix saga and Joss Whedon’s Gifted arc—into a overstuffed, largely incoherent mishmash
- Making a huge gob of money, thus artificially extending the homely career of director Brett Ratner
Defenders: So praiseworthy was X3 that it required two separate full-length audio tracks: one featuring Ratner and co-writers Zak Penn and Simon Kinberg, and the other with producers Avi Arad, Lauren Shuler Donner, and Ralph Winter.
Tone of commentary: Relentlessly upbeat and self-congratulatory, as befits the comments of six people who made more than $100,000,000 in three days from their efforts. Critics didn’t care for X-Men: The Last Stand, and though it broke the box-office bank, fans routinely cite it as the weakest of the series. But you’d never know that from hearing these folks talk. The producers’ commentary is so positive, it’s almost comatose, enlivened only by the occasional technical detail from Winter and what entertainment value can be had from listening to Arad’s thick Israeli accent. Ratner and the writers are more informative, dropping lots of insider trivia for the comic nerds, and being a bit more jokey and self-effacing. Arad teases the audience by frequently referring to fantastic scenes that got cut from the film, which are also not included on the DVD; in the process, he posits a sort of alternate universe where X3 was a good movie. Overall, the tone is captured when Zak Penn says “Let’s give a shout-out to us. Good job, us.”
What went wrong: Many people who saw X3 would have been happy to chime in with their answers to that question: the revolving door of directors attached before the producers settled on a far inferior replacement for Bryan Singer, a script that tried to do too much with too little, a tonal shift that spotlighted bad performances and left the whole thing feeling slightly ridiculous. But to hear Ratner, Arad, and the gang tell it, everything went super-ultra-mega-right. The producers have not a bad thing to say from the first frame to the last, and the writers only bristle slightly at a meaningless bit at the film’s very end.
The one curious element is Ratner’s near-constant mentions of how many scenes he had nothing to do with. For those who consider the movie a failure, this reads as him trying to shift the blame elsewhere, and for those who think it’s a success, it might seem as though he’s curiously detached from the project. He particularly goes out of his way to mention how many bits were actually left over from the first two movies; he doesn’t seem particularly ashamed of this, so it’s not as if he’s apologizing for doing a worse job than Bryan Singer. But it’s hard not to make the comparison during the nonstop litany of “Bryan did this shot… This is the church that Bryan used… Bryan Singer shot that shot right there, I didn’t shoot it… Mark Helfrich, my editor, shot this scene… We felt like we really nailed this scene, so we took two weeks off and let other people shoot the next scene… [Cameraman] Jimmy Muro shot all this.”
Comments on the cast: With none of the cast members around, it seems like someone should be brave enough to talk about, for example, why it was such a bad idea to give Halle Berry more lines. But it’s all brilliant this and fantastic that and consummate-professional the other. Even the two nonentities playing Jean Gray’s parents, who are onscreen all of 30 seconds, are described as “perfect.” Penn says of James Marsden, who’s barely in the film, that “moment for moment, he gives the best performance ever.”
Inevitable dash of pretension: There are many, all coming from Ratner. Kinberg claims that X3 is “the 400 Blows of comic-book movies,” but it’s clear that he’s joking. It isn’t as clear when Ratner says “there’s a lot of Kubrickian references in this movie.” But at least Penn and Kinberg have the decency to tease him about it, describing a nondescript aerial shot of a forest as “straight out of Barry Lyndon.” Ratner also gets carried away comparing Magneto to Che Guevara, and refers to John Powell’s woozy, overblown score as bringing “emotional resonance through these repeated leitmotifs.” Best of all is when Ratner points out an FBI interrogator played by Anthony Heald, who, he informs us, was “Dr. Chilton in my movie Red Dragon,” while presumably silently praying no one remembers that Heald played the same role in The Silence Of The Lambs.
Commentary in a nutshell: Ratner: “See that motorcycle? I own that motorcycle. I paid $50,000 for it.”