I envisioned writing a long treatise on how the X-Men franchise was driven into the ground in its first installment, flung toward greatness in X2, and left to plummet back to the Earth regardless of what happens in The Last Stand. But J.J.'s got a job, and no Internet at home, so there will be no point-by-point dissection of the the Great Franchise Flameout.
But I will say this: The X-Men saga cannot be contained in the medium of movies. This was a comic book enterprise through and through -- hundreds of characters and storylines that span millennia and galaxies. The first film buckled under its own weight, which was shocking, considering it was only, like, 88 unforgivable minutes long. I, an aggrieved 16-year-old in 2000, was close to tears after it. To wait so long for a cinematic visualization of my childhood and adolescent fixation, and then to have it shredded into processed multiplex fast-food dregs...
The shrieking disappointment of X-Men made X2 an extraordinary experience. Focusing solely on the mutant-vs.-human theme -- a potent and perpetual social allegory -- was the right choice. The franchise moved away from pastiche and toward some sort of cogent action film thesis. Introducing the Dark Phoenix factor at the climax was a bold move, and one that moved me to tears of gladness. The stakes were raised, and suddenly the next sequel seemed like it had to be ecstasy. How could it not be with X2 as a springboard? It's war, for chrissakes, with the soul of humanity at stake!
Reality checks in. Bryan Singer goes to work for Superman. Fox brings in the Dude and his dude baggage to direct. A rash of new mutants are introduced, further diluting the pool. Although Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Brian Cox and Hugh Jackman were perfect choices, the rest of the mutants have ill-fitting avatars (Paquin and Marsden in particular were catastrophic missteps) who have only gotten more awkward. It doesn't help when Storm (one of the richly rendered X-Men characters in the comics) says she's got nothing to do, or when people are more concerned about a Wolverine spinoff.
So I am nervous. Will The Last Stand be a spattered hodgepodge of criss-crossed intentions, or an exciting and eloquent close to a bipolar trilogy? Does it really matter? Is The Last Stand really the last one? Who knows. Whatever makes money keeps getting made, so I doubt it.
In a perfect world: I would've wanted a live-action TV series, not a movie franchise. Think about it. Sunday nights, one-hour drama, a devoted and intelligent writing staff, ample opportunity for dovetailing storylines and tantalizing guest stars (Dennis Haysbert as Bishop? Kristin Chenoweth as Emma Frost? Josh Holloway as Gambit? Chris Meloni and Mariska Hargitay [right] as Havok and Polaris [left]? David Hasselhoff as Mr. Sinister?). I think it really would've been something. It would've saved us from watching movie execs shoehorn the vast world of X-Men into 100-minute blocks every three years.
When I see the movie at 12:01 a.m. tonight, perhaps my fears will be allayed. But I will still be yearning for that fuller live-action treatment -- one that cinema can't accomplish.