Thursday, January 29, 2004

T3 + X2 = ? | The holiday resurgence in movie viewing in the Shallow Center household has fallen off in recent weeks with the return of real life, but I still found time recently to check in on a pair of sequels, X2: X-Men United and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.

Many critics and viewers felt X2 was better than the original (which I liked), and it's not hard to see why. Thematically darker than its predecessor, X2 brings the good mutants and bad mutants together to fight a politically connected military goon, a certain Colonel Stryker, who's hellbent on destroying all of them. The kicker is that the good mutants' mentor, Professor Xavier, spends much of the picture in a trance and being manipulated by Stryker, leaving Wolverine, Storm, Cyclops, & Co. in a wary alliance with Magneto and Mystique.

Director Bryan Singer again keeps things moving along nicely, and the story provides much more depth than the standard comic-book movie. There are significant musings on faith, for example, and, in a satisfying twist, the X-Men must overcome their own prejudices while dealing with many humans' uneasiness and mistrust. Additionally, X2's climax provides the kind of surprise not seen since Spock went nuclear at the conclusion of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

Alas, as in X-Men, the sequel contains a clunky attempt to equate mutants with another victimized group. Whereas the original draw a comparison between mutants and Holocaust victims, X2 links them with teenage homosexuals struggling to find acceptance. Folks, we get it, already. Let's move on. Fortunately, Singer makes up for this misstep by finally allowing us to see Mystique take on a human form. Considering the form is that of Rebecca Romijn-Stamos. . . .

When it was released last year, most critics thought T3 had made a satisfying return to the B-movie roots of the original Terminator. It seems absurd to call a film with Arnold Schwarzenegger, state-of-the-art visual effects, and a huge budget "B-movie," but Jonathan Mostow infuses the picture with the same kind of lean, no-nonsense tension that made Breakdown and U-571 winners.

John Connor has moved from being a teenage prick to a twentysomething slacker living off the grid and working under the table. Having averted Judgment Day in T2, he's now haunted by nightmares that the cyborgs will return and force him into an unwanted destiny of leading the human resistance against the machines. Pretty prescient guy, that John Connor. Soon enough, a smoking-hot female cyborg, the T-X, is wreaking havoc, and the Governor himself has returned from the future to keep the peace.

The flip side of "B-movie," of course, is "cheesy," and there are some spectacular dairy moments in T3 -- thuddingly awkward dialogue and really misplaced slow-motion shots, in particular. The Arnie act is wearing thin by now, and certainly the filmmakers should have given Claire Danes more to do -- abuse James Cameron all you want, but at least he directs interesting female characters. Only once does Danes's Kate Brewster approach the feral intensity that made Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor so damn compelling in the first two movies. It's not enough.

Still, Mostow and writers John Brancato, Michael Ferris, and Tedi Sarafian manage to avoid the confusing temporal pitfalls that trip up so many time-travel movies, and they deliver a finished product that is sturdily made and gleaming with perfect continuity -- no mean feat when you're building on a pair of sequels made by a different guy. T3 is a competent last -- one hopes -- word.


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