Cutting-edge special effects highlight X-Men: The Last Stand, but they never build excitement because the movie has no style. Director Brett Ratner’s lack of visual imagination can’t rise to the potential of distinctive comic book adaptations by Alex Proyas, Warren Beatty, Sam Raimi, Tim Burton and Guillermo Del Toro. Ratner doesn’t place himself alongside Bryan Singer’s workmanlike visuals on the first two X-Men films, he’s left imitating them. The big screen needs to come alive with spectacle and feeling; X-Men doesn’t offer viewers much worth looking at.
The letdown is most pronounced with the strong line-up of performers. The X-Men series has always had a diverse, interesting cast. Only Ian McKellen, suffering enough blockbuster overexposure that he’s becoming a one-note parody of himself, is a weak link. But rather than deepen the group dynamic, Ratner’s movie is overcrowded. It’s about as short as the first film, but feels as long as the second.
Humans have introduced a way for the mutant gene to be suppressed, thereby enabling mutants to live like regular people. This is met with varying reactions from the mutant community. The issue hovers over X-Men: The Last Stand, while not developing as real emotional conflict.
Over the Hedge
The group dynamic in the kid comedy Over the Hedge is more entertaining than X-Men’s conflation of superpowers, if only because the cartoon animals are given room for their individual quirks to play off one another.
Based on Michael Fry and T. Lewis’ comic strip, it’s another in the line of animated films about various animal species working toward a common goal. In this instance, they awake from hibernation to find that a hedge, mysterious like the 2001 monolith, is blocking part of their forest. With a little courage, they discover that on the other side of the hedge is a new land altogether: Suburbia.
The romanticizing of out-of-reach civilizations was also the subject of co-director Tim Johnson’s better Antz. In Over the Hedge, it’s a theme of losing oneself to greed, which is staged as a two-sided attack. The animals are content eating tree bark until they meet the raccoon RJ (voice of Bruce Willis). RJ is in mortal trouble with a bear after losing its junk food supply, so he convinces his new friends that they can obtain better treats by stealing from the gluttonous upper middle class. The animals learn that their natural environment doesn’t compete with Nacho Cheese Doritos—the domesticating threat of materialism.
On the other side of things, the human characters have bought into the ideal of property value. This isn’t the usual annoying movie presentation of suburban life. It’s focused beyond location to the idea that financial success equals human worth. With it comes the cowardly hope of no longer having to deal with other kinds of people, let alone animals. This is played in kid-friendly terms, mostly broad slapstick. When veering toward sappiness (a couple montages set to songs by Ben Folds fizzle out), it wears thin. But when Johnson and cohort Karey Kirkpatrick keep the action moving, good animation meets fun storytelling.
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