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X3 - Can Something Stop the Juggernaut?

By Jason Lethert     May 17, 2006

Fox, Marvel Stand Against Skeptics Over X3

Brett Ratner has become the next new comic book movie power player with the fast approaching X-Men: Last Stand. But will he be more of a Sam Raimi, or a Joel Schumacher? Right now, things look cautiously optimistic for Ratner, the X3 buzz and hype has been charging forward and gaining momentum. But there's still that nagging element of concern in fandom. For the first time in a long while, a Marvel film has struggled with fan enthusiasm during development. With the film just around the corner, here's a closer look at the ups and downs that X3 has gone through on it's way to the silver screen.

A year ago, who would have thought it possible that the X-Men franchise could be trouble? Yet, for several months, the internet was abuzz with scathing flames across fanboy message boards. Still, with a template for success established by Singer's first two X-flicks, it seemed a smooth transition to a new director would be easier for X-Men than other franchises. But Fox seemed to be have a problem recovering from the loss of Bryan Singer. After hyping director Matthew Vaughn for the job, he abruptly quit, citing "family reasons" - that's usually code for deeper issues (though there's no evidence of that).

Suddenly, X3 had lost two directors, and negative buzz about the script wasn't helping matters. Would Fox recover? Of course - they had three directors on their short list, so fans hoped they'd wow us with whichever they initially passed on (Fox had narrowed it down to three when Vaughn won out).

One of the passed over was Joss Whedon. Of course, Whedon was a fanboy's dream candidate. For years, he's built up genre cred with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and the cult classic Serenity. Then throw in his hit run on Astonishing X-Men comics, Whedon is the kind of director that had the fanboys frothing. But it was too good to be true. Reportedly said he wouldn't direct it if he couldn't write the script, and Fox and Marvel weren't interested in an auteur - they wanted someone they could plug into what they'd already developed. So Whedon declined.

The other alleged finalist with Whedon was Dawn of the Dead director Zack Snyder, but apparently he was no longer being considered. Instead of Whedon and Snyder, Marvel Productions had been, according to Ain't It Cool News, next focused on two more possibilities: John Moore (director of Behind Enemy Lines, and Flight o/t Pheonix) and Brett Ratner, of Rush Hour fame, as well as Red Dragon and the ill-fated Superman project (by J.J. Abrams).

Well, that wasn't thrilling news. John Moore's films hadn't lit up the fan community. On the other hand, Rattner had just been involved in a bitter online imbroglio with his failed involvement in the developing Superman project.

Ratner's doomed Superman production was barreling full speed ahead when the script of writer J.J. Abrams (writer/director of Alias, Lost, Mission Impossible 3) was leaked to the internet. Fans were horrified to learn that Lex Luthor would be a Kryptonian, and Krypton was never destroyed as Kal El is sent to Earth. The project later fell apart, and Warners let Ratner go. So he was available, and Fox ended up choosing Ratner over Moore, who went on to direct the new Omen remake instead.

Can Ratner deliver? Much of the fan angst is from Ratner's image from the Rush Hour movies; no one wants an X-Men film with Chris Tucker-style humor, and Ratner has made four films with Tucker (and that Mariah Carey video doesn't exactly embolden Ratner's image either). But that's unfair to Ratner who has changed his tone with the material, as evidenced by Red Dragon. Fox and Marvel boldly proclaimed that landing Ratner was a coup, a boon to the franchise.

But they were in a far different position than Warners was with Superman; Warners had (in part due to being gunshy after Batman and Robin) had unlimited development time, and thus no imperative to commit in any direction (which reached comical heights when the trades announced Warners was developing scripts on Batman vs. Superman, meanwhile advancing scripts on Batman Beyond, Batman: Dark Knight, and others). When Warners felt things weren't going right, they decided that Ratner's recent box office history weren't worthy of the risk.

Ratner had just come off the dudd After the Sunset ($24 million gross) and Red Dragon, the latter of which scored $93 million but was viewed as a disappointment after Ridley Scott's Hannibal racked up over $160 million. With X3, Marvel & Fox had committed to a release date before the script was finished; they needed a big name director that could come in quickly, and wouldn't make waves about content control.

Ratner has successfully shrugged off most of the criticism; the early footage looked good, and the official trailer looked even better. The uproar among fans in the summer of 2005 has been muted, and the general tide of X3 press has been fairly positive. In fact, one possibility is that Ratner will surprise everybody with a film that elevates his career to the next level. The films most fans dislike that Ratner's done are shallow, but if he's truly the real deal, he can't miss with X-Men's combination of commercial appeal and narrative depth. After all, if Rush Hour or After the Sunrise sucks, you can blame the material. You can't do that with X-Men. And with X-Men, Ratner has all the building blocks to rise above his stock and standard history.

Of course each failed C2F adaptation is a bitter pill to swallow for the loyal fans, but there's more reason than ever to have a more Zen attitude and take it as it comes. Even the debacles bring with them an important part of the process. The financial crash of Batman and Robin was a wake up call to Hollywood that fans expect more reverent treatment of their characters (and certainly Catwoman was an exclamation point on that statement). And even the letdowns have a few gems to glean. As bad as Superman III is, who doesn't love the scene where red Kryptonite splits Clark into two for a "good Supes vs. evil Supes" fight? Batman Forever had a few good Riddler moments. Even Batman and Robin had... um, let me think... there was - Schwarzeneggar's freeze ray looked kinda cool, right? Didn't it?

Next week, Part Two of our in-depth examination of the buzz surrounding the highly anticipated X3.

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