• Michael Randall

My 'Best, Absolutely Dreadful Film' - X-Men III: The Last Stand

Fairly frequently in my personal tutor/senior tutor/honours dissertation supervisor meetings with students, I find myself telling students the importance of taking breaks from university work. There is no shortcut to a law degree – you do need to put the work in. However, in order to fully understand and digest the information, breaks need to be taken, in order to allow a student to switch off. This is the same for staff/anyone really – in order to perform at your best, you need to be in the right frame of mind as you proceed through a task.

One of the ways I try and explain this, particularly in relation to mental health, is by analogy to discussing physical health. Let’s suppose that I start a new exercise programme/regime in the gym (something I am clearly a stranger to). Whilst there are clear benefits to physical exercise, fundamentally, it involves a depletion of resources/fuel. You do need to put in the effort in order to improve, but there also comes a point where continuing to exercise will cause damage. The rewards to the exercise come not from the process of exercise, but in the recovery period.

For me, it is the same with mental health – yes, I have days where I work hard, and have a tendency to work over a weekend (usually compensating for a very poor day of work on a Friday, for some reason). But I need to find ways to take a break. As an example, last night, I knew there were emails that were awaiting a reply, but I sat down to watch Glasgow vs Ulster in the rugby (which did not go well). But it means that today, I’m in a better position to tick off a greater number of tasks, accordingly.

Sometimes, you need to switch your brain off completely, and for me, this usually means watching something which requires little to no thought/cognitive capacity to comprehend. Students will have heard about times on my Erasmus year when, after having spent a full day from 8am-6pm studying in French, I would watch episodes of ‘Pimp My Ride’. Quite frankly, not the best programme, but it has a familiarity to it. Person records a video about how rubbish their car is, Xzibit arrives at a person’s house, person has an over the top reaction to this (on what is likely not the first take), before Xzibit walks around the car making innuendos and staring at the camera. Then he drives it off, they add a load of TV screens in the car, plus something which makes it really impractical for doing your food shopping in. Person shows up and is really excited, blissfully unaware that things are going to be stolen off the car, it’s going to be incredibly fuel inefficient, and cost an absolute packet to insure.

However, this post is about what, for me, is the best terrible film that I’ve seen. A film which is absolute garbage, but is incredibly watchable. It is a bit like having a kebab at 3am after a night out. Yes, you normally want the haute cuisine Michelin star fine dining experience, or the home cooked meal style films. But even though you know you’re going to pay for eating that kebab, you’ll still have it every time its around.

As an honourable mention, controversially, I will say that Love Actually kind of fits into this category. I'll take some heat for this, but it’s an absolute mess of a film, with characters who are quite reprehensible, really. Apart from Emma Thompson. However, it doesn’t quite make the grade, because I won’t sit and watch it every time it’s on the telly.

Instead, the honour falls to X-Men III: The Last Stand. I remember quite distinctly watching it for the first time. My sister picked me up from college in her red Nissan Micra. We drove down to the Showcase Cinema at Avon Meads. Sat down for a couple of hours to watch this film. And came out shell-shocked, both asking “what the hell was that?”.

Superhero movies are now mainstays in the film industry – the tent poles upon which studios and cinemas structure their financial years. However, that wasn’t really the case at the time. I have not really read any of the X-Men comics – my exposure was some of the X-Men animated series. However, there was a curiosity when the first film came out. I remember we definitely rented that from a shop which I don’t even think was a Blockbuster. And it was actually a decent film. Taking into account that the genre wasn’t as well-established at the time, and the special effects not being what they are today, it was a pleasant surprise. One of the criticisms of the Marvel movies is that the villains are not the best. In the X-Men films, the central conflict between Charles and Eric/Magneto is very different. Eric’s not wrong in his beliefs, but is flawed in his execution. There is a level of thought required to follow the philosophies, but overall these are very clear. The biggest issue in the film series up until The Last Stand was Halle Berry’s wandering accent for Storm (and the appalling line about what happens to toads when they are struck by lightning).

However, the director changed for The Last Stand (Bryan Singer had gone off to film Superman Returns and annoyed everyone, I believe), with Brett Ratner taking over. In summation, that meant that the intricately thought out tone and themes set out in the first two films went completely out of the window, replaced by a sort of frat boy-esque version of events.

I’ll spare a full breakdown of the plot and all of the film’s problems. But the basic premise is that a cure for the mutant gene has been discovered, with various consequences. Meanwhile, one of the X-Men, Jean Grey, emerges as a powerfully destructive force, the Dark Phoenix (a storyline which I know in the comic books stretches over many issues and is iconic, but here is rushed through and has none of the nuance). Characters get killed off for the sake of it. Explosions happen. World OK in the end - characters changed by the events.

There are films that are worse than this, I’m sure. Batman and Robin (the one with George Clooney) is truly terrible, but in such a way where it forces you to actually think about who thought any of it was a good idea – if your villains are Mr Freeze (wants to cover the world in ice) and Poison Ivy (wants to cover the world in plants), then their motivations clash, and they shouldn’t co-exist, for example. However, we have scenes where they need to make a now accent-less Storm look ominous/important. We have characters carrying giant TVs to show how strong they are. And then we have Vinnie Jones’ Juggernaut, who…well you aren’t quite sure why he made it through the edit (in finding this clip, I realised I had forgotten about Wolverine kicking a guy in the groin...the one who's supposed to be ferocious in a fight reduced to a low blow and a quip. Ah, this film).

It’s not the worst film I’ve ever seen (Keith Lemon: The Movie). It’s not even the most disappointing film I’ve ever seen (not its fault, but Godzilla – if your trailer promises me Bryan Cranston vs a giant lizard, and I don’t get that, I’m going to be irked). It is unintentionally hilarious, but not in the way that something like The Room or Showgirls is. It’s stupid, and a complete mess – but if it’s on the telly, you’d better believe that I’m going to watch it, and feel myself shutting down.

One of the silver linings, though – we later get one of the better X-Men films – Days of Future Past, which adopts the same kind of plot as Terminator 2 to reset the franchise, so that the events of this film are undone. Also, in the end credit sequence to The Wolverine, I will admit I got far too excited to see some characters return.

I’m sure everyone has one of these films or TV series in their locker. I’m not even going to call it a guilty pleasure. But I am going to say that, whilst our students will be working hard, and we want them to engage with interesting research and literature on a range of topics, they shouldn’t feel bad about taking the time to watch these films/programmes from time to time.

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