When Matthew Vaughn left Marvel in a lurch, leaving production of X-Men 3 just before shooting, Brett Ratner stepped in to meet the start date. He wasn’t their first choice but then X-Men wasn’t his first choice of superhero movies anyway. Having attempted to get Superman off the ground years ago, Ratner saw the upheaval around X-Men 3 as a second chance.
“I thought that my chances were gone,” Ratner said. “Once I’d left Superman, I said, ‘Well, Bryan’s doing X-men and Sam Raimi’s doing Spider-man. Batman is now Chris Nolan’s movie so I’ll never get another opportunity.’ Then when Bryan left, I thought, ‘Oh, sh*t. Wow, this is a great opportunity for me.’ I wasn’t going to do Superman so I put out to the universe that I wanted to do a superhero movie.”
More of a DC comic book reader as a kid, Ratner was still a fan of the X-Men cartoon of the early ‘90s. “The difficulty was keeping the tone of the first two movies which was already established but which is fantastic, which Bryan did a great job doing. And then kind of focusing on the emotionality of the story and the characters. That was my focus.”
With every scene in the movie coming directly from the comic books, fans can’t really complain that Ratner hasn’t captured the world properly. All he did was restructure the existing script to his narrative instincts.
“[Making it] my own is just relative as far as I’m trying to make it less my own than I am trying to make it part of the trilogy, the same way that Return of the King was part of The Lord of the Rings. I did a lot of work on the script. I didn’t change the story, I just changed the structure. If you want an example of that, the huge third act set piece which is the Golden Gate Bridge, that was originally in the middle of the movie and was used in a very different context. I just took that set piece and I moved it the third act so it was more part of the plot. It was structural changes that I was doing, where things happen.”
Known best for his Rush Hour buddy cop movies, Ratner did not impose his sense of humor on X-Men: The Last Stand. “There’s a few opportunities for one liners, stuff like that, or comedy that comes from the character, which is always the best. But it’s a very complex story so there’s not a lot of improvisation. We’d change lines and stuff but otherwise it’s pretty straightforward.”
When he starts talking about the political undercurrents of X-Men, it becomes more clear that Ratner gets it. “The movie’s really about power, the use and misuse of power. It’s really about a choice and it deals with alienation. Someone invented a cure for being a mutant and so they face a choice, whether to conform and become human, to one prejudice or they maintain their uniqueness or identity and their powers and embrace what makes them different. It’s really about what kind of choice does the cure offer. You can relate it to abortion, you can relate it to homosexuality. The question really has strong racial, political, social and sexual aspects of it. What if an African-American could take a pill and cure them of being black or if a gay could take something that would alter his sexuality. So those choices are really strong choices to make and we show both sides of it. Halle Berry, why would she want to lose her power? She’s worshipped in her village in Africa, for changing the weather. For Rogue, Anna Paquin, she’s never had contact with a human. That’s the political aspect.”
Subplots like the Dark Phoenix storyline ensure that The Last Stand will address more than just the political. “The social aspect is really the Jean Grey/Dark Phoenix story. We wanted to make Dark Phoenix as psychological as possible. It’s a character driven franchise so it really has to be about the characters and the psychological journey of these characters. The Jean plot is about choice as well. That’s why I love it because when do you give up on somebody you love?”
With so many subplots in the film, there are sure to be plenty of deleted scenes for the DVD, or an X-Men 3.5 version to come. “The DVD is going to be incredible because I have a huge making of, my personal making of, all these alternate scenes. I pretty much put everything I shot in the movie. There just is alternate stuff. I’m holding some stuff back for 3.5 but otherwise it’s going to be a slam packed DVD.”
Even though the X-Men take a last stand in the third film, nobody expects them to stop making movies. Though Ratner himself has not been offered subsequent sequels, he feels the possibilities are endless. “I think they all could come back in one form or another. There could be an Xavier School film, there could be a Wolverine film, there could be a Magneto film. All of them could possibly come in and out of these other movies. We’ve done enough in the X-men movies [to establish spin-offs].”
Ratner will return to Rush Hour with the third film to begin shooting in August. What’s taken so long, you might ask? “Well, Chris wasn’t ready. Everyone has to be ready. When Chris isn’t ready, I go do Red Dragon. When Chris isn’t ready, I go do The Family Man. When Chris isn’t ready, I go do X-men. Then when he’s ready, he comes around and we do it. So now he’s doing it.”
After X-Men, the antics of Tucker and Chan will be a piece of cake. “Rush Hour is going to be much easier, much, much, much easier because there’s no visual effects involved. The visual effects are daunting. They’re overwhelming. It’s out of your hands. You draw it, you design it, show the people.”
That’s not to say that the visual effects crew really directs the film. Principal photography still covers the film’s basics. “It’s CGI enhancement. It’s not a completely CGI world but we do take something and shoot it so it’s tangible, like the bridge. We built a quarter mile of the bridge in Vancouver. We built miniatures. I think my six months of prep on Superman kind of prepared me for it.”
Even though Superman was a completely different script at a different studio, it was Ratner’s initiation into the world of special effects movies. “Just the process of doing a big, visual effects film. The process of working with animatics and storyboards and visual effects supervisors. It’s just that process was helpful because I had been through it before.”
X-Men: The Last Stand opens Friday.
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