Marvel Movie Madness! Part 12: X-Men: The Last Stand
The original trilogy comes to a close.
Part 12: X-Men: The Last Stand (2006, 57% @ 228 reviews)
Directed by Brett Ratner, starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen
Luke: The Last Stand feels like a kit car: from a distance it appears to be the real thing, but get up close and lift the shell and you discover it's running on an inferior engine. Like most I wish Bryan Singer hadn't jumped ship for that confusing Superman movie, but I also think Brett Ratner takes too much of the bad rap for X3's shortcomings. Ratner's douchey reputation tends to precede his competency as a director -- sure, his images lack the grace and personality of Singer's, but in his defense he at least tries to be reverent. The third part of a trilogy is always a tough gig, too: filmmakers have to pull the story threads together while feeling the need to up the ante by adding more characters and inevitably the level of spectacle. I'll get crucified for this, but I actually enjoyed most of the first part of the movie, which surged with a requisite sense of urgency for a third chapter, but it's eventually undermined by a screenplay that loses focus of what worked in the first two films, shortchanging the characters in favor of repetitive, tone-deaf action. There's an exact point that seals the movie's doom for me: Vinnie Jones, playing Juggernaut as a variation of his soccer hooligan persona, grunts, "Don't you know who I am? I'm the Juggernaut, bitch!" It's horrible screenwriting, whatever the justification for it, and lazy lines like "The best defense is a good offense" don't belong in a series that previously worked to establish some gravitas.
What's worse is how it discards the characters that mean things to the audience. Scott gets dispensed early on without much care (as does Mystique); Xavier exits and the movie suffers greatly without his reason; and Jean, who gets a couple of great moments early on as pure Phoenix id, has her potentially emotional moment with Wolverine in the finale squandered amid an avalanche of loud CG. Meanwhile new characters receive disproportionate attention: I guess Kelsey Grammer is an okay Beast; it's always nice to see Ben Foster, however briefly; and at least Juno, I mean Shadowcat, gets to call Vinnie Jones a "dickhead" (a rare satisfying moment.) My biggest problem, though, is the handling of Magneto. This film gets to a point where he had my complete sympathy -- his fight against the cure seems just, or at least active, when everyone else is standing around debating flaccidly -- but X3 turns him into a low-rent, shouty villain who suffers a cheap demise in the end. Without Xavier around there's no balance to the relationship, no tempering of each others' ideology. (That ending and post-credits thing makes little sense and seems more like an easy sequel ploy.)
I don't think this is necessarily the horrendous sequel its reputation has come to suggest, but it is a disappointingly rushed conclusion to something that had been set up with care; it understands only bombast when it needed to pause to give the characters their due. Then again, it's a masterpiece compared to what was coming next...
Alex: X-Men Origins: Wolverine is stupid as hell but at least it moved around like a Hollywood movie. The Last Stand is completely disjointed: tonally all over the place, the plot lurches around in fits and starts. The X-Men are completely reactionary in this movie: they appear to have no purpose in existing beyond checking out the aftermath of Magneto's antics. Their time is spent inside the mansion crying about bad plot devices and trying to knock boots with a reanimated Jean Grey. Nothing made my jaw hit the ground faster seeing this movie exploit Professor X's death for some sweet, sweet Iceman/Rogue/Kitty Pride homeroom drama.
And that "the last stand" takes place with Wolverine, Storm, some boring kids, and Kelsey Grammer on leave from Blue Man Group? I'm glad I had skipped X2 when it came out of theaters. It would've convinced me the series was worth continuing.
It's easy to to blame blame Brett Ratner but this was yet another production shortsightedly rushed by Fox (hopefully the great reviews for X-Men: First Class will have convinced the studio to cut it out). Ratner doesn't have much hay in the stable of self-critical analysis, and that's an asset when the job is to take this pile of money and shoot fast with a bad script and major actors unavailable. A better director would mull over proper shots and story structure, but, a better director wouldn't compromise themselves with a movie like X-Men: The Last Stand in the first place.
Luke: A great -- and insanely creepy -- point about the Jean-Wolverine situation. Not only is Scott Summers wiped out of the plot early without fanfare, but, as you say, Wolverine then proceeds to spend the rest of the film (when he's not sniffing out nondescript Brotherhood extras in the Ewok forest, that is) trying to consummate his flirtation with Phoenix. Where's the respect? Oh right, that'd be in the cheap pan across the headstones at the end -- hey, remember Scott Summers? Jean Grey? PROFESSOR CHARLES XAVIER (he's the one with comically big tombstone)? Yeah, we thought not -- the movie did its best to make you forget them. But we can look forward to X-Men Origins: Kitty Pride and the Sunny-D, right?
Alex: Kitty Pride's sidekick would be Jubilee and they would fight the injustice of long lines at the mall for iPads.
Tim: I'm just gonna come right out and say it: I've never understood the vitriolic hate this movie inspires. Is this movie as satisfying as the first two? No. Does it feel completely faithful to the X-men universe? Not really. Does it work as an action movie? It does. It's not particularly profound, but The Last Stand does a few things very right. I like the introduction of the new mutants on both sides -- seeing new characters learn how to harness their powers never gets old for me. For all its geographic absurdity, the sequence when Magneto literally rips the Golden Gate Bridge out of its foundations and rides it like a chariot to Alcatraz is a pretty awe-inspiring demonstration of Magneto's abilities. And the scene where Mystique is shot with the mutant antidote and loses her powers right before our eyes - with Magneto unceremoniously ditching her to boot - struck me as strangely poignant. Sure, the X-Men seem curiously understaffed for an apocalyptic battle against the Brotherhood, but the climactic throwdown is both thrilling and crisply edited. And the last scene before the credits, in which Magneto looks both haunted and defiant, has a quiet power to it. Overall, this is the weakest of the X-Men movies so far, but it's still pretty sturdy stuff.
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