X-Men: The Last Stand Reviews
X-Men: The Last Stand has accrued a similar reputation in comic book circles in the 11 years since its release. Whenever this offering is mentioned, fans of the first two films tend to either start foaming at the mouth, disgusted by some deep betrayal, or sigh dejectedly and make some resigned comment about Hollywood. One could be forgiven, as a casual fan of X-Men, for assuming that this is the 2000s' equivalent of Batman and Robin. Rest assured, it's isn't - but it is very much the Batman Forever of the series, representing a huge climbdown from the heft and skill of old.
A lot has been made about Bryan Singer's sudden departure from the series, with debate raging over how much of the resulting disappointment is his fault. Singer left the project in July 2004 to helm Superman Returns, at a time when only a partial treatment of the story existed. Singer had intended to focus the third film around Jean Grey's arc leading on from X2, culminating in Jean committing suicide but her spirit surviving as something akin to the Star Child from 2001: A Space Odyssey. When Singer jumped ship, he took with him X2 screenwriters Dan Harris and Michael Dougherty, leaving 20th Century Fox with little to work with.
Over the ensurng six months, the project was offered to numerous directors who turned it down, including Joss Whedon (who was busy on his Wonder Woman project) and Alex Proyas, who refused on account of the bad experience he had endured on I, Robot. Matthew Vaughn, who had then just finished Layer Cake, signed on to direct in February 2005, but even with the release date being pushed back Vaughn felt he did not have the time he needed to make the film he wanted. Having had some say in the casting - including Kelsey Grammer and Vinnie Jones - he backed out before filming was set to begin in July, paving the way for Brett Ratner to come in.
Whether or not you think that Singer was right to jump ship (Superman Returns being the indecisive stodge that it is), much of his influence remains in at least the first hour of this film, just as Tim Burton held some sway over Batman Forever. His fingerprints are all over the Jean Grey storyline, fleshing out the character and turning her into something truly dangerous. Her arc is very reminsicent of Amy Irving's character in The Fury (itself heavily X-Men-inflected), being as she is a young woman struggling to channel and contain enormously destructive powers that to a large extent she doesn't want. There's even a sequence where Jean disintegrates people with her power - although it's not as bloody as The Fury's 18-rated version.
If all the good parts of X-Men: The Last Stand lie in whatever Singer managed to contribute before departing, all of the blame for the bad aspects can be laid firmly at Ratner's feet. The main problem lies in his sensibility - or, to be more precise, the complete lack of it. While Singer worked hard to build a compelling visual world to explore complex themes about racism, identity and alienation, all Ratner really wants to do to make knob gags and blow stuff up. Despite having been in the running to helm the first X-Men film, he displays no deep knowledge or love for the mythology, being too obsessed with spectacle and cheap humour to put in the hard yards which this kind of story needs.
As a result of both Singer's influence and Ratner's laziness, the film ends up being deeply conflicted. The first hour has some of the substance of old, especially in the opening flashback and some of scenes involving discussions of the cure. But Ratner doesn't delve as deep as Singer did, introducing the concept and then leaving it as a mere McGuffin. The dialogue is more aggressively macho than before, and talky scenes are more readily broken up with needless editing. And then there is the needlessly yandere-ish love scene between Jean and Logan, which feels like someone copy-pasted the sauna scene from Goldeneye into their fan fiction. Building up their relationship is necessary for the pay-off, but this isn't an erotic thriller - you don't have to approach every conversation like it's a prelude to 12A rumpy-pumpy.
As things roll on towards the inevitably explosive conclusion, many of the interesting character arcs which are either introduced or carried over from X2 are left unfinished. Grammar is a half-decent fit for Beast but is wasted in the role, and Rogue gets an especially tough break; while in X-Men she was arguably the central character, here all she does is go off, get the cure and then come back. While in the previous two films the action felt like an interlude to or progression from the character development, here everything serves the need for everything to blow up at the end.
If X2 was said to have been modeled after Road to Perdition, then X-Men: The Last Stand's main point of comparison would be with Die Another Day. Aside from possessing a general contempt for the audience's intelligence, and a number of similar scenes (the training simulations, the X-Jet's 'stealth mode' standing in for the invisible car), they also feature really dodgy CGI in the places that it's least needed. It's not so bad when Logan is having his flesh ripped apart when Jean is in Dark Phoenix mode, but the sequence with the bridge is every bit as ropey as Pierce Brosnan windsurfing over the CGI wave.
Building up to the big battle at the end would be fine if it actually had scale, context and above all meaning. But while Peter Jackson pulled it off spectacularly in both The Two Towers and The Return of the King, Ratner's battle is as aimless as a video game raid. Where Jackson's battles went through given motions, ebbing and flowing to build character and generate tension, the final act of this film is uninvolving, bland and often ridiculous. Vinnie Jones make the whole thing feel like a cut scene from Gone in 60 Seconds, and the actual ending involving Magneto at the chess board is both unashamed sequel bait and a huge anticlimax.
In spite of all its poor qualities, the cast of X-Men: The Last Stand do just enough to make the experience tolerable. Famke Janssen is the stand-out, having a commanding screen presence which manages to pierce through the effects and hold our attention; in the scene in the woods, she even upstages Sir Ian McKellen. McKellen and Patrick Stewart are both fine, though both have settled into 'established actor cameo' mode by the end, and Hugh Jackman continues to make his case for being the definitive Wolverine. Had Days of Future Past never happened, this would have been a bittersweet farewell for the cast, but you can't blame any of them for not trying in spite of the poor script.
X-Men: The Last Stand is a disappointment denouement to the original X-Men trilogy. While it makes for watchable viewing during the Jean Grey sequences, there's ultimately too little meat on the bones and too few thoughts between its ears to either satisfy committed fans or compete with its two predecessors. It id the worst of the original X-Men films, but had Brett Ratner been involved from the very beginning, it could have been even worse.
Nah, but really this movie probably doesn't deserve as harsh a rap as it gets, even though there are definitely things to criticize. The ruined character of Jean, for one. I know guys, let's make Jean into this super sexualized character that absolutely no one is going to have a problem with. It's fan service for the guys, right? ... Well no, I'm a guy and I don't like this. Not at all.
Getting that out of the way, this movie's second half is the bomb. The whole sequence at the base is pretty astounding, with witty dialogue, good fights, and some really emotional damage. Unfortunately, that didn't encompass the entire movie, because the first half is pretty garbage. Cyclops is moody? Let's just kill him. Lot of characters thrown away. Nightcrawler is nowhere to be seen and the mutants that are added are literally just there for a fight or to be thrown away like garbage. The angel is literally there to either advance the plot or to save his father. It's unnecessary and padding, despite the movie being only an hour and a half.
But, again, the second half is really good. Character development is in spades, there's a few good jokes, and it's stunning. There's a reason this movie is referenced after-the-fact, and not tossed aside like X-Men Origins: Wolverine (WHO THOUGHT THAT A MUTE DEADPOOL WAS A GOOD IDEA). And the themes are still there, maybe closer than ever. There's also a moment in the movie that will completely blindside you that I won't spoil.
It's unfortunate that the fate of this movie is a popcorn superhero flick, something the first two films tried hard to avoid (and did a good job), but that doesn't mean this movie is bad and ruins the trilogy as it stands. It's just disappointing to leave off on not the greatest of notes. Getting Matrix flashbacks? Though this is better compared to The Matrix Reloaded, not the godawful Revolutions.
Give it a shot. Rent it or find it on TV. It's worth the shot. I may be overly critical, but the second half is really worth it. (not the after-credits scene. Do me a favor and don't stick around for that or it'll ruin some of the emotion of this movie)