So in trying to find a subject to write on for this week’s column, it was hard to avoid X-Men: The Last Stand. The movie has captured the collective minds of the moviegoing public and has produced huge numbers in the short time it has been in theaters. Despite mixed reviews and word of mouth, the film keeps barreling through, knocking down several box office records.
This is all despite a haphazard production, which saw the departure of not one, but two different directors. Bryan Singer, who had helmed both 2000’s X-Men and 2003’s X2: X-Men United, bringing Comic Book films back as viable commercial commodities, left the project to finally get Superman Returns out of limbo. There were rumors that problems with Fox Executive Tom Rothman added fuel to the fire, as according to imdb.com Singer had even offered to direct X3 after he had completed the Superman reboot, but was instead carted off the Fox lot.
Next up was Director Matthew Vaughn, whose Layer Cake was an impressive debut, and promised a maverick spin on this successful franchise. Again, the X-Men were left directionless after Vaughn left the project citing family issues. Rumors were abounding once more as the film’s shooting schedule may have been the primary reason for Vaughn’s actual departure. Even though Superman Returns had been in production for months, Fox and Rothman were determined to get the second X-Men sequel into theaters before the Man of Steel reached cinemas.
Like a cavalry riding out to make the save at the last minute came Brett Ratner. The director of the Rush Hour films and Red Dragon, Ratner has been often accused of not having his own style as a director, opting instead to simply mimic those of others. But then again, this may have been one of the primary reasons for his hiring in the first place. When you can’t get Bryan Singer, perhaps getting someone that could ape his style would be the best course of action.
Now that the film is out, and all the dust has settled, is X-Men: The Last Stand a worthy addition to the franchise? Does it prove that you don’t need a big name director to be a big time Summer Blockbuster? Well in my own personal opinion, this is hardly a “yes” or “no” situation. :
X-Men: The Last Stand Starring Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellan, Alan Cumming, Patrick Stewart, Famke Janssen, and Vinnie Jones. Directed by Brett Ratner.
For many, those worried about the film’s quality may have had their fears assuaged in the opening moments of The Last Stand. In a marvelous flashback, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Eric Lensherr AKA: Magneto (Ian McKellan) show up to the house of Jean Grey (played in this sequence as a youngster by Haley Ramm). The scene is fantastic as Charles and Magneto are de-aged twenty years digitally. The mind boggles at the possibility of a movie set in this era. Full of hope and wonder, the scene shows a window in time where these two friends could co-exist and have virtually mutual aims.
Flash forward ten years and we see an adolescent Warren Worthington III, known to those familiar with Marvel’s continuity as Angel. Cayden Boyd plays the tyke mutant, bringing out all of the character’s shame. As an allegory for any subject that may bring humiliation to a young child, this sequence does its job in spades. The sequence is even a little hard to watch as the child tries to mutilate himself to escape the disgrace it will bring to himself and his father.
Eventually we do get to catch up with all our favorite mutants. In a fun sequence, we get to see everybody’s favorite outsider Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) running around with a lot of the same X-students from the previous entries. Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), Rogue (Anna Paquin), Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), and Kitty Pride (now played by Ellen Page) are all reintroduced in a combat sequence where a huge Sentinel looms in the background. The scene plays out well for the most part, as we get to see everyone’s mutant powers in action. Unfortunately, this is also where problems start to rack up.
For lovers of Marvel’s X-Men, The Sentinels are something we’ve waited to see since the series’ first film was announced. These giant robots have plagued Stan Lee’s original creations for decades, eliminating mutants by the score. Here, we get two spotlights in the background fog. Wolverine eventually does away with the robot menace, but instead of a great action sequence, we get a flawed off-screen battle with a punch line that doesn’t make much sense.
This is an ominous sign of things to come in this mixed bag. For instance, the film’s script is a schizophrenic mash of two different storylines that don’t always work well together. A plot about a cure for mutation could have been itself developed into a very strong storyline, but it’s undercut with the interjection of the Phoenix story, which is done a great disservice in and of itself. This is perhaps the most important story in the history of these characters and instead of doing it justice, it’s an afterthought to get more fans in the theaters. In addition, tons of characters are added, with little or no background, while others are arbitrarily discarded.
Many characters audiences loved from the previous films are absent or simply mishandled. James Mardsen’s Cyclops is again shoved off-screen, and this is the worst offense of all. Despite being quite good as Cyclops, Mardsen only gets a few moments of screen time. This is probably due to the fact that the actor took a role in Superman Returns and simply became a casualty of this ongoing conflict.
Anna Paquin’s Rogue is also given little time in Last Stand. As a love triangle builds between Iceman, Rogue and Kitty, Paquin is seemingly nowhere to be seen. Yes, a certain amount of angst is supposed to be building with the character, but no good side is ever shown. Rogue has the power to become anything she desires. By being able to take the powers of any mutant, Rogue is conceivably the most powerful one of all. Instead, this is never explored. Spoiler: As those that have seen the film know already, Rogue gives up her powers. Much like the film itself this is a mixed bag, as one of the biggest points of the X-Men has always been the importance of embracing individuality and differences. To say to an audience, it’s OK to throw away your individuality feels very forced to me, and not the emotional high that the filmmakers were going for. This coda also feels tacked on as, again, Paquin’s screen time is very limited. End Spoiler
Famke Janssen, who has through the course of the first two films crafted a character to be loved for both her feminine charms and her motherly instincts, is also generally wasted here. For an actress of this caliber to be given only echoes of how great this storyline could really be is a travesty. Janssen does what she can here, but it’s not enough to make this storyline work.
Fans looking to see X-Men favorite Angel enter the fray will be sorely disappointed. As is the same with Jean Grey and Rogue, Angel is only in a handful of scenes. Ben Foster seems to be a good choice for the character, but his screen time could have been given to another character that could have been developed further instead of this throwaway attempt at audience pandering. The same also goes for Daniel Cudmore’s Colossus who is onscreen only during fight scenes, and not really even relevant during those.
I was going to stop with the complaining, but then I remembered Halle Berry’s Storm, and Josef Sommer as The President. In a word, both of these performances are just bad. Neither seems to have any chemistry with those around them, and when they utter any lines the results are disastrous. Fortunately, if this is the last X-Men
movie, then we will never have to see these characters again.
So these are my main problems with the movie. I could nitpick some more about of the crappy mutants in the film (who thought Arclight was a good idea?) or go into some of the bad dialogue, but I don’t want to discount what good there is in this film. What makes this hard to downright pan is that there are moments of genuine quality and other members of the cast that still come out unscathed.
First and foremost is Ian McKellan as Magneto. McKellan is magnificent every moment he utters a word. I know back when he was originally cast as the X-Men’s
greatest villain, I was unsure, but after three films now, I don’t think anyone else could play the character. Magneto may be the noblest of villains in the Marvel universe and McKellan brings a class that few performers could match.
It’s also hard to root against Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. While a lot of his outsider mystique is gone here, he still brings an energy that captivates as he slashes his way through bad guys. It’s unfortunate that he’s not given a big showcase fight scene in the way he was given in the first two films. His showdown with Juggernaut (Vinnie Jones) is fun, but doesn’t excite like the rumble with Kelly Hu’s Deathstrike. In addition to the action sequence, his emotional beats with Jean Grey at film’s end are nearly enough to pull this film up out of mediocrity. Too bad, these are shortsighted, but Jackman’s not to blame.
Patrick Stewart is once again awesome as Professor X. There’s really not a lot more to write about it other than he pulls another great performance out of this character. I’m hoping to see him in this role again.
For the newcomers, no one’s as fun as Kelsey Grammer’s Dr. Hank McCoy AKA: Beast. His scenes are as if the character leapt off the page and onto the screen. His quips with Wolverine during the film’s last epic battle give some nice briskness to some of the heavy handed dialogue that weighs down the picture.
Speaking of newcomers, Director Brett Ratner does an adequate job of filling Bryan Singer’s shoes. In his defense, this film was so rushed and the film’s running time is so slim that given more time, I believe a great X-Men entry could have been made. He gives Action junkies enough big set pieces to be sated, even though none have the emotional impact of X2’s moments. The final showdown on Alcatraz Island is fun, but could have been amazing. There are so many mutants, that some do not even seem to have powers at all. Too many times Wolverine and Beast seem as if they are playing a game rather than fighting for their lives because they seem to be fighting guys with no powers at all. And just let me say it once again, who thought Arclight was a good idea?
The Last Stand’s apocalyptic finale looks great, but doesn’t hold your interest in the same way the dam bursting in X2. In all honesty, once you get past the visual splendor, the moment is pretty predictable and never has a real resolution. That’s really a good way to sum up X-Men: The Last Stand as a whole. Unfortunately, the film goes in with other second sequels to Comic Book franchises. Superman III, Batman Forever and Blade: Trinity all basically gave me the same feeling after they were over.
The other day as I was out at a restaurant, I heard a kid at the table behind me. He was complaining about the movie, and how his favorite characters had been killed off arbitrarily and seemed really let down. It made me sad that Ratner had taken this grand experience away from a small child, and I wondered how many children felt the same way and indeed how many moviegoers at all felt robbed after the experience. As I sat there, the kid hoped there would be an X4 to fix the mistakes in this film. I disagreed with the kid entirely. Let’s let sleeping dogs lie, and hope that this series doesn’t get a chance to have its Batman and Robin.
Picture credits: impawards.com, cinema.com