SEQUELISED: X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

We got our comic book critic to review Brett Ratner’s X-stinker. Still bad?

Who made it?: Brett Ratner (Director), Simon Kinberg, Zak Penn (Writers), Lauren Shuler Donner, Ralph Winter, Avi Arad (Producers), 20th Century Fox/Marvel Enterprises/Donners’ Company.

Who’s in it?:  Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, Kelsey Grammer, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn, Shawn Ashmore.

Tagline: “Take a Stand.”

IMDb rating: 6.8/10.

Upon first watching X-Men: The Last Stand, I thought that, despite not being as good as the first two films, it offered a more action-filled affair compared to Bryan Singer’s exploratory take on the character’s relationships. Although, I always knew that Cyclops’ (James Marsden) death was a completely stupid, flawed waste of my favourite X-Man. Why couldn’t they have killed off bloody Storm (Halle Berry) I do not know, as Berry’s portrayal of her never really blew me away, and I was (lightning) struck by how emotionless a supposedly popular actress could actually become (this was before Twilight, remember). I’ll apologise for the weather jokes when Brett Ratner and Berry apologise for this godawful piece of shit, as subsequent viewings have shown me that my initial assessment was as deeply flawed as the film (apart from the whole killing of Cyclops thing, that remained completely idiotic). You know that a picture’s truly dreadful when even the combined presence of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen can’t save it.

For those unfamiliar with the previous two X-Men flicks, X2 concluded with Jean Grey (Famke Jansen) saving the team by sacrificing herself. However, upon her death, it was heavily alluded to that she became the “Phoenix,” with a bird-shaped flame making a vague appearance beneath the waters. Last Stand begins with Cyclops utterly depressed and useless over his beloved’s death, leaving Storm and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) to pick up the slack in student training. It’s in this scene that we see our first glimpse of what should have been the villain of the piece, a robotic and mutant-hunting Sentinel, but it transpires that this oversized toaster is nothing but a ploy to lure viewers into a false sense of security. This film won’t be quite that exciting.

As the X-Men have been around since the sixties, there are an awful lot of plots to choose from, and while Joss Whedon’s mutant cure from his Gifted storyline was brilliantly handled in the pages of Astonishing X-Men, the translation from page to screen was handled pretty damn poorly. The major problem with the cure plotline is that it isn’t utilised enough to create the impact it should have, appearing almost as a distraction, with Ratner focusing upon the Phoenix and the relationships within the X-Men. While Singer proved that highlighting interpersonal conflict could actually be interesting in an action movie, Ratner handles the relationships as if he’s unaware of what one actually is, instead drawing inspiration from average teen dramas where everyone reacts to every minor problem as if it’s the worst thing ever, man.

When we first see the wonder drug, we’re introduced to one of the most recognisable but previously unused X-Men, Angel aka Warren Worthington III (Ben Foster), the son of the man whose company created the cure. When Angel changes his mind about receiving it and escapes from his father, the scene feels like it’s less about him not wanting to be cured and more about his relationship with old pops. The cure is again generally ignored in a scene in which mutants are lining up for it while protests rage on; it never seems like it’s about how people and mutants feel about the cure, but instead it focuses almost purely on ex-best friends Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and Pyro (Aaron Stanford) who have themselves a bit of a squabble. This is while one of our precious X-Men has potentially gone to take the cure themselves. Surely that’s the thread we should follow? If they fail to make me care about fairly major characters, why would I give a damn about minor ones? Even when it comes to the climactic battle at the end of the film, apart from one notable exception, the only mutants to be “cured” are the nameless cannon fodder whose powers all blur into one. Not only would this have been a perfect time to highlight the drug by showing amazing transformations from mutant to human, such as a massive rock creature slowly growing skin or a lizard man losing his scales, it might have actually created some connection for us to these bad guys, instead of appearing to have a “they’re evil, so who cares what happens to them” attitude.

There is a single scene in which you get an idea about how the general mutant population feels about the cure, but it’s completely overshadowed by the arrival of McKellen’s Magneto who has come to recruit fellow super-powered kin for his cause. While it’s important that they set-up the concluding skirmish by introducing a few new muties, it makes me sad that the costume designer doesn’t appear to have really tried with their appearances, as apart from the “named” variety, they all seem to wear the same horrid tracksuit. It was a total waste of an opportunity to introduce the darker side of mutantdom here, as what could have been a climactic battle between two competing groups became an incoherent slug-a-thon between the army and nameless mutants, with the occasional X-Man or Brotherhood member thrown in for a bit of pizzazz.

Even the mutants who are meant to have some importance don’t get properly introduced, like the “Omegas” who join Magneto’s Brotherhood and are then forgotten about until a small scene toward the end. Apart from Callisto, their leader, who has been given multiple powers (which would have been an amazing time to introduce secondary mutations), the only other Omega given an onscreen name is Arclight, although even she doesn’t get a speaking part! There is a mutant I assumed was based on Quill due to his ability to shoot small spikes out of his body, but apparently they thought the name didn’t fit so they called him “Kid Omega” instead, which is much more explanatory, right? There was also absolutely no indication that the other member was based on Psylocke until the credits, which is the second greatest waste of a potentially interesting character next to Angel. This is a case of not only introducing too few personalities that we care about in the background, but also having too many protagonists in the foreground. The former leads to the viewer failing to sympathise with the nameless cannon fodder who die, with the latter leading to some potentially interesting characters being ignored and prevented from having genuinely interesting introductions in future films. That’s a complete waste of their potential.

Sadly, Gifted wasn’t the only plot that was badly translated as the Dark Phoenix Saga, originally written by once-genius X-Men scribe Chris Claremont, doesn’t really fare much better. When the Brotherhood and the X-lot both try to “recruit” the reborn Jean Grey, the scene becomes less about the Phoenix and more about comparing the two sides, which detracts from the real threat the Phoenix poses. While she may have destroyed a house and killed a few people in the comics, the Phoenix is a destroyer of worlds, an immensely powerful entity which can bond itself to hosts. Here, it’s not made clear if Jean is overwhelmed by this new power or if she has become a new entity entirely.

X-Men: The Last Stand is a marvellous example of why studios shouldn’t be allowed to meddle so much in the creation of a film, with both the death of Cyclops and Stewart’s Charles Xavier occurring due to Fox’s insistence. It also didn’t help that the film still didn’t possess a director just over a year before its theatrical release, meaning that there wasn’t truly enough time to create a film that both fans and the franchise deserved (indeed, the original director Matthew Vaughn left for this reason and would eventually make First Class). A postponement of the movie’s release wouldn’t have necessarily meant the film was any better, but it would have given them more time to craft a plot that was not only more cohesive but made better use of all the characters. At the time of the film’s creation, it was the most expensive ever made, with eleven studios hired to do the visual effects. Yet it never comes across that way. It comes off as cheap and tacky, and The Last Stand is almost impossible to take seriously. In a film where three major characters are killed off, that’s a helluva achievement.

There is one redeeming feature for this sequel, however. It may be a stinking rotten turd, but casting Kelsey Grammer as the Beast? Genius.

Best Scene

Everyone’s fighting. We don’t care.

Useless Trivia

(Via IMDb)
  • For the opening flashback, the effects artists created a special program that enabled “digital skin-grafting.” With the use of old photos of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, complex keyframing (dissolving an image into another image, i.e. old actors into younger-looking versions) was applied to the scene to digitally make them appear twenty years younger.
  • With the appearance of Beast (though he camoed in the previous film) and Angel, the original X-Men team that was formed in 1963 (Professor X, Cyclops, Phoenix, Beast, Iceman, Angel) now fully appear the film universe, though not all together.
  • The Danger Room facility was going to appear in the previous X-Films, but was written out due to budgetary concerns. It finally appears in this film.
  • Cyclops appears in the movie for a total of four minutes, forty seconds.
  • Cain Marko’s line “Don’t you know who I am? I’m the Juggernaut, bitch” was inspired by a popular web parody film that made use of scenes from the 1992 X-Men cartoon. Throughout the parody , the Juggernaut character repeatedly says, “I’m the Juggernaut, bitch.”

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