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» The Theory of Chaos Review - X-Men: The Last Stand

by Nick, published on Thursday, June 1, 2006 at 12:36 PM

The postures are there but not the pain in X-Men: The Last Stand, which brings the trilogy about Marvel’s team of battling mutants to a close in anticipation of spin-offs spotlighting the major characters. And it’s a rather audacious and moving close when we actually get there – where the battlefield is clear and two characters, set in opposition by fate and carrying the heavy burden of their connection to each other, realize what is now tragically inevitable.

But the more I considered this, and weighed it against the flaws of this third episode, which sorely misses director Bryan Singer’s imagination and empathy, I concluded that anything I was feeling came from the hours I’d already spent with these characters. The reflected glories of the first two X-Men movies, so alchemically blending pop with social seriousness, enjoy a last glimmer on this lesser movie, when it’s good enough to catch it. The rest of the time you have a run-of-the-mill special effects show that spreads itself too thin and too flat in trying to keep up with all of its characters.

It would be perilously easy to take this entire review listing and describing the various mutants and their powers – suffice to say that most of the featured players from previous episodes (save Alan Cumming’s poignantly abused circus performer Kurt “Nightcrawler” Wagner) are back. Logan aka “Wolverine” (Hugh Jackman) is still most prominent among them, but by now he’s simply re-enacting lesser versions of his old conflict – loner or team player? Not all of the big names will be in their familiar forms, or even alive, by the end – trilogies are unforgiving that way. And other mutants have been drafted into action from the fat back catalog of the comic book, including bulky, blue-furred intellectual Dr. Hank “Beast” McCoy (Kelsey Grammer) and the behemoth Cain “Juggernaut” Marko (Vinnie Jones). McCoy’s plight has the most juice to it, he’s a friend and confidant of the President (Josef Sommer), and serves as Secretary for the Department of Mutant Affairs. He clings to a belief that his intellect and manners matter more than his fearsome appearance, and thus must face the realization that one man’s attempt to assimilate is not enough to overcome such deeply-ingrained biases.

It is that hope for integration and cooperation which provides resonance to the X-Men franchise, and it’s the guiding principle of Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who attracts young mutants to his private school in upstate New York in the hopes of teaching them discipline over and responsibility with the use of their powers. His most powerful, most challenging, student was Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), who struggled with her almost limitless strengths and was last seen sacrificing herself to save her friends in X-Men United. Janssen, a deeply-underrated actress who can fill larger-than-life roles like this, makes a welcome return, although in what capacity I’ll leave you to discover.

But it is that return, and the invention by human scientists of a “cure” that will permanently suppress the effects of mutated genes, which convinces Eric “Magneto” Lensherr (Ian McKellen) that he finally has the means and the moral authority to achieve his goal – not the equality his old friend Xavier still believes in, but safety for his people through dominion of all others. In his view, as long as humans feel threatened by mutants, no “cure” will remain “voluntary” forever.

The devil of it is, although his tactics have too high a body count, which he gets too much pleasure from, you’re not sure his paranoia is entirely wrong. And although you want to agree with the mutants that even calling it a “cure” is repellent, you understand why a mutant like Marie, aka Rogue (Anna Paquin), might be compelled by the prospect of being able to touch her boyfriend without killing him.

That’s where you need filmmakers who can capitalize on these conflicts. The first two editions always keenly felt the agony of being different, and how it manifested itself in relationships, families, societies at large. Director Brett Ratner’s only apparent talent is to hire the best designers and then, if he can restrain himself, stay out of their way, which means at best he can achieve a polished mediocrity. He’s blissfully ignorant of what these wounds might actually feel like, and can only gaze at them from the outside. When you want heartbreak, he’s looking for one-liners – Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn’s script is peppered with lead balloons, like when the grieving Scott “Cyclops” Summers upbraids Logan with “Some of us don’t heal as fast as you”. And the dignified Professor should never have to lead with something as cutesy-poo as “You don’t have to be a psychic to know…”

In essence, X-Men: The Last Stand has been hijacked by people with misplaced priorities. When we met the mutants, we could discover their powers in the context of ongoing intrigue and excitement, now we stop the movie for verbal re-capping – for such a pricey project there’s an awful lot of sitting around talking about things the audience already knows. When you first see a high-tech genetic laboratory situated on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, you don’t waste a minute asking yourself if it makes sense to build one there, you just wait for the inevitable action sequence. Mutants with new powers are like so many Bond gadgets, introduced, used once at a contrived moment, then discarded. There’s something stomach-churningly callous about the way a whole population of mutants is introduced then treated as cannon fodder, it doesn’t seem organic even to Magneto’s extremist beliefs.

It’s perhaps unfair for me to hinge so much of my response on comparisons to the other episodes and their director. But without them, it wouldn’t be possible to fully appreciate those times when this movie rises to the occasion. If it’s going to capitalize on past successes, it must also take responsibility for failing to live up to them.

Source: theory-of-chaos.blogspot.com

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