by Erik Martinez, published on September 12, 2006|
"X-Men: The Last Stand" is nowhere near as good as the first two films in the franchise, both wonderfully crafted by Bryan Singer, but it´s not that bad either. It would have been cool to see what Singer would have brought to the film had he been allowed to come back to the franchise after his work on "Superman Returns." Nevertheless, this third time around sees Brett Ratner taking the reigns and handling the material to the best of his abilities. He delivers the popcorn, mindless action variant on the series. If Singer was the equivalent to a Jim Lee or Alex Ross cover, Ratner is Rob Liefield; style over substance. Yes, the geek flag flies high.
The story picks up where "X2" left off, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) is presumed dead, most of the remaining X-Men, particularly Scott (James Marsden), are in mourning and Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is doing the best he can to help keep things running smoothly at Xavier´s School for Gifted Youngsters, subbing for Scott in danger room exercises (and presumably other school related affairs). After the government announces a cure for the mutant gene, which allows mutants the opportunity to lead "normal" lives, and with Jean´s sudden reappearance and Scott´s immediate (off camera) death, things start to get a little rocky.
Now, I see no real problem with character deaths, or even morphing some characters together. Death is a staple of comic books and blending, manipulating the mythology for the purposes of retelling is nothing new. The Dark Phoenix here is closer to The Scarlet Witch´s mental breakdown leading to and going through the House of M storyline than it is the classic Chris Claremont tale upon which the Dark Phoenix saga is based. Writers Zak Penn and Simon Kinberg reference both of these stories in concocting a big screen version of the Dark Phoenix. The result is a little disappointing, but their reinvention accentuates the liberty taken with the character; from Phoenix´s costume design to becoming Magneto´s pawn to the downgrading of her powers, (in the comics the Dark Phoenix was a slayer of galaxies and in this film she´s significantly less powerful).
Ultimately, the problem is the way the filmmaker´s (or should I say studio) handles the material. The Phoenix/Jean Grey is painfully downplayed and only seen as a brooding symbol of potential evil, one that never really seems to have clear motivating factors behind her actions. While her resentment and hatred of Xavier (Patrick Stewart) might provoke her actions towards him, there´s never any reason for her to kill Scott in the films opening scenes; not to mention that it is Scott (in the comics) who puts a stop to the Phoenix´s destructive onslaught.
But it´s the handling of Scott´s death, and the film´s overall drama, that is lacking. Seriously, an off camera death for Scott? That´s like a slap in the face to fans and the general audience. If Jean can manipulate anything on a molecular level wouldn´t that allow for some creative use of her powers? More so, it would have been nice to see Scott struggle through the course of the film to see his wife evolve into the destructive force she becomes. It´s this kind of drama and emotion that was one of the biggest strengths of the first two films. The way Singer deftly handled these things, and also touching upon the topics of racism, homophobia and other hot button issues; he made his point and always tried to comment on it (though not always successfully). "X3" makes plenty of these points, but fails to go deeper, most likely because of the sheer amount of characters running around the 104 minute running time.
What we´re given instead is Logan´s struggle to do what Scott did in the comics. It doesn´t work like you´d hope, considering that Logan and Jean´s relationship in the previous films is built more on lust than love. According to interviews with Kinberg and Penn much of the film was dictated by actor schedules and certain storylines (and aspects of said storylines) that the studio wanted to see. This is what makes the film disappointing, the way it seems to have been rushed into and through production by people who didn´t want to wait for proper talent to take the reigns from Singer. Wasn´t Joss Whedon available? After all they did pilfer portions of his amazing run (and still going) on the X-Men comics.
Also somewhat disappointing are the film´s score and dialogue. A great deal of the dialogue spoken by Logan doesn´t quite seem to fit with his character, not to mention his reaction after certain deaths in the film. Stewart´s lines often feel forced, though he still effectively pulls them off. Halle Berry sees her role expanded but with little, if any, weight behind it. On the other hand, Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart still manage to bring the same kind of majesty to their roles that they did before, even if the material isn´t as up to par. Excellent additions to the cast include a wonderful performance by Kelsey Grammer as Beast, and a subtle and confident turn by Ellen Page as Kitty Pride (but sadly no Kitty and Colossus romance).
The action also delivers on the popcorn movie front, offering up some nice moments and clever nods to X-Men comic lore. Magneto´s rescuing of Mystique (Rebecca Romjin) is great, visceral fun as is Wolverine´s fight with some of the Morlocks in the Brootherhood´s woodland base camp. Plus fans get to experience the delight at watching a fastball special come to life (Colossus tossing Wolverine at a target), Bobby (Shawn Ashmore) ´Icing´ up in his battle against Pyro (Aaron Stanford), and a nicely realized chase between Juggernaut (Vinnie Jones) and Kitty Pride. It´s these moments that elevate the film from being a completely bland experience.
As with a few recent Fox screeners, the video for "X-Men: The Last Stand" is severely pixilated. Presented in a 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, the viewing experience here is okay (at best), with most of the action scenes becoming marred by the aforementioned pixilation. Colors are good throughout, but overall the image is deplorable. I'm certain this is only for the screener copy and not the final product.
At least they got the sound right, presenting the film in Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, DTS 6.1 ES, Spanish Dolby Surround and French Dolby Surround. The 5.1 is an overall fine, solid mix but it´s the 6.1 that delivers the goods. It´s the kind of mix that makes you want to crank the volume up high. Dialogue is sharp and clear, with music and ambient sounds wonderfully filling out the surrounds. The mix is really put to the test (and passes with flying colors) during the fight scenes. The sound becomes virtually all encompassing (as needed) and pushes limits of the soundtrack.
The extras boast two commentaries and a handful of deleted/extended scenes. The audio commentaries cover a lot of the same ground. The first is with Ratner, Penn and Kinberg who seem to be in a more lighthearted mood when discussing the film, gushing over how great this actor is, or how great shooting on that day was. For the most part, it´s a super saturated self-aggrandizing commentary but there are some nods to the difficulty in writing the film, even before Ratner arrived to take the helm. Disappointing is there isn´t all that much insight into the behind the scenes making of the film. The second commentary features Avi Arad, and producers Lauren Shuler Donner and Ralph Winter, who also discuss how great this actor is, how great things went during filming. They give no insight into Singer leaving the project, their need to rush it into production, Matthew Vaughn leaving the project, the arrival of Ratner, none of this is even remotely touched upon. Most of it is really superfluous banter, on both commentary tracks.
The deleted scenes run about 10 minutes and contain mostly extended scenes, some of them during the fight sequences, which are actually a little better than the ones in the film. The scenes can be viewed with a play all option or each on their own. Optional commentary by Ratner, Penn and Kinberg is also available, which is essentially an extension of their chatting in the feature commentary.
The disc also contains trailers of "X3", "24", three trailers for other Fox Marvel films ("Elektra", "Fantastic Four", "Daredevil"). A trailer for "A Night at the Museum" and an animatic from "The Simpsons Movie" are also included.
To say the least, "X-Men: The Last Stand" is ultimately a logical, though not completely dreadful, end to the trilogy. The film isn´t as bad as it could have been, but it also isn´t as good as it you´d hope it might be. It´s and effective film on a completely visceral level, heightening the action quotient, and ramping up the gee-whiz factor for X-Men fans by including some great nods to the comic mythology. It´s fun but it´s disappointing.