by Erik Martinez and James Plath, published on December 17, 2006|
Movie reviewed by Erik Martinez; Video/Audio reviewed by James Plath
"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 reins 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, while in this film she's significantly less powerful).
Ultimately, the problem is the way the filmmakers (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.
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, while 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 competing for scenes in a relatively brief (104-minute) film.
What we're given instead is Logan's struggle to do what Scott did in the comics. It doesn't work as you'd hope, considering that Logan and Jean's relationship in the previous films was 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 reins from Singer. Wasn't Joss Whedon available? After all, they did pilfer portions of his amazing and still going run 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 Brotherhood'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.
"X-Men: The Last Stand" was transferred to a 25GB single-layer disc using AVC technology at 18 MBPS featuring an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. There's a slight graininess that pervades the transfer, and not just in soft-focus backgrounds. There's even some pulsing and pixilation. It's simply not as sharp or detailed as some of the better Blu-ray transfers, which is a reminder that Blu-rays are only going to be as pristine as their source masters. This one also varies from sequence to sequence, with a scene where a newscaster does a person-on-the-street telecast a lot sharper than scenes on either side of it, for example.
Erik noted that the sound on the standard disc was robust, "the kind of mix that makes you want to crank the volume up high," but I found the sound on the Blu-ray to be decent at best. I was surprised by how much of the audio emanated from the front speaker, and the English 6.1 DTS ES HD Lossless Master Audio just doesn't have the blow-you-away clarity and resonant feel of some of the better Blu-ray soundtracks. I expected more action across the speakers, but that didn't happen. Even high-point action scenes failed to impress. Spanish and French options are Dolby Digital 5.1, with subtitles in English (CC) and Spanish.
Because it's such a relatively short film, even a single-layer disc was enough to accommodate the extras from the SD release. Included are two commentaries, one by director Brett Ratner and screenwriters Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn, and the other by producers Avi Arad, Lauren Shuler Donner, and Ralph Winter. As Erik noted, the commentaries cover a lot of the same ground. Ratner, Penn, and Kinberg are more lighthearted 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. Same with the second commentary, which gives no insight into Singer leaving the project, their need to rush it into production, Matthew Vaughn leaving the project, the arrival of Ratner, or anything crucial to our understanding of the film. Most of it is superfluous banter.
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 the theatrical trailer in High Definition and instead of other trailers there's a trivia track that's pretty standard but nonetheless engaging, especially if you pair it with one of the commentaries.
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 an 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 also disappointing.