by Judge Ryan Keefer, published on September 25th, 2006|
Take a stand.
X-Men was arguably the most anticipated comic book to film adaptation to come to multiplexes across America. The recognizable name in the first film was Jean-Luc Picard himself, Patrick Stewart. A relatively unknown Australian named Hugh Jackman was cast for Wolverine, and the attractive Halle Berry and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos were cast as Storm and Mystique, respectively. The result was near-universal praise (or at the least, an "attaboy") which spawned a sequel that was arguably better than the first. And after two films and approximately $350 million in box office money, director Bryan Singer decided to leave one successful comic book franchise to help resurrect another in the Superman films. Many people shuddered when Brett Ratner (Red Dragon) was announced to helm the pic. Is the fear well deserved?
Facts of the Case
When we last left the merry gang of X-Men, they were still stung by the loss of Dr. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen, I Spy), as she died at Alkali Lake while getting the X-Men out of danger in the second film. Wolverine (Jackman) has been dealing with the loss, but is staying around the school for the gifted, founded by Charles Xavier (Stewart). Storm (Berry) has taken a more active role at the school, while the relationship between Rogue (Anna Paquin, The Piano) and Iceman (Shawn Ashmore, Married to It) seems to fray around the edges. On the flip side of the coin, Mystique (Stamos) has been captured and is trying to get Magneto (Ian McKellen, The Lord of the Rings trilogy) to free her, in order to regroup for a strategy to stop Xavier's school from (in Magneto's mind) indirectly promoting mutant segregation.
The country has warmed up to mutants since X2, so much so that there's a government secretary for mutant affairs, a blue hairy creature named Beast, a.k.a. Hank McCoy (Kelsey Grammar, Frasier). McCoy has found out about a potential cure for the mutant gene, the source of which is actually a young boy named Jimmy (Cameron Bright, Thank You for Smoking). A wealthy businessman (Michael Murphy, Magnolia) has decided to mass produce the cure, giving Magneto the chance he needs, with the help of Grey's resurrection as a telekinetic whose power dwarfs even the most sophisticated mutants.
A note to the curious, your disclaimer for reading this review is that your faithful reviewer has only a cursory knowledge of the comic book series. Having said all that, feel free to read at your peril
Clearly, the writing was on the wall for many of the cast members for the third installment of the series. Jackman was transformed into a big studio star with the action and occasional romantic comedy films, Stamos had parlayed her roles into larger parts (and even a TV show), Berry won an Oscar for Monster's Ball and McKellen had appeared prominently in another lower-key trilogy directed by a short fuzzy New Zealander named Peter Jackson. It was a minor miracle that all parties managed to come together for a third movie, especially after the second was so successful, critically and financially. People were getting itchy about being typecast, it's completely understandable. So the challenge for Ratner and writers Simon Kinberg (Mr. and Mrs. Smith) and X2 linguist Zak Penn was to make a film that closed some doors, opened others, and put tape over the locks of the rest.
The themes behind the story are simple enough; which seem to indicate that people should be proud of what they are, whether they can shape shift, spontaneously combust, or what have you. Also, the price of sacrifice for the benefit of the longer term is sometimes necessary in order to benefit the greater good. The problem is, as compelling as the characters may be, the story seems to cruise for the first two acts before a minor collapse in the third. And the mutants as part of Magneto's brotherhood seem to venture into androgynous territory, thereby stripping away any potential superhero likeability. And it's that last battle-filled act that just grated on me, and featured an excessive amount of one-liners. To put it another way, Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1986 would have broken out in hives with all of these one-liners.
The performances are pretty good, all things considered. While some of the older characters fade away into the sunset, like Stewart and (to some extent, Jackman), Berry does step up to the plate in her more predominant role for the film. The real fun of the film, as he has been in almost every film he's appeared in, is McKellen. He always manages to deliver his lines in such a way that makes you relish every moment he's on screen. Is he cured, is he not? Who is cured, who isn't? Whenever McKellen is on screen, who cares?
Fox has decided to send a disc to DVD Verdict offices as a watermarked copy where the picture quality lacks. If the Verdict gets a proper copy with completely finished video, the ratings will be updated to reflect this. However, even with a clear picture that doesn't include frequent pixelation problems, I'd say there's still a bit left to be desired. The whites are a little bit overblown, but the other colors are reproduced okay without any real problems. The audio options are fantastic, with choices of Dolby Digital EX and DTS. As good as the EX option may be, the DTS track is the better option, and is the definition of the phrase "rock the house." The jet's return trip to Alkali Lake results in a flyover, and the jet's engines rumble the floor. The fight at the Greys' house is another instance where there's a lot of surround activity and low end subwoofer support. X-Men: The Last Stand truly provides some reference quality sonic achievements, even if it's loudness distracts from the film's quality.
The extras are pretty paltry, however. Fox has given the buyer a choice of discs, this one-disc edition, and a two-disc special edition that includes a couple of additional goodies, including a comic book created for the disc by Stan Lee. Ratner, Kinberg and Penn team up for the first of two commentaries. They explain some of the shots and scenes, along with the mention of an appearance by Gambit that was cut from the final film. However by and large, the track is pretty disappointing. There's a lot of joking around by the trio, but the best way I can explain this commentary is that there's a lot of talk on it and it's quite active, but for all of the talking, there's not that much said. The second commentary, with X-Men veteran producers Avi Arad, Lauren Shuler Donner and Ralph Winter, is a little more cerebral. Sure, it focuses on more of the production aspects of the film, what they did and didn't do, but there's an interesting debate on the track as to who should or shouldn't have been "cured" of their mutant powers. Both tracks are equally disappointing, perhaps Singer could have come back to throw in his random thoughts on his successor, which would have made for some very interesting listening.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
To be fair, Ratner could have made a raspberry coulis to go along with all of the lame duck cast members he was working with on the film. The only known certainty at the time was that Jackman was fishing around for a solid script to perhaps do a Wolverine spin-off with (since then, at least according to IMDb, a prequel to discover more about the Magneto character with Stamos and Stewart has popped up). With where Kinberg and Penn leave the franchise, any possible revival seems fairly solid, even if the path to get there was a little bit rough. Are there some regrets that other characters may not have been included, or given enough screen time? Sure. But you can only include so many of them before the dead horse shows the marks from its beating.
If you're looking to buy this disc to complete the trilogy, a word to the wise, there apparently is another edition being worked on now. On the IGN Web site, Ratner says that there are some things like a video journal of the production and other materials that make things more exhaustive than this version claims to sport.
A somewhat unsatisfying end to a rather interesting and fun franchise, as X-Men: The Last Stand leaves the viewer with a general feeling of, "is that all?" Ratner, Kinberg and Penn are found guilty of their crimes, and Singer is found guilty for abandoning Wolverine, Storm, and the gang just so he can put a Superman curse on another young actor.