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» Movie-Vault.com Review - X-Men: The Last Stand

by Mel Valentin, published on 25th May, 2006

Directed by Brett Ratner (Rush Hour I and II, Family Man, Red Dragon), X-Men: The Last Stand may just be the best X-Men film not directed by Bryan Singer. Of course, that's not saying much (or really nothing at all), considering Singer directed the first two films in the trilogy. X-Men: The Last Stand has everything X-Men fans have come to expect from the series, their favorite X-Men characters (e.g., Wolverine, Xavier, Magneto, Mystique, Storm, etc.), popular, classic, or near-classic storylines plucked from the comic books, and often dazzling, effects-heavy set pieces featuring mutant on mutant violence (albeit of the nearly bloodless, PG-13 variety).

What X-Men: The Last Stand doesn't have, though, is a coherent storyline, satisfying emotional arcs for the central characters, and, in the rush to "conclude" the trilogy, meaningful exits for several key characters. As painful as it is to say, the fault lies not with the much-maligned Brett Ratner, a competent director-for-hire on X-Men: The Last Stand, but with the underwritten screenplay by Simon Kinberg (Mr. and Mrs. Smith, xXx: State of the Union) and Zak Penn (Last Action Hero, X2: X-Men United, Electra).

After two brief prologues, one set twenty years ago and another ten years ago, X-Men: The Last Stand jumps forward to the present, taking its cue from X2: X-Men United's ending. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) is dead, having sacrificed herself to save her comrades. Her longtime lover, Scott Summers/Cyclops (James Marsden), still mourns her loss, but Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), the third part of an unconsummated romantic triangle, has apparently moved past his own grief. Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters is still there, run by the Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), one of the world's strongest telepaths. Xavier still believes in the possibility of peaceful coexistence between mutants and humanity. Ororo Munroe/Storm (Halle Berry) is also back as an instructor at the school, a key member of the X-Men, and Xavier's pick as successor to run the school.

Other returning X-Men include Marie/Rogue (Anna Paquin), whose ability to absorb the powers and life force of other mutants (and humans) leaves her incapable of physical intimacy, her boyfriend Bobby Drake/Iceman (Shawn Ashmore). Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), and a mutant with the ability to phase through solid objects, rounds out a potential romantic triangle. New to the X-Men are Dr. Hank McCoy/Beast (Kelsey Grammer), a blue-skinned, blue-furred genius geneticist with superhuman strength and agility, Peter Rasputin/Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), who can turn his skin and any object he touches into organic steel, Warren Worthington III/Angel (Ben Foster), a winged mutant whose father developed the mutant "cure" that lies at the center of X-Men: The Last Stand. Conspicuous by his absence is Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming), a blue-skinned, tattooed, teleporting mutant featured prominently in X2: X-Men United.

Once word of a mutant "cure" spreads within the mutant community, some X-Men begin to consider taking it. Other mutants oppose the cure, but support the right for each mutant to make the decision whether to take it or not. Still others, like Eric Lensherr/Magneto (Ian McKellen), a powerful mutant who can control metal, oppose the "cure" in all its forms. Magneto assumes that the "cure" is just the latest attempt by Homo Sapiens to control and subdue the mutants. Preferring active resistance to passive acquiescence, Magneto, Mystique (Rebecca Romijn), a shapechanging mutant, and Pyro (Aaron Stanford), a mutant who can control fire, expands the Brotherhood of Mutants into a small army. Magneto's new disciples include Juggernaut (Vinnie Jones), a mutant battering ram, Callisto (Dania Ramirez), a superfast mutant who can also sense other mutants as well as their respective abilities, Arclight (Omahyra Mota), who can create powerful shockwaves by clapping her hands together, and Psylocke (Mei Melançon), another mutant with telekinetic powers.

As expected, the second storyline centers on Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) now miraculously resurrected. Xavier explains her survival away by quickly suggesting that Jean's mind created a telekinetic cocoon right before she died, leaving her in suspended animation under hundreds of feet of water. Jean, however, has been transformed by her near-death experience. Always a powerful telepath and telekinetic, Jean's abilities now surpass even Xavier's (she's a level 5 mutant, presumably the highest rank possible). Her expanded powers come at a price: an inability to control a second, unstable, destructive personality, the Dark Phoenix. As Xavier tries to bring Jean back from losing herself permanently, Magneto sees the opportunity to add Jean to the Brotherhood.

X-Men comic book fans, academics, and critics have long treated mutant powers as a catchall, one-size-fits-most-outsiders metaphor for difference, for minority identities (e.g., sexual, racial, ethnic, social, or cultural). Regardless of how the metaphor has been interpreted, it's resonated across several generations of comic book fans, making the X-Men series (the main book, Uncanny X-Men, a second, recurring title, X-Men, plus several spin-offs and variant superhero teams, e.g., Ultimate X-Men and Astonishing X-Men), one of the most popular comic books. The mutant/difference metaphor, rarely far from the surface in the comic books or the first two films in the series, is all text here (as opposed to subtext).

Cobbling together storylines and plot points from Joss Whedon's (yes, that Joss Whedon) run on Astonishing X-Men and Chris Claremont's classic run in Uncanny X-Men (where the "Dark Phoenix Saga" first originated), X-Men: The Last Stand, plus continuing storylines from the first two films (e.g., the romantic triangle between Logan, Scott, and Jean, the Marie/Bobby romance, and Xavier's ongoing ideological conflict with Magneto over the place of mutants in human society) never settles for one story over the other. If this is going to be the last incarnation of the X-Men for the foreseeable future, it’s a pity that so many characters are either given minimal screen time, or used to fill out backgrounds.

The mutant cure storyline works primarily as a catalyst for Magneto's latest plan to turn Homo Sapiens into lapdogs for mutant supermen (and superwomen), while the Dark Phoenix storyline gets pushed aside for long periods of time, leaving Jean offscreen or inactive during key moments where, considering Jean's ability to vaporize or atomize anyone who gets in her way, it'd make sense for her to act. Several conflicts are resolved cheaply and unimaginatively, with the erasure of several key characters from the X-Men universe. And yes, if you wait until the end of the credits, X-Men: The Last Stand offers a non-surprising surprise related to a key character (as comic book fans learned long ago, major characters, even when presumed dead, often make a comeback).

Luckily, comic book fans can find some relief in recognizing that X-Men: The Last Stand is non-canon (i.e., out of continuity). While the characters are drawn from the popular ongoing X-Men titles, the events in X-Men: The Last Stand won't have an impact on ongoing storylines in the comic books. It's at least something to be thankful for (that and the promised Wolverine and/or Magneto standalone films, rumored to be prequels to the X-Men series). That plus a brief scene in the Danger Room featuring a mist-shrouded Sentinel and the "fastball special" involving Colossus and Wolverine.

Rating: 7 out of 10

by Avril Carruthers

The last of the X-Men trilogy is suitably apocalyptic, with super-powered mutants leaping over, morphing into, throwing, burning, freezing and levitating everything in their path. It’s mainly in the battle for and against a newly discovered ‘cure’ for the mutant gene. The conflict continues between Xavier’s (Patrick Stewart) school of moderates, including Storm (Halle Berry) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) on one side and Magneto’s (Ian McKellen) group of power-driven extremists, which includes Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and Colossus (Daniel Cudmore) on the other. Some mutants are irresistibly drawn by the possibility of normality, like Rogue (Anna Paquin), whose power to drain the life-force from anyone she touches isolates her beyond endurance. Others with less alienating abilities are aghast at a ‘cure’ which will make them like everyone else.

In X-Men 2 (2003), Mystique is asked by the Night Crawler why, since she can morph into any shape at will, she doesn’t pick a ‘more acceptable’ shape. She’s scornful in reply, “Because I shouldn’t have to!” While arrogant in Mystique, this acceptance and pride in mutant uniqueness is now, in X-Men 3, something most mutants seem to share, having largely matured from inner conflict at their difference. One of the superior elements of the X-Men series over other Marvel comic-to-film adaptations, is the feeling that the characters grow and mature both in and between films, as they learn to handle their unique mutations. Acceptance of their difference to non-mutants unites each of the groups internally, if not with each other, against the government-backed ‘cure’. As Magneto rightly predicts, non-mutants’ fear of their power make the ‘cure’ a weapon. True to form, Magneto is keen to extend and exploit the mutants’ power in violent resistance against this unilateral force.

Another element that makes X-Men one of the best comic book adaptations is the polish and coherent range of its allegory, managed with detailed plausibility within its own universe. The theme of corruption through extreme power is well explored from all angles politically and personally, nicely counterpointed against losing personal power (or perhaps gaining it over one’s life) in becoming normal. The ability of power to corrupt is seen most explosively in one returning character whose Jekyll-and-Hyde alternations point to the need for conscious awareness and self-knowledge to moderate and control one’s power. It’s Xavier’s whole stance, but even he succumbs to a paternalistic intervention when it comes to a Category Five power, greater than his own. Inner conflict is taken to a new level as Magneto seeks to exploit this character’s astounding, overwhelming abilities while ironically preaching, “I want you to be yourself…as nature intended”. Like other apologists for extreme violence, Magneto uses persuasive lies mixed with truth.

Extraordinary special effects and CGI as usual enable some spectacular stunts in the telekinetic-levitation, storm-brewing, fire vs ice and colossal strength modes: the most mind-blowing belong to Magneto (to Ian McKellen’s obvious exultant delight) in a stunt of magnetically picking up and re-placing one end of the Golden Gate Bridge onto Alcatraz Island, where the impressively instantaneous anti-mutant vaccine is being manufactured. Battles of ferocious force proliferate through the movie, awesome power matched by awesome power as dictated by the genre, and it’s as easy to be enthralled by the film as it was to be utterly absorbed by the comic when a child, in ways not as well achieved by other comic book adaptations. An intriguing scene early on setting the main theme of the dangers of extreme power presents Jean Grey’s backstory and uses CGI facial patches to present Xavier and Eric Lehnsherr/Magneto 20 years younger. Great fun.

Angel (Ben Foster) has a smaller role than fans might wish but his wings are glorious. A new, favourite character from the comics, Dr Henry McCoy (the blue furry Beast, played by a convincingly potent Kelsey Grammer), whose backstory is not detailed, represents a possible collaboration between mutants and non-mutants for the future, and though this is the last of the trilogy there are hints at a possible sequel. The source of the vaccine is young Leech, played with touching yearning by Cameron Bright.

Amid fears that the character and tone of the X-Men series might be lost when director Brett Ratner took over at short notice from Matthew Vaughan, who took over from Bryan Singer - in fact they ended up swapping projects, Singer taking up Superman Returns (2006) after Ratner left - Ratner’s helmsmanship in assured and competent, deepening characters’ emotional interactions and with less corniness than the first two in the series.

Make sure you watch till the end of the credits, for a last surprise.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Source: www.movie-vault.com, www.movie-vault.com

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