“X-Men: The Last Stand” is the third installment in the popular comic book franchise originally shepherded onto the big screen by director Bryan Singer in 2000, and was followed up by an equally successful sequel in 2003. Part three says goodbye to Singer, who opted out of the property in order to lavish his fanboy attentions on the Last Son of Krypton, aka the further re-imagined adventures of Superman in “Superman Returns”. From all appearances, it would seem as if new director Brett Ratner (the “Rush Hour” movies) has done a decent enough job in Singer’s stead. But while Ratner didn’t screw the pooch, as it were, he doesn’t exactly impress, either.
Written by Simon Kinberg (“Mr. and Mrs. Smith”) and Zak Penn (“X-Men 2”), “The Last Stand” returns the entire original cast, as well as introducing new ones into the mix. The plot this time centers on the emergence of a mutant cure, which when injected into a mutant effectively destroys his or her mutated cells and revert him into Joe Q. Average. Needless to say, powerful mutant villain Magneto (Ian McKellen), who sees mutants as the superior race and takes umbrage to the world’s rule under Homo sapiens, won’t take that lying down. Soon, he’s gathered himself an army of mutants big and small (including the unstoppable Juggernaut (Vinnie Jones), the firestarter Pyro (Aaron Stanford), and some really lame porcupine guy) to do battle. Better watch out, humans!
Well actually, the humans won’t be standing up to Magneto’s Brotherhood alone, as the X-Men are still around. Led by wheelchair-bound telepath Professor X (Patrick Stewart), the X-Men have a couple of formidable mutants ready to rumble, including feral killer Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Mistress of the Weather Channel Storm (Halle Berry), and diplomatic furball Beast (a blue furred Kelsey Grammer). And oh yeah, apparently Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), who was supposed to have died in “X-Men 2”, isn’t dead after all. She resurfaces, just in time to off poor Cyclops (James Marsden) with a kiss, and then later — well, let’s not spoil it. Suffice to say, Jean Grey’s transition into the Phoenix is gonna take out a lot of people.
It has been widely reported that “The Last Stand” will indeed mark the final installment in the popular action-adventure franchise. The reasons are numerous, but mostly it’s because this is the final picture the original cast has been signed for, so one assumes bringing everyone back for a fourth might not be financially feasible. And of course Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine will soon be spun off into his own movie, which one further presumes will explore the clawed one’s history, something that never registers as much as a blip in this third installment. Then again, not a whole lot of character development gets registered, so Wolvie’s lack of follow-through is not surprising.
Which leads me to the film’s biggest fault: it is at least three comic book story arcs crammed into an hour and 40 minutes of screentime. By which I mean the film is over populated, and as a result we only get brief bits of information about each character, the new and the old ones. Most, like the main cast from the previous two films, are given so little screentime that they seem like background characters than the stars of the picture. And yes, it is a Goddamn crying shame how Cyclops is dispatched, with barely 5 minutes of total screentime before he is offed with a kiss. One can only hypothesize that James Marsden may have been anxious to ditch “Last Stand’s” sets for the greener pastures of Australia, where former “X-Men” director Bryan Singer was shooting “Superman Returns”. (Marsden, for those who don’t know, plays the “other guy” in the Lois Lane-Superman love triangle in “Returns”; which, curiously, is similar to his role in the “X-Men” franchise as the “other guy” in the Wolverine-Jean Grey love triangle, actually.)
One suspects that characterization took a major hit as Brett Ratner and his screenwriters rushed us along the “story stuff” (i.e. the movie’s plot points) in order to get to the film’s big action set piece — a 30-minute extended battle sequence on the former Alcatraz prison, where the mutant cure is being developed and housed, and which comes under attack by Magneto and his band of superpowered malcontents. To be sure, the action in the Third Act is quite entertaining, if poorly choreographed and barely coherent. I’m still unsure how half a dozen X-Men were able to battle what seemed like 200 mutants, each one with their own groovy powers, but maybe that’s just me thinking too much again.
Under Ratner’s stewardship, “The Last Stand” doesn’t have one-tenth of the emotional resonance of the first or second film, opting instead to stuff the turkey with comic book action. The creators have literally written themselves into a corner, spending brief Cliffs Note moments with its characters, including Rogue (Anna Paquin) and Iceman’s sophomoric romance, Rebecca Romijn’s Mystique’s anger at being betrayed by Magneto, and most of all, the conflicted character of Angel (Ben Foster), whose angel wings was the impetus for the creation of the mutant cure. Nothing would have been lost by jettisoning the Rogue-Iceman subplot in favor of more screentime with Angel and his father, who really did seem to care for his son, and I found their relationship very intriguing.
But perhaps I’m overly emphasizing the negative here. As mentioned, “The Last Stand” is a very entertaining film, especially for those who love comic book action, of which “The Last Stand” has in wild abundance. And if most of the characters gets shortchanged, then Ian McKellen’s Magneto gets a major boost in screentime, as we come to know and, in a way, respect him for the decisions he has made. Most of all, the credit goes to McKellen the actor, who is simply brilliant in the scenes where his character is required to stand in one place and emote. Witness his torn loyalties as he watches Jean Grey literally vaporize a major character; or his almost chagrin disappointment at the sight of the X-Men falling out of the sky to oppose him at Alcatraz.
It’s really too bad that “X-Men: The Last Stand” had to have so much going on and so little time to tell it. It feels rushed, out of control, and there is never any gravitas to the proceedings. The action benefits greatly from CGI and state-of-the-art effects, but that is to be expected from a major Hollywood Summer Event movie. The film is disappointing in that it seems to want to be so much, and yet fails in so many areas. Nevertheless, you have to give the filmmakers some credit: they set out to make an action-packed comic book movie, and they succeeded; nothing more, nothing less.
Brett Ratner (director) / Simon Kinberg, Zak Penn (screenplay)
CAST: Hugh Jackman….Logan/Wolverine
Famke Janssen….Jean Grey/Phoenix
Kelsey Grammer….Dr. Hank McCoy/The Beast
Patrick Stewart….Professor Charles Xavier
Ellen Page….Kitty Pryde