X:Men: The Last Stand
September 21, 2006
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, Kelsey Grammer, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn, Shawn Ashmore, Vinnie Jones, Ben Foster, Ellen Page, Patrick Stewart,
After two impressive outings, The X-Men franchise was handed over to Brett Ratner when Bryan Singer was unavailable due to his commitment with Superman Returns (2006). This caused fans to grumble due to Ratner’s less than stellar track record and reputation as a hack with no personal style. At worst, he could screw up the series a la Joel Schumacher with the Batman franchise and at best he wouldn’t mess things up too bad.
In a nice nod to fans of the comic book, the opening action sequence features Colossus and Wolverine’s (Jackman) trademark fastball special and the first cinematic appearance of the X-Men’s Danger Room, their famous training simulator. This film also introduces some mutants from the comic, most notably Beast (Grammer), a brilliant, blue-skinned, furry man with exceptional acrobatic ability and strength; Angel (Foster), a winged young man with the ability to fly; and the Juggernaut (Jones), a nearly indestructible man.
Some time has passed since Jean Grey’s (Janssen) death and the X-Men bravely carry on but some – namely Cyclops (Marsden) – are still taking it hard. Beast informs Professor X (Stewart) that a major pharmaceutical company has created a drug that suppresses the mutant gene permanently and thereby “curing” people of being mutants. This sends a ripple effect through the mutant community. There are some that see this drug as a viable threat to their wellbeing and an opportunity for the powers that be to rid the world of mutants once and for all.
Naturally, Magneto (McKellen) leads this mutant group and in the process rebuilds his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Professor X is on the other side, believing that mutants should have the choice whether to cure themselves or not. Once again, the battle lines are drawn. However, the overriding threat, overshadowing the drug is the resurfacing of Jean Grey who somehow survived her demise in X2 (in a pretty shaky explanation). The dark, powerful part of her psyche has awakened into a persona known as the Phoenix with the ability to destroy everything around her on a massive scale.
Ratner’s direction is competent as he manages to maintain the look and feel of the first two films. Screenwriters Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn continue the mutant ability and its public perception as a threat and as a metaphor for any number of actual problems that plague contemporary society while drawing parallels between Magneto’s “by any means necessary” Brotherhood and any number of terrorist groups.
Although, their screenplay unfairly dispatches two major characters from the first two films with little screen time and ends up marginalizing Rogue (Paquin), one of the more interesting ones which happens when you have too many characters vying for screen time (see the Batman films). The dialogue, at times, is quite cheesy – even more so than is usual for this kind of a movie. For example, the Juggernaut utters the line, “I’m the Juggernaut, bitch!” without a hint of irony while chasing down Kitty Pryde (Page). A little later, she taunts him with the equally embarrassing line, “Who’s hiding, dickhead?” Oh dear. It’s interesting to note that while Rogue gets less screen time, Kitty is featured much more prominently. Is this just a simple passing of the torch or a little behind-the-scenes powerplay perhaps? There are also unforgivable jumps in logic (mainly involving Wolverine’s ability to find Magneto’s secret hide-out) and jarring editing suggesting that this film was something of a rush job.
Regardless, X-Men: The Last Stand is easily the darkest, most apocalyptic of the three movies with an unusually high body count that is more than a bit disconcerting for fans. The film did quite well at the box office which suggests that despite the subtitle, this may not be the last film in the franchise or that we might see a spin-off – one focusing on Wolverine which has already been announced. While not up to the standards of the first two movies this one is certainly not the disaster that was to be expected but it is hardly a suitable end to the franchise either.
There is an audio commentary by director Brett Ratner and screenwriters Zak Penn and Simon Kinberg. Ratner gushes about the actors’ performances and even congratulates himself. He says that he was interested in doing things that Bryan Singer had been unable to do and this included the Danger Room and a cameo by the Sentinels. With the writers’ help he was able to get these things into the script in such a way that it was integral and could not be cut out. The tone of this track has a tendency to be too self-congratulatory which makes it very hard to listen to for any length of time.
Also included is a commentary by produces Avi Arad, Lauren Schuler Donner and Ralph Winter. Not surprisingly, they talk about the production side of things and point out key crew members. They justify the limited screen time of some actors, like James Marsden, by explaining that he was shooting Superman Returns at the time and so his role had to be diminished. They praise the cast and spend a lot of time saying things like “great stunts” and pointing out the continuity with X2 (“Same wheelchair,” Donner says at one point).
Finally, there are 13 deleted scenes and two alternate endings with optional commentary by Ratner, Kinberg and Penn. Originally, they had a Professor X voiceover on the opening credits just like the first two movies but changed it at the last minute. Most of these bits are very short in length and were rightly cut with the commentators talking about why this footage was cut out.