X-Men: The Last Stand
Directed by Brett Ratner
X-Men: The Last Stand fails to reach its lofty potential but it still serves as an entertaining diversion.
Meet the Team
Viewers who haven't seen the first two installments of the X-Men series will find themselves in the thick of a comic book soap opera, but catching up with current events won't be that big of a challenge.
In an extremely quick recap for the mutant ignorant, the X-Men are a legion of superheroes, or more precisely, freaky humans with otherworldly powers. The ringleader for this crew is Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart, Star Trek: Generations), a wheelchair-bound telepath who founded Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters as a kind of incubator for those with very special needs.
Among his students/teammates are folks like Wolverine, a.k.a. Logan (Hugh Jackman, Van Helsing), Phoenix, a.k.a. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen, Goldeneye), and Storm, a.k.a. Ororo Munroe (Halle Berry, Catwoman). They all have powers that make themselves readily identifiable and unique; the uninitiated will pick up on those abilities quickly enough.
The heavy in the series is Magneto, a.k.a. Erik Lensherr (Ian McKellen, The Da Vinci Code). He's a former friend and colleague of Professor Xavier; Magneto's ideology regarding mutant/human relations is the direct opposite of the good professor's all-inclusive philosophy.
Cutting to the chase that is X-Men: The Last Stand, a new antibody has been created that can, allegedly, permanently suppress the mutant X-gene. While Magneto and his ilk take this as an affront, others, such as the darling Marie (Anna Paquin, Finding Forrester), see it as salvation in a hypo.
Marie has an unfortunate malady, as it were, that literally sucks the life force out people, effectively preventing her from ever being able to touch another person. The drug would cure that and allow her to finally experience love.
The cure was concocted by Warren Worthington II (Michael Murphy, Batman Returns) in order to help his mutant son who has sprouted angel wings.
It's all just another day in the Marvel universe.
The X-Men series is what Marvel comics are all about – normal people conflicted with super, or bizarre, powers. Whether it's a spider bite, gamma rays, or in the case of the X-Men mutants, birth, all the characters are to some degree tormented by the very things that make them extra special.
While the movie series didn't really need more characters, a couple of the new ones are entertaining. On the one hand is the diplomatic Beast, a.k.a. Dr. Henry McCoy (Kelsey Grammer, yes, Frasier Crane himself). He's all blue in the face (and all over, for that matter), but he's a smart, bespectacled monster of a man. It's cool to see Grammer in an action movie ("O' my stars and garters" indeed!).
On the other hand, there's Juggernaut, a.k.a. Cain Marko (Vinnie Jones, She's the Man), a lummox who is purportedly impossible to stop once he gets revved up.
While those two new additions are each entertaining in their own ways, The Last Stand also includes some unfortunate choices.
In scrounging up a rebellion, Magneto attracts a pretty sorry lot. Among them are a bunch of street punk mutants led by a tough-talking chick and a Porcupine Boy. Surely Magneto could've done better.
Bryan Singer, who directed the first two episodes, has moved over to the DC Comics camp for this summer's Superman Returns, leaving directing duties to Brett Ratner. Ratner's got a shaky résumé, one with the Rush Hour movies, Red Dragon (a Hannibal Lecter prequel), and After the Sunset. To a certain extent, he's made a good transition here, but while juggling the enormous cast, fantastical elements, and an interesting storyline, things tend to sink when they should swim.
Super Deja Vu
After setting up the miracle drug concept, the movie had the potential to be a humdinger of a movie about the right of choice, personal decisions, and equal rights. Throw in Xavier's continuing clash with Magneto over whether to use their mutant power for self-sacrifice, self-gratification, or revenge, and this could have been a powder keg of a movie.
Instead, X3 wimps out and it quickly retreats into the shallow territory of comic book movies of yore.
Ultimately, the battle of morals and values takes the standard Good Super People versus Bad Super People route, with a final conflict on Alcatraz Island, home to Worthington Labs' mutant drug facility.
When the battle takes center stage, comparisons to Superman II become almost inevitable. The fighting has the same no-holds-barred cheesiness, although the effects are up to date in the X flick. For example, the Golden Gate Bridge is conveniently relocated by Magneto to allow the terra firma-based members of his mutant army to make their way over to the former prison site.
In terms of humor, The Last Stand at times feels like another DC competitor, the Adam West Batman movie. That one featured a large assembly of baddies teaming up to inflict chaos and involved a nefarious plot to disintegrate members of the United Nations.
But, to give credit where credit is due, the whole bridge-moving situation does lead to one particularly inspired gag involving a woman locking her car door on the bridge, as if she had just entered a bad neighborhood… and as if that lock would be enough to stop a guy who just moved an entire bridge.
The Play's the Thing
Maybe it's the fine Shakespearean timbre of Stewart and McKellen, but watching those two great, classically trained actors spar verbally and supernaturally prompts an odd thought: What would Shakespeare have wrought with such a motley crew of mutants?
While the biggest tragedy here is the drivel they're required to deliver, the characters do embody a certain sense of Shakespearean tragedy. Particularly poor lovelorn Marie. And that whole rift between Xavier and Magneto smacks of Iago and Othello… No, no. That one's more than a wee bit of a stretch.
Nonetheless, this interesting array of characters does undergo a significant arc during the course of the three movies and some pretty shocking choices were made in The Last Stand that would tend to jibe with the film being billed as the last installment in the X-Men saga (granted, spin-offs for Wolverine and possibly others are in the works to keep the cash cow chewing away at the box office).
At least at first blush some "shocking" choices were made.
If the final frames of the film don't foretell another installment, be sure to stay through the end credits for one more, even less subtle, tease that leaves X-Men: The Last Stand as nothing more than one enormous cop out. It's almost the equivalent of Pam's bad dream in Dallas. Almost.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.