Wednesday, August 31, 2011

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

After Bryan Singer and Matthew Vaughn both dropped X-Men: The Last Stand for creative and professional reasons, Brett Ratner (Rush Hour, Rush Hour 3) was brought in due to his history of, as the X3 IMDb trivia page puts it, "making successful films out of rushed productions" (emphasis mine, to highlight the exquisite wordplay). After all the care Singer put into the franchise with the first two films, bringing Ratner in to fill in is like hiring a competitive eater as the executive chef of your five star restaurant.

Ratner cosplays as Wolverine's cousin Chet. Codename: Woodchuck.

After an obligatory prologue with creepily CGI rendered Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellan), X-Men: The Last Stand begins promisingly with an epic futuristic battle between the X-Men and the Sentinels. Wolverine mugs and saunters through the scenario with his classic blase, as he finally disappears into the darkness and throws back a dismembered Sentinel head. Cool!

Logan, you so crazy!

Unfortunately the preceding sequence was merely a simulation in the famous Danger Room, and we are dragged kicking and screaming into the actual world Ratner created, primarily full of political nuances about human rights and moral quandaries. Opening a film with a massive tease is always the best way for a new director to ingratiate himself to a devoted fanbase.

Instead of a spectacular dystopian wasteland with robots pitted against mutants, we instead get Cyclops (James Marsden) sulking around the compound looking for the fastest way to opt out of his franchise contract. He ultimately chooses to follow the voice of his deceased ex-girlfriend Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) to a lake and then yell at her to stop talking. Instead she shows up! And wants to remove the sunglasses that prevent him from accidentally exploding the moon. She controls it for a while but then decides killing him is much more fun.

Bryan, take me with you!

Meanwhile, a well-intentioned yet naive doctor (Michael Murphy) creates a mutant "cure" because his disgusting deformed son grew up with beautiful angel wings (Ben Foster). The film never explains why resembling an angel or having the ability to fly would ever be interpreted as bad things by anyone. A more likely scenario is Angel retains a small but devoted fundamentalist Christian following in a West Texas polygamist compound.

Dad I looked up "angelic" in the dictionary and the Webster's people seem to think it's a good thing.
Mutants run the gamut of emotions in response to the "cure," particularly the humans' decision to weaponize it into tiny projectile deus ex machinas. Rogue (Anna Paquin) is intrigued because she is a QUITTER, while more hardcore mutants like Magneto are outraged and register their concern through petty acts of terrorism and turning on their own kind. After Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) takes an anti-mutant bullet for Magneto, he immediately abandons her, citing that she's "not one of them anymore."

Thanks for saving my life you JERK!

Magneto isn't the only one who falls victim to inconsistent character development. The normally evenly-keeled Xavier goes through strange bouts of childish scolding when Wolverine attempts to question his strange medical treatment of young Jean. Wolverine too spends most of his time quivering his manly-yet-sensitive lower lip and lusting over an emotionally unstable Jean who is clearly just not that into him.

The mutant cure scientists hole up in Alcatraz, which they describe as the safest place they could find on such short notice. Despite the folly of using the most famous prison in the world to represent their human rights wedge issue, I sincerely doubt a tourist trap in the middle of an urban center is the safest location imaginable.

Magneto concocts the most efficient plan to get to Alcatraz: lift up the entire Golden Gate Bridge to transport a few hundred mutants. The X-Men are weakened by Xavier's death (oh by the way that happened too. Also Kelsey Grammer is Beast) and line up for their last stand with the Brotherhood.

Some suckers about to get served (above).

While X-Men: The Last Stand is not the worst comic book film to grace the silver screen, it certainly illustrates some of the worst ways to make a comic book sequel. Singer had already done the heavy lifting with the X-Men origin story. Ratner was given the freedom to explore the world and try something different. Instead he interweaves some of the better known storylines into a confusing web of new characters and muddled themes. Each storyline possesses the potential for emotional depth, but when smushed together into one film it rings hollow. It feels like more of a series of X-Men vignettes than a cohesive film, and many X-Men fans shunned the film not for any egregious flaws, but due to the strange unworldly feel Ratner bestowed upon the characters.

Scott and Logan's infatuation with Jean, who in the previously films did next to nothing, is a narrative short hand so Ratner can cover a lot of ground at the expense of logic and emotional build. The nuanced characters we once empathized with are now catchphrase-spewing automatons whose sole mission is to get through the three dozen interweaving plot lines as efficiently as possible.

X-Men: The Last Stand has some hints of ingenuity. Though Angel saving his father from a gang of mutant thugs was inevitable and tacked on, I appreciated the scene for its unexplored emotional breadth. The concept of a mutant cure is intriguing, but Ratner never fully explores the world. I even enjoyed the wildly inappropriate "I'm the Juggernaut, bitch!" line for its level of commitment to something so stupid.

Arbitrary Rating:

Four Last Stands out of Three


Magneto: Couldn't you just make them say yes?
Xavier: Yes I could, but it's not my way. And I would expect you of all people would understand my feelings about the misuse of power.
Magneto: Ah yes, power corrupts and all that.

Dr. Worthington: This site, once the world's most famous prison, will now be the source of freedom for all mutants who choose it.

Beast: Oh my stars and garters.

Magneto: It's time to end this war (throws flaming car).


The admittedly pretty cool trailer.

I had to post it.

1 comment:

  1. I think the whole Alcatraz Island bit is a reference to the 1969-70 occupation of the ex-prison by an American Indian group, the Indians of All Tribes. So in Brett Ratner's mind, the X-men are like Native Americans. Mull over that.

    [Damn, Wikipedia is helpful.]