X-MEN: THE LAST STAND

 

Review by Mark Walters

 

So at one point Brett Ratner was the director attached to the much anticipated SUPERMAN RETURNS.  Eventually he was replaced by Bryan Singer, who turned in two solid comic book films with X-MEN and X-MEN 2.  With Singer's schedule being occupied by the Man of Steel, Ratner oddly enough ended up taking the helm with the third X-MEN outing.  It was a decision that met with much controversy from comic book fanboys, many of who wondered if Brett could possibly come close to matching the quality that Bryan had already established with this franchise.

 The new film opens with a flashback 20 years ago, where Charles Xavier a.k.a. Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Eric Lensherr a.k.a. Magneto (Ian McKellen) stop by a suburban home to meet with a young Jean Grey.  This girl clearly has a powerful gift, but needs to learn how she can embrace it, and control it.  Charles and Eric promise her they can help.  Then we're taken just 10 years back, where Warren Worthington the 2nd, a prominent political figure, walks in on his young son Warren the 3rd who is trying desperately to hide his mutant angel-like wings.  This leads us into the not too distant future, where the X-Men are training inside the danger room located at the Xavier School.  Storm (Halle Berry) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) seem to have differing opinions on their students capabilities in battle situations.  The team's intended leader Scott Summers a.k.a. Cyclops (James Marsden) is rather distraught over the loss of his wife Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), who sacrificed herself during their last battle at Alkaline Lake.  Scott goes to her death site, and is shocked to discover that Jean is apparently still alive.  But something has changed in her.  While her powers have grown to incredible levels, she's not the same person everyone once knew.  Meanwhile Magneto's right hand girl Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) has been captured by the government, who are being advised by an intelligent yet animal-like mutant named Dr. Hank McCoy (Kelsey Grammer).  It seems the military has developed a "cure" serum which will nullify the abilities of any mutant, and intends to use it against those they consider threats.  It's derived from a mutant whose power does just that.  Magneto won't stand for this, and assembles a small army of powerful mutants to fight this imminent threat.  His secret weapon may actually be the newly changed Jean Grey, who could potentially destroy anyone that gets in her way.  It's up to the X-Men to keep things from getting out of hand, and hopefully prevent their former teammate from doing Magneto's evil deeds.

 I can honestly say that I went into this flick expecting a train wreck.  People I know that were close to the production had mentioned things to me that killed any confidence I might have had.  The initial trailers looked great, but I kept hearing that the script was lame.  The end result isn't completely awful, but certainly falls short of the previous films' quality.  The absence of Bryan Singer is pretty apparent.  Gone is the chemistry between characters, and the emotional elements come across as mediocre at best.  I was always a little let down with how the character of Cyclops was so underused in the previous outings, and in this one he's quickly tossed away like dead weight.  When you think about it, that character has the most reason to incorporate an emotional undercurrent.  Sadly he's disposed of rather quickly.  I feel bad for James Marsden.  Any serious X-Men fan knows that Cyclops was always the leader of the team, and was established in the comics as a very important character.  This current movie serves as an unfortunate nail in the coffin for him, and it's a shame they never gave the audience a chance of really getting to know him on screen.  Wolverine gets the most screen time yet again.  Sure, he's a cool character, and Hugh Jackman is a very competent actor, but I really wish the filmmakers would highlight some of the other team members accordingly.  Storm's role is expanded significantly in this story, which would be nice, but Halle Berry's acting is perhaps the most wooden it's ever been.  Though she's given more to work with here in the script, the change of director may have ultimately hurt what could've been a more meaningful performance.  I was initially intrigued at the idea of Kelsey Grammer playing Beast, but where Alan Cumming (absent here and not even mentioned) as Nightcrawler in the last movie managed to sell the image and character so well, Kelsey just looks like a guy in a big blue fur suit.  It's not as convincing as you'd hope.  His voice and demeanor works for the role, but the believability just isn't there in the end.  Several characters end up being wasted in the script.  Rogue, who is a pretty central character in the previous flicks, leaves the story halfway through, and is absent for a majority of the film.  The character of Angel (Ben Foster), who was heavily promoted in the trailers and ad campaigns, is barely used at all, and kind of feels like an afterthought addition.  Colossus (Daniel Cudmore) is in the film, but also doesn't have much to do, aside from literally throw Wolverine into battle.  Mystique has an absolutely great moment halfway through, which serves as the most effective emotional moment in the story.  It's heartbreaking and yet so appropriate, but the sheer shock of what happens makes it a terrific plot point.  Professor X doesn't get much to do here either, other than look worried, leaving us with yet another sensation of a wasted character.  Jean Grey starts out with the potential to do some interesting things, but ends up being mostly a background figure in the end, which really sucks for fans of the classic Phoenix Saga storyline.  Perhaps the only character that really gets the royal treatment is Magneto, whose motives aren't necessarily all that shocking.  He fights because he feels threatened, and his cause is actually understandable.  Maybe the means he uses to accomplish his goals are a bit harsh, but he does have a good reason behind his actions.

One thing I was surprised by was the amount of violence, which has definitely been ramped up a bit.  A lot of people die here, and some in very violent fashion.  There's one scene with Magneto where he alone wipes out over a dozen men in a matter of seconds, without showing any remorse.  Even some of the mutants are disposed of graphically.  I guess the MPAA gets a little lax these days if the source material comes from a comic book.  There are some major deaths in the film, including three principal X-Men members, and a few characters end up losing their powers to the cure serum.  Comic fans will find some nice glory moments peppered throughout the story, including a few scenes that will bring out sincere cheers.  There's definitely plenty of action here, especially at the end.  But the film is a little too packed for its own good.  Some scenes feel over thought, as if Ratner was going out of his way to include as much as possible.  Some of the popular comic storylines are paid homage to, but not always in satisfying ways.  The average moviegoer will most likely find it all to be great entertainment, but the hardcore X-fan might not like the way certain elements are handled.  I find myself remembering select scenes as being VERY cool, thought they're surrounding by a muddled script.  Brett Ratner handles the action pretty well for the most part.  Some of the battles are about as good as they could possibly be, like the final battle of Iceman and Pyro which is a comic fan's dream come true, but others (such as the two Storm and Callisto fights) are a tad too frantic.  Also absent from this outing is the serious nature of Wolverine.  He's a little over-humorous on more than one occasion, and that's a character that should always be brooding by nature.  The ending leaves a lot of plot points unresolved, and comes across as just convenient instead of appropriate.  I was almost to the point of accepting what I had watched, but the way things are wrapped up just wasn't enough to placate me.  I would certainly say this is the weakest of the three films, primarily because of the story.  But if you're looking for cool comic book action, you could do a lot worse.  I have to wonder how Singer would've wrapped things up had he stayed on board.  I guess it all would've depended on what the story would've been in that situation.  I'm not trying to bash Brett Ratner for the work he did, but those were some pretty big shoes to fill.  Will there be another film?  Probably.  This one ends in such a way to where it wouldn't be out of the question.  I just hope that the next time around will focus more on the secondary characters.  Note: stay until the end of the credits for a little surprise.

BIGFANBOY.com score - On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being best, I give X-MEN: THE LAST STAND a 6.


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