X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

X-Men pioneered the modern superhero film.  Unfortunately, it also pioneered something that has come up way too many times in the genre: the disappointing third installment.  Writers change, directors change, actors start getting full of themselves and make demands that sabotage the third outing, or sometimes everything should work.  Should being the big word, as studio interference or the inability to say no to a director can throw things off track rather quickly.

While X-Men didn't have to deal with any of the diva issues - Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Hugh Jackman and Halle Berry are all professionals, after all - it did have to deal with Bryan Singer, who did have a direction in which he wanted the whole Dark Phoenix storyline to go, being given the chance to direct Superman Returns, which was supposed to revitalize that series by giving audiences a true sequel to Superman 2.  It didn't, and it pretty much killed off Superman as a movie franchise until Man of Steel.  To Singer's regret, the resulting X-Men: The Last Stand almost did the same to the series that he had started. 

Still trying to come to grips with the death of Dr. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Scott Summers (James Marsden), aka Cyclops, returns to Alkali Lake after he thinks he hears Jean calling to him.  She in fact is, but she emerges from the water significantly different and transformed.  Professor Xavier (Stewart) is immediately alerted and sends Wolverine (Jackman) and Storm (Berry) to find out what happened.  They don't find Summers, but they do find Jean and bring her back to Xavier's school.

It turns out that, far from being the weak psychic mutant she always thought she was, Xavier had used his powers to dampen her abilities.  Magneto (McKellan) soon becomes aware of her return and that she is now at full power.  His hopes are to sway her to his side and join the Brotherhood, a group of Mutants he has assembled in light of a cure to the Mutant gene developed by Warren Worthington II (Michael Murphy) based on the ability of a young boy (Cameron Bright) whose ability is simply to cancel out other Mutants' powers.  Magneto and his group hope to stop Worthington, while Dr. Henry McCoy (Kelsey Grammer), a government-appointed liaison with the Mutant community, hopes to find a diplomatic solution.

When I first watched this I was heavily disappointed.  I also must point out that I remember little about it, other than Jean Grey resurrected as the Phoenix (hence the whole "Dark Phoenix" storyline from the comics).  I have never red an X-Men comic in my life, and probably never will, but at the end of X2: X-Men United Jean sacrifices herself so that everyone else can escape in their jet, and it left many fans excited because, from what I can tell, this was one of the most popular stories from the original comics.  That makes it sad that 20th Century Fox has made a mess of it twice - once with Singer's replacement, Brett Ratner, and again with Simon Kinberg directing X-Men: Dark Phoenix.  In both cases Singer went off to do something else, and in both cases it is considered that his replacement made a botch of it. 

Kinberg, it should be noted, is one of the writers for X-Men: The Last Stand, and was reportedly (along with the rest of the cast and crew) forced to deal with a rushed production and tons of studio meddling, including deciding who dies.  In some cases that was related to certain actors having other commitments, but in others it was to create drama without much a payoff.  Halle Berry had wanted Ororo Munroe to have more of a presence in this film, and she got her wish, but unfortunately more screen time didn't mean her character was developed further.  She may lead the efforts of the X-Men against the Brotherhood, but nothing in the movie expands on who she is other than just being Storm. 

Which is a shame, since with a number of main characters out of it for the majority - Cyclops, Mystique and Xavier - there should have been some time to broaden Storm a bit.  Rogue (Anna Paquin) is finally given a real name and her desire to be normal is exposed, so at least her character gets a payoff.  What doesn't is the undercooked love triangle, which never worked in the first two movies and doesn't have the emotional heft to drive home the final few minutes of the main action either.  X-Men: The Last Stand may keep much of the feeling of the previous films, but it seems like it is on autopilot.  

I think over the years my opinion of the movie has been tainted by the fact that, after hiring Matthew Vaughn to replace Bryan Singer, they brought in Brett Ratner to direct after Vaughn had to suddenly leave for personal reasons.  Ratner is a director that managed one good movie out of Rush Hour simply because he had Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan to carry it for him.  Otherwise he has no specific style other than he can film decent action scenes.  He did, however, keep up the tradition of X-Men having the worst human beings possible directing as he, like Singer, has been implicated in numerous sexual assault and harassment situations - including on this film, where he outed Elliot Page (then Ellen Page) as a lesbian to the cast and crew when they rebuked his advances.  Understandably, with both the reputation of the movie being the worst in the original trilogy and Ratner being a slimeball, this is not a movie that encourages repeat viewings.  Probably the only thing that kept McKellan from walking off of this one was his professionalism and a contract. 

That said, the end result, when compared to the first two, is disappointing.  The movie, however, is not horrible.  It has some terrible writing (specifically a line from Vinnie Jones as Juggernaut), a few dodgy special effects (the CGI version of Shawn Ashmore's Iceman at one point) and a baffling sudden change from the middle of the day to the middle of the night for the final battle.  The introduction of Angel (Ben Foster) at the beginning is great, and more in line with Singer's films, and Kelsey Grammer is wonderful as Beast.  If Matthew Vaughn had remained director X-Men: The Last Stand most likely would have still been a drop off in quality from the first two, but in the end would have had more going for it than a number of pretty action scenes. 

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
Time: 104 minutes
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, Kelsey Grammer
Director: Brett Ratner



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