To truly discuss this movie, I need to venture into pretty major spoiler
territory. For those who prefer to enter a movie unsullied, I’ll front load the
review with stuff that’s safe to know – and pack all the big spoiler stuff at
the end, safely contained behind a big warning.
Bad news for those who’ve been predicting
that this movie will be a trainwreck of apocalyptic proportions. It’s not completely awful.
Bad news for those who’ve convinced
themselves that this movie will be great, and that those nitpicky geeks are
just playa hatin’. Because it ain’t that good either.
The X-Men’s last cinematic stand is a
maddeningly frustrating movie – one that shows glimmers of quality, even
occasional greatness, only to smother that potential before it can be realised.
Before you sharpen your knives (or
home-made adamantium claws) the culprit isn’t Brett Ratner. No, Ratner does
pretty much what was expected of him. He’s turned in a somewhat pedestrian but
far from disgraceful piece of directorial work. The look and sound of Bryan
Singer’s movies is approximated effectively enough, so that this entry doesn’t
come as a jarring stylistic change. Rest assured, it’s no Batman Forever. In
fact, so closely does Ratner ape the Singer style that it almost feels like a
pod person replica of the previous movies – it seems the same on the surface,
but there’s just something missing behind the eyes. While Singer’s movies have
their flaws, there was always the sense that – through slashed budgets and
truncated schedules – Singer was striving for something more than just another
blockbuster. Ratner’s continuation takes the baton, but is content to walk it
over the finish line rather than soar to victory. Even so, Brett Ratner is the
least of the movie’s problems.
Nor can Zak Penn and Simon Kinberg be held
responsible for the stumbles The Last Stand makes. Having read their revealing
and honest interview on this very site, it’s clear that much of what works is down
to them and their determination to maintain a through line with what came before.
They do have a troubling tendency to have their characters state the blindingly
obvious – openly commenting on ironic parallels that would be best left
unspoken – but the major problems with the film are in its structure and
pacing, and it’s clear that the writer’s aren’t to blame for this.
No, the blame for The Last Stand’s less
than satisfying nature must fall at the feet of whichever genius decided that
the final big screen story to be told about Xavier’s gifted youngsters needed
to be crammed into a mere 97 minutes.
That’s right – the grand finale is the
shortest of the trilogy.
Because of this insane running time, the
movie barely has time to tie up loose ends, let alone craft a compelling story
out of the dual threats of a mutant cure and Jean Grey’s transformation into
Phoenix. A nicely judged flashback to Xavier and Magneto first meeting the
young Jean Grey sets a misleading example at the start of the movie. Heavy on
plot but low on actual story, events and fights are soon thundering past at
breakneck speed, with characters reduced to squeezing their character beats
into frustratingly brief scenes. Bobby and Rogue continue their troubled
romance, but whereas in X2 this felt organic, here it feels like an obligation,
the resolution tossed off in the closing minutes with no real closure. More
importantly, there are pivotal character deaths in this movie, and some
seemingly major changes to the X-Men movie universe, but the only weight they
carry is due to the previous two movies, not anything on display in this one.
The truncated running time turns what
should have been an epic blow out, a grand crescendo to wave off a cast of
characters we give a shit about, into one of the most undercooked and nourishment-free
franchises finales in living memory.
Looking forward to seeing Angel? If you’ve
seen the seven-minute promo, you’ve pretty much seen him. He has maybe five
additional lines, and does absolutely nothing in the story. Because of this, his contribution to the final battle is
laughably lightweight, an act of cheesy (and silent) heroism utterly without
context. Beast fares slightly better (and his controversial make-up varies from
corny to passable) but even he proves to be little more than a convenient
conduit to funnel information from the government to the X-Men so the plot can
maintain its non-stop pace. When he breaks out into swinging action at the end,
it’s too little too late. Grammer is a perfect match for the role, and there
are some nice nods to his history with Xavier, but you could remove him from
the story and things would unfold much the same.
What makes it all the more frustrating is
that there are things in this movie that fans have clamoured to see for years.
As well as Angel, Storm finally flies – properly. Iceman ices up for combat. There’s
Dark Phoenix, of course (and I’ll discuss her thankless role in the spoiler
section). There’s the Holodeck, sorry – Danger Room, and that rather pointless glimpse
of a Sentinel (which plays exactly as it did on TV, by the way). We get not
one, but two fastball specials. We get Moira MacTaggart and Muir Island. We get
Juggernaut and Multiple Man. We get Bill Duke as a man called Trask. Beast even
says “Oh my stars and garters”. But all these fan-baiting moments actually made
me wish for the restraint of the Singer movies, where there’d be just a couple
of sly references buried in the background for the hardcore. In this movie, such
is the deluge of trinkets from the X-Men mythos that I found myself waiting for
them to jet off to the Savage Land to team-up with Ka-Zar, or for the Shiar
Empire to swing by for a chat. With so much wacky shit thrown around, it
sometimes feels more like an adaptation of the Fox Kids animated series than a
sequel to the movies that made the public take superheroes on film seriously
There are, of course, many who will take
that as a hearty endorsement – and I won’t deny there’s a guilty fanboy thrill
in seeing that stuff on-screen, but it feels incongruous, like an all you can
eat geek buffet where the sheer quantity tries to compensate for the lack of overall
quality. None of these characters or ideas are being used for anything of
value, to move things forward in any meaningful way, but by golly – there’s a
lot of them! Just shut up and stuff your face! Look! There’s Spike from X-Men
Evolution! And was that Toad schlepping around on the ceiling? It was! Ooooh!
Juggernaut and Multiple Man, for instance,
are basically little more than Bond gadgets. Certain scenes call for mutants
who can smash through walls or provide handy decoys, and so these two are the
ones Magneto conveniently finds incarcerated with Mystique. Once they’ve
fulfilled their sole function, they simply vanish. This isn’t all bad, as both
characters are horribly realised both in terms of FX and performance.
Of course, the same could be said of
Nightcrawler – he had little bearing on the plot of X2 beyond pestering the
President, but at least they made use of his powers in other ways, and made him
a character worth caring about. In the maelstrom of this movie, the
use-and-forget approach to new mutants soon becomes annoying.
The Last Stand coasts to success on the
back of two movies worth of superior plot and character development, and some
solid performances from actors who can play these roles in their sleep – and,
sadly, sometimes do. It’s far from the worst comic book movie, but nor is it
the final chapter this franchise deserved. X-Men fans will be pleased with some
of the stuff they finally get to see, but they’ll also be pissed off by the
cavalier way certain characters are removed from the action, and by the
generally anaemic feeling to the whole enterprise.
You could argue that the first X-Men movie
was similarly afflicted, and I’d probably agree. But at least that movie knew
how to focus on what was important, to give the characters room to establish
themselves, and there was always the potential of more to come. This is,
supposedly, our farewell to these characters and so each misstep stings that
little bit more because there’s no chance of seeing them corrected. After X-Men and X2, the stage was set for the first large scale superhero flick. For a
movie in which evolution plays such a large part, the development between first
and second film slips backwards with this entry, rather than leaping forward
yet again and bringing us something we hadn’t seen before.
Somewhere in the mylar bag of my mind,
there’s a special issue of “What If?” where the nine figure sum spent on this
movie was given to Bryan Singer and he was allowed to deliver such a movie. As
it is, we’ve got this. It finishes off the saga. It has some fun stuff. It does
the job. It’s just not a particularly inspiring way of doing it.
Suffice to say that The Last Stand is an
infuriating case of what could’ve been. If you’ve got a hate-on for this movie
you can knock a point off the following score. If you’re one of those people convinced
that it’ll be good, or if you don’t hold Singer’s films in terribly high
regard, you can probably add a point on. Watch it in the “brain switched off”
mode that Devin so hates and you’ll be amply entertained. Just don’t ask me
applaud when a franchise that could have delivered so much more goes out on
such an unambitious note.
YOU ARE NOW ENTERING SPOILER TERRITORY…
(Swipe if you must)The parts of the movie that suffer most
from the short running time are the things that are likely to spoil the movie.
If you don’t mind spoilers, or just don’t give a shit, then read on…
The first sign that The Last Stand isn’t
going to deliver the gravity and emotional weight it requires is the offhand
way Cyclops is crudely jettisoned from the story. After two movies of not much
to do, we finally have a story – Dark Phoenix – where he can be of some use,
where his character can be a vital part of what’s happening. Instead, he’s here
for all of two scenes and is then simply vaporised. He doesn’t even get the
dignity of a visible death, his demise coyly taking place off-screen. Obviously,
his vastly reduced role is one of necessity – Marsden also had a date in
Metropolis – but the nature of his removal from this franchise is nothing short
of shocking, one of the most abrupt and least mourned character deaths I can
remember seeing. I can’t help wondering if that was somehow meant as punishment
for pulling double duty on Superman, but it’s still a shitty way to kill off a
That Xavier is also killed off (presumably
Stewart is the actor with stage commitments mentioned in the Penn/Kinberg
interview) is a more troubling prospect. He does at least get a decent
send-off, but by having him fall foul of the Phoenix power is a tad redundant –
his demise is a lot more spectacular than Cyclops (it actually happens
on-screen!) but it serves mainly to emphasise yet again that Jean’s power has
gone apeshit. His death does impact on the story – unlike Cyclops, people
actually seem bothered that he’s dead – but his departure leaves a hole in the
dynamic that the film struggles to fill.
As for Dark Phoenix, never has an idea been
so successfully built up only to be so underused. Understandably abandoning the
alien entity concept from the comics, the alternative explanation is fudged and
less than convincing, on a par with Jurassic Park’s Site B in the “shouldn’t
this have been mentioned before?” stakes. When they arrive, the scenes of
Jean’s wayward power are truly great – you really get the sense that she could
cause massive destruction if she let rip – but once she’s helped remove Cyclops
and Xavier from the story, she simply ends up standing behind Magneto and
It’s never entirely clear what he plans to
use her for, as his masterplan involves nothing more complex than attacking the
source of the cure on Alcatraz Island (after relocating the Golden Gate Bridge
in an impressive – if utterly pointless – display of power) by throwing dozens
of faceless mutant extras at the small military force guarding the
installation. Right at the last minute, she’s given the nod to destroy
everything, but by that point I was simply frustrated that such a potentially
great character had been reduced to simply being The Big Threat At The End Of
The Film. The way she exits the story is less than satisfying as well, a moment
that strives for emotional impact but is ultimately the sort of thing that
would have worked better had the story been given an extra thirty minutes to
stretch its legs.
Also, given that the end of the previous
two movies saw Magneto try to turn all the world leaders into mutants, William
Stryker try to kill every mutant in the world, and Magneto try to kill every
human in the world, the scale of the threat here just doesn’t justify the Last
Stand tag. Even though there’s more mutant action than in previous movies, it
still all boils down to a big punch-up in a remote location. The mutant cure is
written off to make way for a faux happy ending (presumably, with the lab
destroyed and Leech at the Xavier mansion, it’s no longer an issue, but this is
far from clear) and Beast finds himself promoted to the United Nations, despite
being openly linked to the X-Men, and party to an enormous terrorist incident
on American soil.
Finally, there are two closing scenes that
underline just how frustratingly The Last Stand fumbles its attempts to be the
grand closing chapter in the X-Men saga. During the battle at the end,
Wolverine and Beast suckerpunch Magneto and hit him with the mutant cure.
There’s potential for a genuinely meaty situation there, as the arrogant
terrorist becomes the very thing he’s vowed to destroy, but McKellen is saddled
with some perfunctory and hammy dialogue that undersells the moment. It’s a
Darth Vader “Nooooooo!” moment. Worse, mere minutes later we cut to Magneto
playing chess in a park – having apparently escaped any sort of repercussions
for what he’s done, and apparently unconcerned with being seen in public. He’s
playing with metal chess pieces. He points at one – and it wobbles. Then the
credits crash in.
If you stick around after the credits,
there’s another coda to the story – and it’s one that frankly baffles the shit
out of me. It’s of Moira MacTaggart tending to a bandaged patient. Yes, it’s
Charles Xavier, back from the dead. Not only do these two scenes make a mockery
of the idea that this is the final chapter, they also completely belittle the
two main strands of the film we’ve just seen, by diminishing the permanence of
both the mutant cure and the power of the Phoenix.(Stop swiping, klepto)