X-Men: The Last Stand

Better than you might have expected given that Ratner's in charge, but should have been so much better.

Released in 2006, certified UK-12A. Reviewed on 29 May 2006 by Scott Morris
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If there's one thing I can't stand, it's sequel naming scheme inconsistencies. I mean, Bryan Singer's first effort, X-Men seemed a logical enough place to start, although why the follow-up went by the official moniker of X2 is something of a mystery that might please the minimalist movement but rather sticks in my craw. Imagine then, the sheer horror coursing through my psyche on realising that not only was crapmerchant directormonkey Brett Ratner behind the megaphone this time, but the film was to be called X-Men: The Last Stand? Would it have killed them to put the number 3 in there? Have they no consideration for the people who have to list and categorise these films? Barbarians, I tell thee.

So what do you get from this installment of adapto-comic-bookery? The X-Men vs. Magneto. Again. Ho-hum.

Details, details. Okay, Xavier (Captain James T. Picard)'s squad are still reeling from the loss of Jean Grey, which has affected Cyclops so badly he's grown a beard and Nightcrawler so badly he's evaporated from the storyline completely. Anyone with a passing familiarity with comic books in general will know that something as trifling as death is no barrier to characters returning to boost circulation so it should not be too much of a shock when Cyclops starts hearing funny voices in his head, takes off to Alkali Lake and finds Jean Grey mystifyingly resurrected. As Xavier later explains, she was saved by a combination of McGuffins and plot devices that protected her, but has now unleashed the her horrifying full powers and her suppressed split personality of Phoenix, an instinctive and destructive force. Peachy.

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Meanwhile, Worthington labs have created a 'cure' for the mutant X-gene that causes all of these funky powers-cum-disabilities, and have offered it up to a world that had grown rather more friendly and tolerant under a more understanding President and the Secretary of Mutant Affairs Dr. Hank 'Beast' McCoy (Dr. Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer)). This proves just the trigger for an exiled Magneto (Ian McKellen) to make a come-back, inciting mutant vs. human tensions especially after the revelation that the government has been weaponising this cure. So Maggers raises a small mutant army and marches on Worthington's labs while doing something needlessly showy to the Golden Gate Bridge, with the X-Men out to stop them now reincorporating Beast, with Bobby 'Ice-Lad' Drake (Shawn Ashmore) and Kitty 'No Nickname' Pryde (Ellen Page) promoted from the under-18 squad and Peter 'Collosus' Rasputin (Daniel Cudmore) finally getting to join in with the real action. The most notable addition to the dark side of the force is Cain 'Juggernaut' Marko (Vinnie Jones, of all people), who fans of Newton's Laws of Motion will find particularly offensive.

All of which sounds like it would make for quite the entertaining rumble, and for the most part it is. It is, however, nothing like as good as it should be, nor anything like as affecting as it ought to have been. This installment isn't shy about offing its main characters, indeed so many either buy the farm or are otherwise incapacitated that this practically qualifies as a cull. There's scope for emotional upheaval a-plenty, and that X-Men: The Last Stand manages to make all of this rather flat and unremarkable is something of a pity.

Allow me to break the flow of this review, which I now realise is going to descend rather rapidly into bitching, whining and nit-picking, and say the following. On leaving the cinema, my immediate thoughts were along the lines of, "Well, that was pretty decent. Not as good as it could have been but better than I'd expected". If all you're after from a particular jaunt to the cinema is a decent slice of action-based entertainment then this is certainly your best current option, and delivers enough loud, brash gusto-laden explosions, stunts and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, once again playing the series' trump card and the best thing here by a country mile) hack 'n' slashes 'n' acerbic quips to be worth your while. Four out of five, thanks, see you next time.

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If my calculations are correct, we're now left with just the film buffs and comic nerds. Ahh, my brethren, the few, the proud, the geeky. You're going to loathe X3, as I think I'll start to rebelliously call it. When sat in front of X3, as said above, it's fine. You can't shake the feeling that it ought to be much better, but it's diverting enough for said feeling to merely nag at you. If you are able to stop thinking about a film completely and absolutely on leaving the cinema, you're fine. I'm guessing you aren't that sort of person though. You're like us. You keep thinking about films, even those that weren't designed to be thought about. X3 definitely was not made to be thought about.

Some critics have been lauding X3 for having Ideas as well as action, the sort of grand social Ideas that demand capitalisation. I assume they slept through the first two films as saying this is something new to the franchise is a suggestion that must be met with a condescending scorn. The difference is the Singer managed to weave them into the story with a degree of subtlety, at least as far as these things go. Brett Ratner punches you in the face with them, then forgets about them in favour of blowing things up. This is not progress, and just one of many things Ratner's done that we'll be whining about.

Brett Ratner, mystifyingly, is an A-list director, a real hot property. Why? Let's look at what he's done, shall we? Two Rush Hour films. Fair enough, but they were good because Jackie Chan and his unending quest to injure himself for our viewing pleasure was present rather than anything Ratner brought to the table. Still, let's give him some credit for reining Chris Tucker in a little. Family Man, of which the only good thing is Nic Cage. After The Sunset, a film so flyaway it's flown away out of my recollection and let us not forget Red Dragon, or rather let's try to forget Red Dragon because it was abysmal. Oh yes, and he was one of the lengthy list attached to the New Superman Project debacle before Bryan Singer got it, well, filmed at least. Can't says as I'm convinced it was a good idea. Anyway, that's another tale for another day. The point I'm trying to make is that Ratner while far from being a completely talentless hack, seems to have been luckier than he is visionary.

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Disappointments here are pervasive. Remember the character development of X2? Out the window, along with most of the characters that were developed. Ratner drafts in umpteen new mutants on the evil side who to my recollection don't even get the courtesy of a name, so we'll just have to call them Frankie Porkupine, Fastgirl and Sir Splitsalot. What so you get to know about them? Nada, bar their powers. Hell, even the slight characterisation Vinnie Jones gets to come up with stems from the fact that he's playing Vinnie Jones again. Looking over IMDb's cast and crew list seems to suggest that there's no writing credits for this film at all. That might be an oversight on IMDb's part, although I have my doubts. Consider this against Spider-man 2. Without it ever seeming forced, Raimi manages set-up at least two adversaries to go after Spidey once he's dealt with Sandman in Spider-man 3 next year. Here Ratner's essentially painted the franchise into a corner leaving it no obvious place to go, apart from the same place it's always gone. Despite including more mutants than ever before, he's shrunk the movie's universe. Way to go!

The action scenes, while ultimately fulfilling their purpose and rarely less than passable, are nonetheless fairly hamfisted. For something that's billing itself as The Last Stand it sure as hell didn't have much of a sense of climax to it, apart from the fact that it was at the end of its surprisingly brief 104 minutes (and it's a rare day that we reckon a film ought to be longer round these parts). For a barney involving the largest group of mutants we've ever seen in the franchise, you might think that this would be a great excuse to show off lots of crazy new mad skillz and whatnot. Instead you get the usual suspects doing the usual things in the usual ways, with the few new things being, well, retarded. Witness one of the unnamed new muties, running forth into battle and leaping around Toad-style, attaching himself to the underside of a guard tower? Ooh! What's he going to do now! Um, nothing. We forget about him for a few minutes of watching other folks fighting before the humans wheel out some of these de-mutant guns and blasts him with it. At which point he falls twenty-odd feet to his death in what you can see Ratner sitting rubbing his hands during the rushes going "Yeah! Groovy! That cat took a fall, Daddy-o!". Brett Ratner often talks like a 60's acid-addled drop-out. Bet you didn't know that. Anyway the point is that rather than congratulating his stunt team he ought to be questioning the scriptwriter, if there was one, who made this dumb mutant fucker rush forward into battle then inexplicably do bugger all until it becomes visually convenient to kill him. I rather expect you get the earlier point about why this wasn't a film to be mulled over. This sort of thing typically isn't that apparent when watching it, but when, say, writing a review of it panties get bunched over it rather rapidly.

Why the good mark, despite all of the above? Well, simply because we're the freaks that are out of whack with the rest of cinema audiences, and the score might as well be relevant for the many rather than the few, especially as it probably wouldn't be far off your thoughts on leaving. However, on reflection its flaws are apparent, so let's go a mathematical expression of: Score = 4 - x where x = hours spent considering how much Ratner ballsed it up. In fact, screw this for a game of soldiers. I'm stopping writing duties before this winds up on negative marks.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 4/5 TippyMarks.

Brett Ratner
Cast list:
Hugh Jackman (Logan/Wolverine)
Halle Berry (Ororo Munroe/Storm)
Ian McKellen (Eric Lensherr/Magneto)
Famke Janssen (Dr. Jean Grey/Phoenix)
Anna Paquin (Marie/Rogue)
Rebecca Romijn (Raven Darkholme/Mystique)
James Marsden (Scott Summers/Cyclops)
Aaron Stanford (John Allerdyce/Pyro)
Patrick Stewart (Professor Charles Xavier)