REVIEW: X-Men: The Last Stand [2006]

Score: 5/10 | ★ ★

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 104 minutes | Release Date: May 26th, 2006 (USA)
Studio: Marvel Enterprises / Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Director(s): Brett Ratner
Writer(s): Simon Kinberg & Zak Penn

“Same as the Professor: visiting an old friend.”

I’m sad to inform you that X-Men: The Last Stand did not age well. Not that anyone called it great when it was released—it was little more than serviceable then—but boy does it falter when viewed in close proximity with the two stellar entries coming before it. I’d like to blame Bryan Singer for jumping ship to DC so he could helm Superman Returns or even Matthew Vaughn and his family issues preventing him from taking the reins. Heck, I’d love to focus my anger on Brett Ratner too since it’s so easy to do, but none of them wrote the script. No, this failure falls onto the shoulders of Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn, two men of whom I’m sure did their best while Fox brass whispered in their ears. Unfortunately their best wasn’t enough.

Ratner isn’t left unscathed when you consider questionable directorial choices on line deliveries, neglecting to fix inherent script issues on set, and allowing the climatic battle on Alcatraz to commence in broad daylight yet end at night for aesthetic purposes without ever showing the sun set. He found himself inside a terrible situation he simply wasn’t equipped to fix. The whole “more is more” philosophy had already been ingrained with a slew of characters coming and going as the plot saw fit and extremely elaborate special effects sequences grinding momentum to a halt without fail. It’s as though Kinberg and Penn had all these things to jam in and decided to worry about who they’d accomplish them with afterwards. It’s like, “Arclight (Omahyra) sonic booms and Angel (Ben Foster) flies? Put them in, we can use that.”

Not only that but the continuation from X-Men 2 providing an opportunity to introduce Jean Grey’s (Famke Janssen) resurrection as Phoenix becomes background noise for half the film so they can keep attention on the grand plan of a mutant cure via harvested blood from Leech (Cameron Bright), a boy whose power is to suppress the powers of those around him. Here’s the strongest mutant ever born—a fact repeated endlessly throughout—who comes close to destroying all hope the X-Men had of unity with humans in a brilliantly rendered murder scene of epic proportions and she disappears until the story deems her important again. At least let her wreak havoc alongside Magneto (Ian McKellen) and his Brotherhood. Make her question her allegiance instead of ignore it in silence while Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) begs for her return.

But no, the villain this film needed to really up the ante is neutered, fan favorites like Rebecca Romijn‘s Mystique and James Marsden‘s boy scout Cyclops are rendered pawns, and Colossus (Daniel Cudmore) and Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) find their roles expanded if only to even the sides and add “cool factor”. In all honesty, the only truly interesting thing besides finally injecting Beast (Kelsey Grammer) into the fold as a mutant with real clout to help bridge the species divide is Magneto’s newfound sense of remorse. It’s not handled in the greatest way possible, but watching his conflicted soul erupt is a profound moment that explains how similar we are to those we hate. It’s the lesson the first two films taught us with nuance and intelligence, this time orchestrated like blunt force trauma and forgotten as quickly.

It’s too bad too because there are some interesting things happening plot-wise besides Phoenix and her infinite abilities. The idea of a “cure” is a perfect way to divide X-Men and Brotherhood even further, giving each side a common out from the fight. Rogue (Anna Paquin) becomes the entry point into this philosophical struggle, finally afforded the opportunity to touch those she loves. Add in the fact that its creator Warren Worthington II (Michael Murphy) is the father of a mutant he believes he’s working to help and there’s some deep commentary ripe for the picking. There just isn’t enough time to deal with it and everything else when time has to also be allotted for a Golden Gate Bridge razing and lightning bolt explosions. Ratner and company definitely had their priorities straight there.

To them it’s enough to give fans the Danger Room, a Sentinel despite sharing no context to explain what it is or if it exists outside the holodeck training field it resides, and a sense of gasp-inducing mortality powerful enough to change the franchise’s future. To them it’s enough to gloss over all that seconds after introducing it because their job is simply to include, not expand. Well, I’m here to tell you that thinking is meaningless if nothing has purpose. These storylines resonant with so many comic book aficionados because they render important issues accessible so readers everywhere won’t feel alone thanks to race, gender, sexuality, smarts, etc. Putting them into a blockbuster film solely because you can is a slap in the face to those writers who poured their hearts and souls into those arcs.

It was at their fingertips: enough wealth to possibly make two separate films with care, pride, and a refusal to water-down the inherent lessons concerning morality and forgiveness. We learn Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) wrestled with the ethics of mind control, see ex-best friends meet on the battlefield (Shawn Ashmore‘s Iceman and Aaron Stanford‘s Pyro), and witness the debilitating sacrifices made in spite of and as a result of love. So much potential wasted to have more characters deformed into parlor tricks and more computer animation replacing actual fight scenes. I’ll give credit to Callisto (Dania Ramirez) and Storm’s (Halle Berry) brawl towards the end, but constantly watching Beast’s choreographed jumps—a feat so clunky my mind drew the harness wires back in—was too tiring. And so too was the titular “last stand”.

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