After X2‘s release in 2003 I was really looking forward to this movie. It was one of my most anticipated movies ever until Bryan Singer decided to make Superman Returns instead. The announcement that Brett Ratner would take over directing X3 only crushed my spirits more. I had little faith in Ratner and didn’t even bother seeing the movie for a year or two after its release. The same goes for Superman Returns.
When I finally sat down to watch these movies, though, I went into them hoping I’d at least get a cool Superman movie out of the deal and that maybe Ratner would surprise me. I didn’t and he didn’t. I’ll save my thoughts on Superman Returns for another day but where X-Men: The Last Stand is concerned, I don’t know if I should attribute its many failings to the curse of the threequel or the curse of Brett Ratner. Which, of course, is just the career of Brett Ratner.
In my previous reviews, I championed Singer’s ability to make the social commentary of the mutants’ persecution intertwine into the emotional force that drives the previous films’ plots and tone. He did this by giving it the proper subtext of real world social injustices and pain. It felt real and it felt personal.
In X-Men: The Last Stand, the social commentary becomes the status quo backdrop to a movie that eschews the need for any real substance. While I don’t know if Singer’s handling of the anti-mutant sentimentality of this universe would have become cumbersome in the third movie. But I have to believe that he would have maintained the personal, emotional core of the tone. Here, Ratner uses it only to serve the plot.
It can only be a mark on the poor production of the movie that its tone would be so mishandled. The movie introduces a mutant whose mutation is that mutants around him can’t use their powers. The government uses his mutation to develop a “cure for the mutant gene.” This could have been a terrific opportunity to play up the internal struggle of the mutants considering the procedure while also allowing the ethical dilemma’s politicization to adorn the emotional drive of the movie.
To Ratner’s credit, there’s a little bit of that but it’s presented in such a hollow, half-hearted way that it doesn’t come across well at all. The movie takes the opportunity to bring Rogue’s storyline to a conclusion, which was the right move. But she doesn’t wrestle with her decision or the moral implications of the cure itself at all. In fact, the conclusion of her arc actually completely negates the messages of equality and acceptance (both personal and otherwise) that was the very foundation of X-Men and X2. It’s unforgivable.
As for the narrative of The Last Stand, it takes what was planted in X2 and runs aground with it. X2 developed Iceman and Pyro very well and set the stage for their confrontation in this installment. The movie teases their fight but when it finally comes down to it, they’re mere small pieces in a big, stylish fight that lacks emotion. I’m jumping ahead a bit, but I was let down with Iceman’s brief fight with Pyro and cheesy one-liner. I’ll get to this sequence a little later.
The characters in this installment really fail to live up to their established roles on a base level. Xavier is struggling with Jean’s uncontrollable power and goes so far as to be depicted as a complete dick. Cyclops is relegated to a clichéd faux-emotional role that borders on parody. The writing of his character doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the fact that he gets even less screen time than he did in X2.
Storm was previously the conscientious and sensitive member of the team. In the first two movies she provided a hook into the emotional scars, pain and fear of the rational (read: non-militant or hate filled) mutants in the story. In The Last Stand, she’s completely lacking the compassion and is instead elevated to a generic leadership role within the group. It’s indicative of Ratner’s unmistakable preference to style over substance.
The script is absolutely atrocious as well. Lazy dialogue is scattered throughout a clunky, character-less script. Kelsey Grammar‘s Beast arrives at Alcatraz and is met by a scientist who responds to his comment about difficulties reaching the facility with the following horrid line of redundant exposition: “It’s the safest location we could find. That’s why we keep the source of the cure here.”
There’s also a really cringe worthy line where Xavier is battling Phoenix and makes sure to announce to the others in the room that “She’s so strong.” Like many other lines in the script, it’s completely unneeded.
I’m…I’m not even going to touch Vinnie Jones’ “I’m the Juggernaut, bitch” line. We all know it happened. Let’s just ignore it.
Throughout the movie Magneto recruits an army for the abrupt “war” against humans. Magneto assembling his “Brotherhood” is understandably brief since Ratner had to concentrate on mercilessly destroying the character and plot groundwork that Singer worked so hard to create. His band of outfits makes the unexplained aesthetic choice to look like a grungy gang of thugs from every dystopian/sci-fi b-movie of the 1980s and 90s.
Adding the Phoenix plotline to the mix is supposed to pay off what was hinted at the end of X2. Of course, it doesn’t. The movie’s lack of focus and refusal to competently play up the emotional strings of the story begets disappointment for people looking for that thread to be wrapped up. Like X2 before it, Logan and Phoenix/Jean are reliant on established chemistry that I’ve had a problem with since the first movie anyway. So when that plotline reaches its apex, I was checking how much more time I had left in the movie.
The big set piece of mutant on mutant violence at the movie’s climax is okay if you’re into flashy special effects and quick editing to disguise poor filmmaking. The special effects are nice to look at but there’s nothing tying the audience to the movie’s runtime.
In the end, X-Men: The Last Stand didn’t live up to my very low expectations. If Ratner had cut out the Phoenix storyline, focused everything on the cure plot and let a screenwriter who was remotely competent work on the script, maybe there’s an acceptable threequel here. There’s none of that, though and the movie and franchise as a whole suffered greatly for it.