X-Men: The Last Stand

Cast:
Hugh Jackman as Logan/Wolverine
Halle Berry as Ororo Munroe/Storm
Ian McKellen as Eric Lensherr/Magneto
Famke Janssen as Dr. Jean Grey/Phoenix
Anna Paquin as Marie/Rogue
Kelsey Grammer as Dr. Hank McCoy/Beast
Rebecca Romijn as Raven Darkholme/Mystique
James Marsden as Scott Summers/Cyclops
Shawn Ashmore as Bobby Drake/Iceman
Vinnie Jones as Cain Marko/Juggernaut
Aaron Stanford as John Allerdyce/Pyro
Patrick Stewart as Professor Charles Xavier
Ben Foster as Warren Worthington III/Angel
Dania Ramirez as Callisto
Olivia Williams as Dr. Moira MacTaggart

Review:
It’s kinda lame.

There’s slightly more to it than that, but basically, that’s what “X-Men: The Last Stand” boils down to.

Human researches have discovered a cure for the mutant gene which will turn any mutant into a regular human being, sparking a mixture of hope and terror among the mutant population. It’s the perfect atmosphere of fear for Magneto (Ian McKellen) to gather followers to his cause and launch his war against humanity. And the only ones standing in his way are Professor Xavier’s (Patrick Stewart) X-Men.

“X-Men: The Last Stand” works hard to bring all of the hanging plot threads from the previous X-Men films to a head, sort them out, and send them on their way. It works so hard at that, in fact, that there’s not much room left over for characterization (and in some cases characters at all) and many good ideas are left floating on a sea of wasted opportunities. More often than not that seems to be by design rather than by accident. Filmmaker Brett Ratner (the “Rush Hour” films) and his writers Simon Kinberg (“Mr. & Mrs. Smith”) and Zak Penn (“X2″) just couldn’t seem to be bothered to put actual characters into the film because they had too much cool stuff to show off and there’s only room for so much in a 103 minute movie. By far the worst thing about “The Last Stand” is that it sets its sights so low. Whereas the previous “X-Men” films tried to be comic book films for an adult audience, “The Last Stand” is trying to be a comic book film for 15-year-olds, and the tonal difference that goes along with that is often quite jarring.

Still, it’s not really fair to any film to judge it on what it’s not, or on what it’s predecessors were, and in “The Last Stand”‘s case it’s not really necessary as there are so many things wrong with it there’s no need to go looking elsewhere.

It’s extremely badly paced and often sloppily put together. There is an incredible lack of establishment, not just overall but within scenes themselves. Scenes have a tendency to just start and are just as quickly over. The pace of the film seems very rushed, not least of all because there are two competing storylines – the mutant cure and the return of Jean Grey as the uber-powerful Phoenix – that don’t really mesh well together.

Characters and characterization pay the price for that. Many established characters like Cyclops (James Marsden), Rogue (Anna Paquin), and Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) are given nothing to do, while newer characters like Angel (Ben Foster) and Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) – who has cameoed in the previous films, but never really been established – are given no screen time and little reason for the audience to become emotionally invested in them. Angel in particular is real waste as he has nothing to do with anything. He could be entirely removed from the film, and it wouldn’t change anything at all. He’s completely pointless. Kitty fares a little better, but not much. Some minor concessions are made halfway through the film to build her character, mainly as part of a romantic triangle with Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and Rogue, but it’s so under-developed that it also might as well not exist. For the most part she’s just thrust into things and the audience is expected to care for her because she’s been in the comics for a long time.

And that sums up the film’s other big problem. It’s filled with moments – the Danger Room, Colossus and Wolverine’s Fastball Special – that are specifically for the core comics-reading fan base (and mean little to anyone else) without establishing them or giving the rest of the audience a reason to care, and bring nothing to the overall plot. They do, however, use up precious screen time that could have gone to better effect elsewhere.

What’s left of that screen time is mainly devoted to Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Storm (Halle Berry). They figure prominently in most of the film, but tend towards blandness, particularly Storm. Her conflict is not interesting and Berry doesn’t really have the gravitas of Stewart or McKellen, or even Jackman, to handle the center stage all by herself. Wolverine is still Wolverine but Jackman at times seems to be on auto-pilot.

It’s not all bad. Kelsey Grammer’s Beast (except for make-up that has a tendency to look exactly like what it is) is a note perfect translation of the character. His mannerisms, his reactions to other characters and the world around him, are all spot on and Grammer brings him to life with a great deal of subtlety and poignancy. The Beast is really the soul of humanity, and some of the film’s best moments revolve around him.

Stewart and McKellen are likewise in their usual excellent form (particularly in the opening scene), though the filmmakers often push them into out-of-character moments that fit the plot of the film, but don’t really fit the characters. Magneto in particular gets the worst of that as Ratner begins to portray him as a ruthless, tyrannical figure willing to throw his own followers to the wolves to get what he wants. At one point they try to push him into a Hitleresque mode, showing off the irony of him becoming the thing he hated most. It’s all so ham-handed and overdone as to be almost insulting.

The super powered brawls are also extremely well done and mostly satisfying. Modern film techniques can showcase the effects of more than human fighters better than any other medium, and “The Last Stand” ups the ante in that area, particularly in some of the Dark Phoenix scenes, some of which actually manage to combine mood, effects, and performance into a sublimely operatic moment actually equal to it’s source material. It’s by far the most action-packed of all the “X-Men” films so far and while, like the entire rest of the film, some moments tend to be overdone, the set pieces are generally very well done and fun to watch. It’s fun until someone opens their mouths to spit out a particularly bad one-liner, Juggernaut (Vinnie Jones) being the worst offender of the bunch but by no means the only one. Even poor Kitty Pryde gets saddled with one. They’re supposed to be cool, but they’re really just pathetic. Ratner can’t seem to stop himself from adding little verbal and visual tags to everything, but rather than building excitement they deflate it. There’s a decent movie in there somewhere, but most of it is wasted in a vain effort to be ‘cool.’

“X-Men: The Last Stand” is ham-handed and rushed. There are a few good things to be found in it, but overall it’s fairly disappointing. Oh yes, and you need to sit through the entire end credits to see a final 30-second tag.

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