May 26, 2006

Movie Review: X-Men: The Last Stand

This is a movie that is likely to make a lot of fans angry. More specifically, if you are a fan of the comic books, you are not going to be happy with this movie at all. For those of you looking for a superhero romp, this will fill the bill. As for myself, when I walked out of the theater, I felt conflicted. Being a lapsed comic book reader, I was familiar with most of the characters and had my own ideas on how they should act, even modified for a film setting, but also being a sucker for spectacle, I was properly distracted by some of the whiz-bang that was tossed at my eyes.

The first two X-films were excellent, but in different ways. The first film took its time, it introduced us to the characters and created the universe, with a couple of action sequences along the way. It was more character drama than action film, but it all worked. The second film took those characters from the first film, further developing them, plus adding a couple more to the mix. At the same time, it amped up the action and expanded the story to more epic levels. Those first two films went a long way to creating a realistic world that really seem to be all that far a stretch from our own. Now that brings us to this third film which has enough story for two films, while never completely telling one.

Before going any further, it would probably be a good idea to give a little background, which I am sure has colored my view of the film. Bryan Singer, who did a wonderful job with the first two, was all set to direct and co-write this entry but Fox was dragging their feet getting it all going. Then the opportunity arose for him to take the helm of Warner Bros. Superman Returns project, and he jumped at the chance. This left Fox in the lurch. They signed Matthew Vaughn, who directed Layer Cake starring the new James Bond, Daniel Craig. Pre-production was moving along, when at the last minute, Vaughn left the project citing personal reasons. Fox then turned to Brett Ratner, who at one point was attached to the Superman film, to take over. He did, and was given a very short amount of prep time, and a deadline that was less than ideal. So, that brings us to today and the latest entry in the X-saga.

Everything that you enjoyed about the characters from the first films, forget it. There are so many characters paraded across the screen that you will start to lose track, as so many don't even get a name, they are solely defined by their power. Besides being overloaded with characters, it is overloaded with story. Many ideas are brought up and left to whither on the vine.

The Last Stand has two primary story threads. The first concerns Jean Grey, and her presumed deat at the end of the second film, the second is a presumed "cure" that the government is hawking. Both of these stories would have made fine films seperately, together they end up stealing the required spotlight from the other. I think they would have been better if this film was the cure story, and dealing with Jean's reappearance in a fourth film. Sadly, not the case.

The title is quite literal when taken in the context of the movie. All of the action culminates in a huge mutant battle at Alcatraz, which is now a medical facility where the "cure" is being doled out. The battle is fierce with casualties on both sides of the skirmish. This could be seen as the battle that changes everything. I am sure that if you follow the political and social climate immediately following this event, you will probably be up to quite a heated discussion over these mutant affairs. In essence, it is a battle where it is all on the line, a final stand against evil forces, and a way to prove that not all are evil.

The events leading up to the final battle are interesting, or as interesting as they can be given the short amount of time they have to develop. There is the introduction of Hank McCoy, codename Beast, a blue furred politician who heads the Department of Mutant Affairs. He is brought in when the "cure" is discovered. The "cure" is nothing other than a mutant who has the genetic ability to suppress, permanently, the mutant gene. This discovery, and its development into a potential weapon, is a source of consternation among the mutant world. Some welcomethe chance to be able to be "normal," but even more mutants do not want this serum, the don't feel there is anything wrong with them.

Magneto takes this development to buld an army to take this cure, by force, before it can be turned into a weapon. He gathers a wide assortment of anonymous mutants, essentially fodder for the coming battle. The government, knowing that this is coming tries, unsuccessfully, to track them down.

Back at Xavier's mansion, they have their own problems, first of which is Logan playing the role of substitute teacher, covering for the brooding Cyclops. Cyclops decides to go the loner route and leaves the mansion. Shortly after that, Charles sends Logan and Storm to track him down. Instead they find an unconcious Jean Grey, who had been thought to be dead. This leads to trying to figure out how she managed to survive, and the power that mjay have been unleashed. She is not the same person she once was. This leads to her leaving the mansion and ending up siding with Magneto during the coming battle.

Along the way you will get bits of a love triangle between Iceman, Rogue, and Kitty Pryde. Nothing terribly deep, but it's there. You will see characters die, other characters contemplate taking the cure, and others that you will know nothing about. None of these potentially character developing moments go anywhere. All of the potential conundrums brought up by the cure are thrust aside for some more whiz-bang.

All of this amounts to me being very disappointed on the development front. However, I was satisfied by the spectacle. There are some very cool moments strewn throughout. There is an early sequence featuring a cameo from the Sentinels, which was nice to see. Most of the action sequences work well too.

There are some character moments that work. Mystique has the best character arc of the film, one that is so good, in fact, that it feels out of place with the rest of the film. Everything that Sir Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart do is gold. No matter how corny the dialog seems, they sell it like the world depends on it. Hugh Jackman is good, despite being handcuffed by the one-liners.

In the end, the movie was an entertaining disappointment. Yes, I know that sounds like a bit of a cop out, but it is true. As frustrating as it was to see so many opportunites passed by, or characters mishandled, I still was able to derive entertainment out of the film.

One last note, if and when you see it, stay through the credits. There is a little bit more to see, something that ties into a seemingly throwaway detail from earlier in the film.

Mildly Recommended.
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