X-Men: The Last Stand

X-Men: The Last Stand (2005). 104 minutes, 20th Century Fox. Directed by Brett Ratner.

Normally I don’t bother writing reviews of things that I think suck. This is an exception. This movie stinks to high heaven, and should be avoided by anyone who enjoyed the first two entries in the X-Men movie franchise. It should also be avoided by anyone who has every read, or who was ever a fan, of the X-Men comic books in their original form. If you want to see Beast, Colossus, Angel, and Kitty Pride in action, just watch the trailer. You’ll get far more enjoyment from a preview than you will from this movie.

So why waste my time talking about a movie that reeks? Mainly because there is a kernel of a good movie in here. Watching the film, I kept feeling like I was watching an abridged version – plot points and characters are introduced (or sometimes just shown) and then dropped or ignored for the rest of the movie. Now, if you haven’t seen the movie, and don’t want to have it spoiled, stop reading, because I’m going to rip various parts of this film, including the pathetic ending and “surprise” end twist after the credits.

What was so good about the previous two X-Men movies was that you didn’t need to know anything about the series or the characters at all – the movies themselves explained everything you needed to know. The first, X-Men, is the best in this regard. The introductions of Rogue and Wolverine are detailed and perfect. The exposure to the other mutants later is likewise well done. In that film, each time a new mutant is shown, there is some clever exposition that lets you know what the character’s name is, what their power is, etc.

In X-Men: The Last Stand, forget it. For example, right away we see two of the new X-Men, Colossus and Kitty Pride. Colossus can turn himself into solid steel, is very strong, and is nearly indestructible. Kitty Pride can “phase” through solid matter, and can do the same to anyone or anything she touches. In this film, neither character gets an introduction or description. Colossus doesn’t even get any lines, and his character is never even named in this turkey. If you’ve read the comic books, you’ll catch the throwaway references to “tin man” and him throwing Wolverine through the air, but otherwise you’re lost. To illustrate this, I watched this movie with Frank, who’s never read a comic book period. At the end, he said, “So who was the shiny guy who never said anything?” I described Colossus, and he said, “Well, that sounds kinda cool. Too bad they didn’t say anything about any of that…”

We needed a nice exposition where Professor X or Storm or somebody describes them and tells what they do. No way, Jose. The films does a slightly better job of introducing some of the new evil mutants, but only very slightly. Juggernaut (who was, as near as I can remember, not a mutant at all but some sort of guy in a mystical or bewitched costume) is particularly laughable – the phony “muscle suit” they have the actor wearing looks about as real as Hans and Franz (the “pump you up” guys) on Saturday Night Live. Come on – in Los Angeles, they couldn’t find a real bodybuilder somewhere to do the part? They have to put some guy in a rubber muscle suit? I mean, there are at least two shots where you can actually see wrinkles in the rubber. Jamie Madrox, the Multiple Man, is also introduced in a cute visual – although, like Colossus, he is never named.

The mutant cure, which the whole plot hinges on, also makes no sense at all. It’s established early on that some kid (never named) has a mutant power than cancels out other mutant powers. However, it is also clearly shown that his power is only temporary and very localized. In a throwaway line, an unnamed doctor tells us that the cure is based on this kid. Another mutant tells Magneto, “They got nothing without him”. So, I keep thinking, the cure isn’t real then. But it is. What connection does the cure have with the kid? No idea. Even after the X-Men free the boy and take them with him, the cure still seems to work just fine. So – why did they need him? No idea. The whole ending of the movie is about a battle between the good mutants and the bad mutants for the possession of this kid – and yet it doesn’t make any difference. All the people who got “the cure” are still cured. It appears that all of the chemical or whatever worked just fine, without needing the kid’s presence. At then, at the end of the film, we see this same kid now at the Xavier school! Huh? Wouldn’t he cancel out all the other’s powers?

The whole captured mutant kid and cure aspect is completely nonsensical, even within the constraints of this film. Towards the end, Frank threw up his hands and said, “This doesn’t make any sense at all. I have no idea what is going on or who any of these people are”. Even though I knew who most of the people were supposed to be, I had to agree with him – it made no sense.

The other main story is the resurrection of Jean Grey as Phoenix. I actually liked the explanation for Phoenix in the movie better than the comic book concept. Now, here’s why I’m mad at this movie. In the Phoenix scenes, you get a feeling for how this could have been a pretty good movie. Famke Janssen pulls off the Phoenix transformation quite effectively, and the scenes where she’s doing her thing are great. But then, the “cure” storyline takes over, and for the rest of the film she just walks around next to Magneto, doing nothing… until the very end, when for no reason at all, she lets loose again.

My next beef is with Angel. He is introduced with great fanfare, in a fairly neat scene at the beginning. The actor playing Angel, Ben Foster, is, I’m sorry to say, not quite right. Angel is supposed to be drop-dead handsome, and this guy looks kinda like a weasel. Yeah, he’s blond and he’s got decent abs, but he’s no Warren Worthington III. But anyway – after Angel flies away (the scene you probably saw in the trailer), that’s it – until over an hour later, when he shows up at the school, asking if he can stay. Then, at the very end, he suddenly reappears to swoop down and save his father. Huh? We last saw him at Xavier’s school – which is in Westchester County, New York, on the east coast of the United States. Suddenly, he’s in San Francisco, at Alcatraz, with no connection to anyone else. He didn’t travel with the X-Men on the jet… and we never saw him after that one scene. How did he all of a sudden magically appear during the final battle, only to do one trick and then vanish again? Pathetic.

And what’s with all the characters getting killed off? I mean, if they don’t want to do any more movies, they can just have moved away. In the comic book, the cast of the X-Men was always changing, and somethings they died (but, in true comic book form, always came back). But this is ridiculous! Cyclops is killed off screen. The last we see him, he’s kissing the newly revived Jean. And that’s it. Later, Wolverine asks “Where’s Scott?”, and she says she killed him. We never see him die, not even in flashback, not even a description of what happened. He just… goes away. Jean Grey/Phoenix did many things in the comics, but she never killed Cyclops.

The next to die is Professor X, although of course he reincarnates in the sneak “surprise end” after the credits. This is telegraphed early on, when the professor shows a video of a man “born without any brain or higher nerve functions” lying in a bed. Naturally, the perfect vessel for his mind after Phoenix destroys his body. If Patrick Stewart didn’t want to do it anymore, why the dumb reincarnation? It smells of “The Search for Spock” all over again.

Finally, the death of Phoenix/Jean Grey. What? Wolverine just… stabs her with his claws and she dies? After we’ve seen her rearrange matter, shred people in their very atoms, etc? You can’t set up a basic indestructable character – “the most powerful mutant ever”, in the movie’s own terms – who can die by simply being stabbed. In the original comic book, the only thing that could kill the Phoenix was… herself. She committed suicide, since she was the only thing powerful enough to kill herself. (Yes, I have been told that she was resurrected many times since, but the basic premise still holds).

This movie really, really annoyed me. There was such great potential here. A basically good cast, good characters, and the template for at least one or two good stories. And it’s just all thrown together in a blender. Honestly, it’s like there was no script review at all. It’s just some story ideas thrown in with some dialogue. The casting for some of new X-Men is very good. Kelsey Grammer is absolutely perfect as Beast, and is surprisingly good in the action sequences. Ellen Page as Kitty Pride also seems quite good. And as I mentioned previously, Famke Janssen does a great turn as the Dark Phoenix version of Jean Grey.

What annoys me the most is that this piece of crap is the most successful of all three of the X-Men movies to date, all but ensuring that there will be another. I probably won’t see it. I suggest you don’t see this one, either. If you like X-Men, read the reprints of the comic book. At least they make sense.

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