X-Men: The Last Stand

2 out of 5

Directed by: Brett Ratner

Some of it works.

Of course, that’s not how I felt at the time. With memories of the first two X-Men flicks considered via rosey tints, the shiny piece of non-stop fanservice that was X-Men 3, The Last Stand, came across as an affront; a death knell to the series that had helped to legitimize the comic book film to the masses. I mean, before, we had an auteur like Bryan Singer at the helm – quite before reports of his behind-the-scenes behaviors became more known, but nonetheless, you could point to Usual Suspects and then X-Men and sort of waggle your eyebrows as a suggestion that they stood on the same plane – and now we have the dude making populist entertainment like Rush Hour. The Studios had taken over! X3 was a dud!

I hated its one-liners; its memes. I hated the way it junked through its characters.

But some of it definitely works. One Marvel Cinematic Universe and lots more comic book movies later – not to mention having a ton more movie-viewing in general under my belt – those first two X-Men movies are good-not-great, and a lot of the problems that are evident in The Last Stand were, indeed, already present in the series. Without looking into the production on X3, I’d say it can be sensed that Ratner approached it more as work-for-hire, versus a somewhat more hands on approach by Singer; the latter director also had some more dramatic bonafides than Ratner, and the comic book genre still had to feel its way in those early X-Men days, allowing for scenes where people get to act popping up here and there, and landing pretty well. By the time of The Last Stand, the budget had doubled, and the flurry of plots stuffed in to the movie, and subsequently not handled very well, leant its tone to be more one of spectacle than anything else. And, from afar, that’s actually where some of it works – in the spectacle. Ratner arguably has a better sense of scene composition and pacing over Singer for more crowded, fast-paced scenes, and so, despite how crummy its story is handled, the movie moves surprisingly well. We also inherited our seasoned players – Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan – and they can still act, giving the moments where we pause for them to do so some weight, even if those pauses are truly just that, as everything in X3 is just a setup for the next moment.

As mentioned, though, that kind of jumble of ideas isn’t necessarily new, as it plagued X2 as well. However, when you’re not keeping control on those things and just approaching your flick as entertainment-over-story, reining in that jumble enough to fake a solid story doesn’t happen, and so we get: the Dark Phoenix storyline – told here as Jean Grey having a split personality, one of which is crazy and, in poor storytelling shorthand, means she’s a sex addict and likes violence – mixed with Joss Whedon’s (from the comics) mutant cure storyline – in which a “vaccine” is created that, obviously, “cures” mutations – jumbled with lazy, unresolved subplots involving romantic triangles (Rogue, Kitty Pride, Iceman); Magneto’s confusing logic in wanting to take advantage of the mutant cure; Mystique losing her powers; Morlocks; the introduction of Juggernaut… It’s very much a game of “spot the mutant,” and it becomes pretty noxious in the first few minutes, which quick cuts through the introduction of Angel for very little reason other than to have him in the film. Also, because we need some drama and reason for some characters not to be here, let’s kill them, proper story justifications be damned.

I’d set aside the flick’s production before, but actually looking into it, most of what we could assume holds up: studio interference; tons of changed hands before settling on Ratner as a director; and said director having no real attachment to the source material. If you add to that a more critical viewing of the first two flicks, you can very clearly see how we got here, as the balance between story and spectacle was always a bit queer, and the confidence of fanservice nods grew exponentially from flick to flick.

Still, as I’ve repeated, though, parts of the movie – the action parts, mostly – work, even if only as distraction. It was a much more watchable movie than I remembered, and certainly on par with an average popcorn pleaser.