Last Stand (2006)
Rating: *1/2 out of 4
Rating: *1/2 out of 4
"When an individual acquires great power, the use or misuse of that power is everything. Will it be used for the greater good? Or will it be used for personal or for destructive ends? Now this is a question we must all ask ourselves. Why?” - Prof. X
“They can’t cure us. You want to know why? Because there’s nothin’ to cure. Nothings’s wrong with you. Or any of us, for that matter.” - Storm
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen, and Anna Paquin.
Writers: Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn
Director: Brett Ratner
The X-Men film franchise is a somewhat unique one in that it offers several installments that act as series finales. The Last Stand is the first such film to do so. Promoted as the concluding chapter to the core X-Men franchise, with the plan to only release smaller single character based exploratory films moving forward, the film does indeed act as something of a finale. But if this were to be the proverbial end, it would have been one that just kinda fizzled out with a loose fart. To say it is an uneven, disjointed mess is to put it mildly. The film suffers from too many characters, too many story threads that don’t weave themselves organically, and too much fan service…all the while spitting in the face of as many fans as possible. An impressive feat, no? Well, director Ratner executes the latter part with excellency.
Picking up shortly after the second movie, Prof. X’s school is still reeling from the loss of Jean Gray. Scott is lost in sorrow over his dead wife and completely abandons his post as leader of the X-Men leaving Wolverine, of all people, to take control of the group…for some reason (even though the film will repeatedly try to tell you that it is Storm who is in charge, though that is never actually shown to be true). The young blood that Wolvie and Storm have to work with are rough to say the least, but they (and the rest of the Mutant world) are put to the test when the government reveals that they have found a Cure for the Mutant gene. This leaves the school in further disarray and gives Magneto further opportunity to convince the Mutant world that the Cure will be forced on them. Magneto rallies the troops to wage a war on the humans and steal/destroy their Cure. AND, as this is all going on, Jean Gray reveals herself to be alive, but has come back different; she is a lot more murder-y (this is where fanboys start shouting at the filmmakers) and is used as a pawn against the X-Men.
A big problem with the film is that it tries to intertwine two relatively good stories (famous ones from the comics; The Dark Phoenix Saga and Gifted) that don’t mix well. The ‘Mutant Cure’ story line actually works quite well. It keeps in line with the plot progression from the first two films and adds a relatively compelling political undercurrent that is effective even when the film is at its weakest. The ‘Dark Phoenix’ material is completely bastardized, mishandled and botches what should be the emotional tug of the film. They filmmakers should have opted to have just focused on one story or the other.
Part of what makes that ‘Dark Phoenix’ stuff sink is that the film continues the story through Wolverine’s perspective. I get that Jackman is the star of the franchise and that he was the breakout success of the first two films, but viewing the film from his point of view is really underwhelming. This should have been Scott’s movie. He was the one married to Jean and torn asunder emotionally. Yet, he is disposed of rather swiftly in the film. We are forced to watch Wolverine, yet again, have his day.
Part of what made the X-Men comics work was that you could shift focus from character to character within the narrative as it was a massive ensemble. It was like the studio was afraid to let any other character rise above the roll of periphery figure. It, for some reason, had to be Wolvie’s series. Wolverine should have played a large role in the film, no doubt. But this should have not been his film. This should have been Scott and Jean’s.
Moving back to the thing that works best in this film; the ‘Mutant Cure’ plot. This works very well and continues the allegory of racism, sexism or any general prejudice. It works…with a but. That but stems from film X-Men continuity and comic X-Men continuity. You look at this film and it is a good allegory on the surface. Curing a mutant is like curing a disease; but you can’t cure skin color or sexual orientation or any number of discriminatory things. The thought is revolting and that is why the story works. It works better in the comics because the X-Men live in the larger Marvel universe where there is a segregation between Superheroes and Mutants. No one is trying to cure Spider-Man or Thor. No. What happened to them was forced upon them or divine birthright. But the Mutants, now, they were born wrong. Lesser. A cure must be found. The allegory works tremendously. In the film ‘verse, there are no other Supers. It is Mutants and Man and Man wants to cure the Mutants because they are dangerous…which they clearly are. In this film alone, you have a Mutant destabilizing and waging war on civilians as well as government officials, blithely killing them with his mutant ability to wield metal. You have another mutant spouting fire, and man pelting people with spikes, another bending weather to her will, and a Big Bad who is vaporizing people. They are so clearly dangerous, and here is where the allegory falls apart. You need the other Supers in this world to make the allegory soar as it should.
To further complicate things, Ratner has no control of when to let each story manifest and soar. The film drops each plot line so that the other can progress and then launches you back to the opposing story and expects you to follow the narrative and care. The film also packs itself with too many excess characters just to say it had them in there. Why is Colossus here? He adds nothing. Same with Angel and Rogue and Mystique and most of the villains are so bland that I could not even tell you their names. And then there is the Juggernaut. He is the most eye-roll inducing screen villain since Mr. Freeze in Batman & Robin.
With that being said, the film does offer a few minor successes. Kelsey Grammer plays a screen perfect Beast. He elevates the hell out of the film. Ice Man evolves in this film nicely, as does Storm who stands around to deliver dialogue to the audience so that they know how they should be feeling. The film has some solid action beats and offers a relatively tight pace that keeps it moving so that, while bad, it is never boring. Also, Ratner brings a new and grand scope to the visuals. The movie looks great. There is even excellent use of color, unlike the previous two films that were predominantly blue.
But these few positives still cannot save a sinking ship. The film is at conflict with itself and it shows. Ratner never brings the film together and the film just lacks focus, which is one of the things Bryan Singer got right. His films juggled many stories and paid them off. Neither plot in this film pays off. Jean’s dramatic conclusion comes abruptly and never feels earned. And any weight the ‘Cure’ thread could offer is destroyed by the film’s end with not one, but two buy-backs to dispel the poignancy of the plot. If you kill characters…or ‘Cure’ them, make damn sure you are prepared to keep it that way. The film’s final scene and post credit scene render the film unnecessary. You can have skipped this installment and just have left it as it was when the second one ended and be pretty much in the same place. A strange thing to do for a final installment. Yet, this would prove not to be ‘the end.’ It still had a future yet, but to move to the future you must look to the past….
A note on the film's legacy: With the release of Days of Future Past, this film becomes more palatable. Where I once looked at this film with grim detest, I can now see a touch more to like. The retcon aspect bumps my grade up a half star to make it a ** out of 4 star film.
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