PREVIOUSLY ON MARVEL COUNTDOWN: FANTASTIC FOUR (2005)
If Blade: Trinity was proof of anything, it was the perilous nature of third installments in a film franchise. It’s rare for a sequel to be of equal or greater quality compared to its original predecessor, but the potential for success three times in a row seems nigh unreachable. Thanks to films like Batman Forever, The Godfather Part III, and Terminator: Rise of the Machines, franchises of all types have proven unable to craft three good-to-great movies in a row. Which is where we come to X-Men: The Last Stand, otherwise known as the one where Bryan Singer dashed out to make a shitty Superman movie and let the director of Rush Hour take his place. I of course mean Brett Ratner, who I have a bone to pick with today after revisiting the third X-Men installment for the first time since it was released. I’m not saying that Brett Ratner ruined the franchise or anything, as Days of Future Past was proof of how quickly the X-Men films can bounce back from its pitfalls and move on. What I am saying though is that at the time of this film’s release in 2006, it pissed off many an X-Men fan. Now, even nine years later in 2015, it’s still astoundingly clear why.
Serving mainly as a loose adaptation of the fabled “Dark Phoenix Saga,” X-Men: The Last Stand resurrects Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) from the dead after her tragic sacrifice at the end of X2: X-Men United. Unfortunately, a dark side of her personality seems to have taken over, and her powers are devastating enough to threaten the entire world. Not that the world needs any help pushing itself to the brink of chaos, as the emergence of a “mutant cure” throws the entire Mutant community in disarray. Fearing that mankind has found a final solution to their “Mutant Problem,” Magneto (Ian McKellen) assembles an army of young mutants in order to wage war on the government and destroy the cure. At the key of his scheme is Jean Grey, whose power will ensure lasting mutant supremacy over the entire human race. Fearing for Jean and the innocents doomed to be caught in the bloodbath, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) leads the X-Men into one final conflict against Magneto for the entire fate of mutantkind.
Part of the problem with X-Men: The Last Stand is that it has no sense of cohesion with its predecessors. No matter how many of the same actors return for this installment, there exists no strong connection or progression from the other films that make any logical sense. For one thing, the first two X-Men films grounded this comic book universe in realism: telling consistently poignant stories that felt believable despite all the special effects. On the other hand, while The Last Stand certainly boasts an impressive array of computer wizardry, its plot boils down to occasional bouts of blatant fan service between dull stretches of setup for mindless slugfests. Positioning the controversy of a mutant cure as the story’s catalyst was a good idea, but its potential is squandered as Brett Ratner seems more concerned with shoving obsessive pandering down our throats. He overstuffs the cast with a bloated array of mutant characters but never develops them beyond their powers: substituting visual effects and terrible one-liners for real character development. Ratner apparently forgot that it’s not Wolverine’s adamantium claws or Professor Xavier’s telepathy that make them great characters to watch: it’s their inner struggles as they push on through a harsh and prejudiced world.
The performances as a whole are serviceable enough, as these actors have extensive history with the material and can fit into their respective characters with ease. The problem is in what the screenplay does with these characters as their dramatic potential is wasted by lazy writing and retreaded character arcs. Take Rogue (Anna Paquin) for example, whose ability to harm those she physically touches has isolated her from intimacy. She should be the most interesting character to focus on in terms of the mutant cure, but her character is little more than a melancholy footnote whose outbursts with boyfriend Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) are played out from the last film. Although it’s even worse for some characters, as many are swept so quickly under the rug that it feels like the last Harry Potter novel. Scott Summers (James Marsden) once again gets the shaft as he’s killed off in the film’s opening scene (ironically due to appearing Superman Returns). Others, such as Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) or Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) are simply frittered away at a moment’s notice: giving no sense of closure to either character arc. The script tries to juggle so many characters and histories together, that they end up dropping the narrative ball in the long run.
I don’t hate this movie in the sense that there are way worse superhero films than this. Despite all the scriptural drudgery, there are some amusing sections and I respect some of the ideas that the film built its foundation on. However, the final product is a shoddy, bloated mess that may have looked solid on the box office receipts, but fails to generate anything worthy of recommendation let alone critical praise.
NEXT TIME ON MARVEL COUNTDOWN: GHOST RIDER (2007)