X-MEN: THE LAST STAND (2006)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 44 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Action Violence, some Sexual Content and Language

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Directed by: Brett Ratner

Written by: Simon Kinberg & Zak Penn

(based on the X-MEN comics by Jack Kirby & Stan Lee)

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, Kelsey Grammer, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn, Shawn Ashmore, Aaron Stanford, Vinnie Jones, Patrick Stewart, Ellen Page, Ben Foster, Dania Ramirez & Eric Dane

After directing X-MEN and X2, Bryan Singer decided to put his filmmaking talents towards another superhero franchise in SUPERMAN RETURNS. X2’s final shot teased the Dark Phoenix storyline in the next installment and Bryan Singer seemed eager to return to the franchise after his Superman film, but 20th Century Fox eventually grew tired of waiting and wound up giving the third X-MEN film to Brett Ratner. Fox’s impatience and Ratner’s incompetence (this was his first huge-scale blockbuster) both sunk the X-MEN series for a number of years before an eventual prequel/reboot repaired the damage. It’s not as if THE LAST STAND is all-out horrible, but blandness and mediocrity make it all the more disappointing.

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Shortly after the events of X2, mutants have become slightly more accepted in society. There’s even a blue-furred Cabinet member in Washington, but some politicians still aim for mutants to assimilate to “normal” human culture. Scientists have discovered a cure for mutations, which has caused a controversial rupture in the mutant community. Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and the other X-Men seem split on scientific breakthrough, with Storm (Halle Berry) becoming furious and Rogue (Anna Paquin) showing genuine interest towards curing her deadly touch. Other dangerous mutants see the cure as an attempt to drive them extinct, resulting in metal-bending Magneto (Ian McKellen) forming the terrorist group known as the Brotherhood of Mutants. The Brotherhood aims to wipe out the source of the cure: Leech (Cameron Bright). Meanwhile, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) has returned from the dead…and has brought an uncontrollable force back with her.

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X-MEN: THE LAST STAND is a superhero story that’s more driven by its script’s needs, rather than a natural progression of events. This opens up lots of plot holes and leaves many moments feeling like they came right out of nowhere for no apparent reason. To give specific examples without diving deeply into spoilers, the movie needs a character to return so they just sort of bring her back with no explanation. The story also requires a few important characters to die along the way, so Ratner just throws in a couple of death scenes that feel forced instead of devastating. Wolverine needs to stumble upon the Brotherhood of Mutants, but the movie doesn’t feel the need to give us a reason for that…so here’s a quick psychic vision.

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LAST STAND’s disjointed narrative can be summed up in one scene that features a conversation about whether or not Xavier’s School should be shut down and this complex issue is resolved with a couple of half-assed sentences. A complex problem that could have filled the latter half of this film (and given the protagonists more to fight for) is simply thrown away with a shrug. Of course, this movie still need a final battle though, so here’s Magneto using the Golden Gate Bridge to raid Alcatraz…which is admittedly pretty cool. If only the rest of the movie could put some weight behind the special effects heavy final showdown.

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LAST STAND has the odd problem of feeling too full and too empty at the same time. This third X-MEN installment was (supposedly) intended to be the finale of the superhero trilogy and therefore, lots of new characters were thrown into the mix. So many new mutants were included that this movie feels overcrowded and makes its Brotherhood antagonists look like throwaway thugs. The old mutants are back with Professor X, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Storm, Cyclops (James Marsden), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), Rogue and a few others. However, most of these performers seem to know that this follow-up isn’t anywhere near the level of the first two installments and seem to be returning out of contractual obligations and big paychecks (reasons that are more than understandable, but still remain depressing).

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Ratner’s X-MEN introduces three new protagonists into the series. Shadowcat (who was a brief background character in the first two films) is played well by Ellen Page. Out of trio of new X-Men, she seems to get the most development as there’s a blooming romance/friendship between her and Iceman (which makes for some annoying drama from Rogue). Ben Foster’s Angel is given four brief scenes and culminates in an obvious cliché between him and his father. On a side note, Angel’s thin story arc seems far more developed when compared to the two-scene-long conflict between Iceman and Pyro (Aaron Stanford). Finally, Kelsey Grammer is perfectly cast as Beast and receives a few good moments, even if his character mostly exists for exposition.

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Shadowcat, Angel and Beast are miles better than any of the antagonists. Mystique has a couple of brief scenes, but her part is overshadowed by the far lamer Pyro as Magneto’s newly chosen second-in-command. Most of the Brotherhood consists of bastardized mutants from the comic books with rather cheesy powers. There’s Spike, who uses his own bones as weapons and takes on Wolverine in one tiny scene. There’s a nameless guy who can regenerate limbs and only exists for a “kick in the balls” joke, also delivered by Wolverine. Multiple Man isn’t given much to do, while three stupid emo mutants (one of which is a human porcupine) are annoying beyond all reason. The only standout antagonist (aside from Magneto) is Vinnie Jones as Juggernaut. The character’s only purpose is muscle, but Jones is clearly having a blast.

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X-MEN: THE LAST STAND is a bland, disappointing sequel that tries way too hard without ever realizing why the previous two installments worked so well. It’s clear that a fumbling director and studio interferences were the main reasons why this third X-MEN film fell apart, as demonstrated by a bored returning cast and a sloppy narrative. Still, there are a few redeeming things in THE LAST STAND. Though they aren’t exactly great characters, Shadowcat, Angel, Juggernaut and Beast are fun to watch. The action has some good spectacle (the Golden Gate bridge scene remains very cool). When compared to the rest of the series though, THE LAST STAND lies alongside ORIGINS: WOLVERINE at the bottom of the X-MEN totem pole.

Grade: C-

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