Sunday, July 09, 2006
  Theatrical Review: X-Men: The Last Stand

Darrell's Review

I saw both of the first two X-Men movies in the theater… and, both times, I left the theater feeling, well, satisfied. I think that's exactly the word I want to use. Both of the first two X-Men movies had entertained me and I was satisfied with that. I'd paid my ticket price, I'd sat in a theater for two hours and watched images flicker on the screen, and I'd found those images entertaining. Seeing X-Men and X2: X-Men United had, for me, been satisfactory exchanges of commerce.

And, yet, in both instances I'd left the theater with a vague feeling that I hadn't gotten what I'd hoped for.

After watching the first two X-Men movies, if someone had asked me what I'd thought of either movie, I'd have simply said "It was good." I'd have said that and I'd have left it at that, with no more enthusiasm than I might use to describe the Big Mac I had for lunch two days ago. That, also, had been a satisfying commercial exchange. I'd paid the price for the item and the item had satisfied me. If a Big Mac fills you up and doesn't taste bad, then it's done it's job. That's what fast-food burgers are for. That's what fast-food movies are for, too. In that regard, X-Men and X2: X-Men United are both perfectly good McMovies.

It wasn't until I saw the third movie in the franchise, X-Men: The Last Stand, that I really realized what had been missing from the first two movies: excitement.

Why had I left the theaters feeling satisfied, but not that I'd really gotten what I'd hoped for? Because neither film had excited me. Neither had delivered the goods the way a story-line in an X-Men comic book does. I realize now, in retrospect, that both of the first two movies had been restrained. Weighed down. I believe that the first two movies had suffered because their director, Bryan Singer, had wanted those two films to mean something. I think Singer was trying to have some sort of profound subtext with both of his X-Men movies, and, for me, there was simply no subtext there. There was nothing meaningful between the lines. The movies failed with regard to thematic subtext, and since they'd been so restrained (actually, suffocated is a better word), they'd failed as escapism. They both looked good enough, and neither ever really slowed down enough to be downright boring… but neither one succeeded at making me think, nor at making me stop thinking.

Brett Ratner, director of the third X-Men movie, seems to have been hell-bent on making a movie that only did one thing: Entertain. Along the way, he also manufactured genuine excitement, almost as an unintentional byproduct. There were times while watching X-Men: The Last Stand when I was literally on the edge of my seat with my jaw literally hung open in a state of wide-eyed joy. Wow! I didn't know what to expect from the third X-Men movie. I had no idea that what I'd be getting was one of the best all-out action movies of the past few years.

As a fan of the X-Men comics, the third movie finally put on the screen the same characters I'd enjoyed on the page for years. Finally, in X-Men: The Last Stand, Wolverine demonstrated that famous berserker rage. It was nice to see him break free of Bryan Singer's needlessly imposed James-Dean-like moping goth mode. And, finally, Storm was really part of the action! For two movies in a row I'd watched Storm do little more than moralize. Oh, and lest I forget, finally Iceman actually ICES.

And, by the way, did you know that some of the X-Men can fly? You did know that if you've read X-Men comics... and Brett Ratner obviously knows it, because some of the mutants in this movie actually fly. It's as though these superheroes have broken free from some sort of tyrant. I'm so glad Bryan Singer jumped ship to go direct his hobbled version of Superman.

Best of all, finally, in X-Men: The Last Stand, the mutants were vulnerable. Vulnerable to each other, to humans, and to the world around them. I was shocked… and, surprisingly, delighted... as major mutant characters were killed off, altered, or rendered powerless along the way. Fights, conflicts and battle sequences in this third film actually meant something because it was clear from early on that this movie would dispose of characters indiscriminately. The conflicts in the third X-Men film mattered because the consequences of those conflicts had immediate, long-reaching, profound impact on the movie's world.

It's the ultimate irony. Bryan Singer wanted to make exciting movies with a deep meaning, and instead made films that merely entertained on a basic, rock-bottom level. Brett Ratner, I'm convinced, wanted to make a movie that simply entertained… and, instead, he made a movie that I found completely exciting and surprisingly meaningful. How's that for mutation?

As Hank "Beast" McCoy, the most significant X-Men to make his big-screen debut here, Kelsey Grammer was in perfect pitch. His performance was exactly what it should have been, and I think that has more to do with Grammer's distinctive delivery and presence than anything else. It's not that Grammer became Hank McCoy. Grammer already is Hank McCoy.

My complaints with …The Last Stand are few, but I guess I'll mention them. For starters, why wasn't Nightcrawler in this film? The storyline, about the nature of mutation and the natural desire to fit in, is perfect content for his character. Nightcrawler is my favorite X-Men mutant, and I missed him. Another classic X-Men character, Angel, was added to the movie with absolutely no meaningful effect at all. He might as well have been excluded. And, as in the first two movies, the spitfire mutant Rogue was reduced to little more than an angst-filled teenage damsel in distress.

Still, when a movie has so much to offer, complaining at all seems ungrateful. Juggernaut, for instance, is a brother of Charles (Professor X) Xavier in the comics. In this film, he was just a big, noisy bad guy. But, ya know what? Even in the comics he's never been much more than a big, noisy bad guy… and his big scene in this movie, involving a chase between him and Shadowcat, was one movie's many action packed jaw-droppers. Other mutants were mere composites of characters from the pages of the comics… but since those composite roles weren't particularly consequential, I suppose I'm indifferent about Ratner's employment of that cinematic device. Over all, if an X-Men comics fan has things to complain about with this movie, it's because he wants to have things to complain about and he's carefully looked for them.

A lot is left up in the air at the end of this movie. Major characters are dead (or are they?) or have lost their powers (or have they?) or have been abandoned (maybe). There are a number of directions this franchise can go in the fourth film. My vote? Don't make a fourth film. Leave it as it is. It's rare that a movie trilogy actually concludes with it's best installment. The only instance that I can think of is Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. If they stop here, the X-Men trilogy will be able to make that same claim. The X-Men movies won't equal the Lord of the Rings movies… but, just like Return of the King, Brett Ratner's X-Men: The Last Stand will conclude the trilogy with one hell of a bang.

Wendy's Review

Here's my problem with the X-Men movies. There are so many characters to focus on that they really don't spend much time on any of them. And in each movie they introduce even more characters to not full develop. If you're not going to do anything with a character, then don't waste my time.

That's how I feel about X-Men: The Last Stand. Once again new characters are introduced to only serve as background clutter. We see Angel for the very first time. We learn just about nothing about him (well other than he has cool wings), and then he does just about nothing. Why even bother introducing him? Why not take characters from the previous movies and expand upon them some more.

The one good thing about this movie was that Wolverine was more like Wolverine. He smoked. He looked tougher. He killed. He looked stockier. He wasn't as tall and slender as in the past movies. This really gives me hope for the upcoming Wolverine movie that they've been working on.

The action scenes just bored me. The film just bored me. I never once was on the edge of my seat. It didn't even look that good. And once again, how lame is Storm? Pretty darn lame.

If you feel compelled to go see a comic book movie this summer, then go see Superman Returns because you'll have a lot more fun than with this drivel.

I loved the last X-Men, but like you, Wendy, I could have done without Storm, as could the movie.
You and I really split when it comes to Singer. I liked Superman a lot better than you did, and I didn't like X3 as much. I do like Rattner and am a fan of the Rush Hour movies, so I felt the same sense of excitement with more action in this one. As a comic fan I know the Dark Phoenix saga well, from both classic X-books and the episodes of the FOX cartoon that adapted them. I didn't expect the third movie to have Jean flying through space, devouring suns, or killing millions. I did expect her to do more than stand around for two hours. Sure, at the end she disintegrates a ton of red-shirts, and yes she does take out two major characters, but one is off-screen(thanks to Superman) and the other, well, hopefully you stayed to the very end of the credits to find out his REAL fate.

I'm with Wendy on the Storm thing, mostly for Halle Berry's portrayal. She's as effective a Storm as Schwartzenegger is Mr. Freeze. I could always take or leave Storm in the comics, except for that cool era in the 80s where she wore a mohawk and kicked butt even with her powers neutralized by Forge. Halle Berry has been miscast from the start. You know who would have been better? Gina Torres(Firefly/Alias/Angel/24). You all know I'm right.

There are real-world reasons Cummings declined(or wasn't rehired), but I read somewhere a videogame has a cutscene of Nightcrawler leaving. Based solely on the films since they can't expect everyone to play a game to get the whole story, he never actually joins the team in X2, even if they did give him a uniform for their meeting with the president(I'd have to pop in the DVD to doublecheck that). I guess they figured visually we didn't need more furry blue guys, and I'm in complete agreement that Grammar IS McCoy. He was perfect.

Juggernaut and Madrox were both wasted and thrown in without the same background as their four-color counterparts, and so was Angel. The biggest waste with Angel is never having him onscreen with Scott, Jean, Hank and Bobby as the original five from the comics. And while it was great that Bobby iced over, I was hoping to see an ice slide. I did like that Juggernaut says that line from the internet meme. Whatever geeks dubbed that film on YouTube must have freaked out when they saw that. It would have been nice if Colossus did more too, and maybe had more of a relationship with Kitty instead of Kitty being the other woman in Bobby and Rogue's relationship. If they wanted a triangle there, it might have been better to bring in Gambit. But then, there already were too many characters in the mix, and they told the most cohesive story they could with what they had.

One thing neither of you mentioned was Magneto. I think the one thing we can all agree on is that Sir Ian McKellan owns this trilogy, and with the third chapter we finally see why he's the X-men's deadliest nemesis.

I'd like to see this as a closed trilogy too.
MCF: You and I really split when it comes to Singer.

Well, I LOVE The Usual Suspects and I also think that Apt Pupil is a very good, underseen movie (also featuring a great McKellan performance. Apt Pupil is a three-and-a-half star movie and well worth the five bucks that Wal-Mart wants for it.) So It's not that I hate Bryan Singer, it's just that he's a bit too gay … uh, I mean too sensitive... to be directing a movie largely James Friggin' Howlett.

I didn't expect the third movie to have Jean flying through space, devouring suns, or killing millions. I did expect her to do more than stand around for two hours.

A valid point. The thing is, the only way to convey the Phoenix/Dark Phoenix thing on the screen is with extreme emotions. I think the movie got as close as it could have without becoming the Phoenix Movie.

hopefully you stayed to the very end of the credits to find out his REAL fate.

Nope. If only I'd known. My X-Men Expert buddy Otis had to tell me about it afterwards. For what it's worth, Otis seemed to like this third movie as much as I did. I hope he'll comment here and give his opinion.

Halle Berry has been miscast from the start. You know who would have been better? Gina Torres(Firefly/Alias/Angel/24). You all know I'm right.

Good call, but I'm sticking with my original pick, Angela Bassett.

There are real-world reasons Cummings declined(or wasn't rehired),

Cummings officially wasn't invited back. I was OK with that and didn't think Cummings was perfect for the role, anyway. I had hoped (until it was confirmed otherwise) that they'd keep the character with a new actor. My pick would have been Paul Bettany… ironic, considering that he signed on with Ron Howard to make that spit-on-the-Catholics movie.

I did like that Juggernaut says that line from the internet meme. Whatever geeks dubbed that film on YouTube must have freaked out when they saw that.

Dude, please clue me in on this because I keep hearing references to it and I don't know about it. I'm ALWAYS the last to know about these things. By the way, have you seen that Numa Numa guy? I finally saw him ten minutes ago. He sooooo funny!

Sir Ian McKellan owns this trilogy

Yes, and he also owns the LotR trilogy. For the Record, Sir Ian McKellan is definitely not too gay to play Magneto. (Man, I can't wait until I start getting flamed for the gay/not gay McKellen/Singer remarks in this comment.)
I disagree with most of your review, but I hate to argue about those sorts of things. I just wanted to say that I LOVE your idea that Angela Bassett should've been cast as Storm. Did you see her in Strange Days? Yes, she would've been perfect for Storm.

I don't know if I'm very naive or what, but I would've never known Ian McKellen was gay until I saw an interview he did when Gods and Monsters was out. To me, he just seemed British. Ho, wait until we start seeing the flames for that comment!
Kelly: I don't know if I'm very naive or what, but I would've never known Ian McKellen was gay until I saw an interview he did when Gods and Monsters was out. To me, he just seemed British.

Ian McKellen has a tremendous sense of humor. I wish I could remember this exact quote, I've just searched the internet and can't find it, but I once read that one morning on the set of one of the LotR movies, Peter Jackson saw McKellen for the first time and said "Good morning, Sir Ian, how are you doing?" McKellen's response was something like "Well, I'm gay, I'm an Englishman, and I'm in my 60's. How do you think I'm doing?"
Good review Darrell. I need to start my comments by saying that I quit reading X-books around 1997. It become so expensive to read the comics because you just couldn't read The Uncanny X-men. You had to read X-men, Generation X, X-force, X-men Unlimited, Wolverine, ect... For those who have no idea what i'm talking about: Basically there were about six comics that Marvel expected you to shell out money for to read and all the stories crossed over into one another at some point. Talk about confusing and expensive(not to mention the time it takes to read all the books).

So when I read that Wendy wants more background and fewer characters, I have to laugh. They haven't scratched the surface on characters and they never will. Basically what they do is try to please the geeks(Darrell, MCF, myself) by giving certain characters their 2 mins of screen time where we can point at the screen and say 'Cool, there's Moira Mctaggert!' or whoever it was you wanted to see. It's probably a terrible thing to watch if you're not into X-men, but it's thrilling for us nerds.

Now back to the movie: I am going to stick up for Halle Berry. I thought she was awful in the first two flicks, but in this one I thought she pulled it off. Maybe it's because Ratner actually let her fly. Lets not get into recasting characters either because Glen Danzig is sitting on a couch somewhere just itching to put on the yellow spandex.

As far as Angel goes, I think the only reason they put him in this film was because he was one of the original X-men. Hopefully that will give Wendy some closure.

I don't have a big problem with what they did with Juggernaut either because if you make him a main villian, then 40 percent of the film would be him running into things over and over. Doen't sound like a movie I want to see.

The bottom line is this movie flat out entertained me. Us comic geeks can pick it apart all day:
Juggernaut is Xavier's brother.
Juggernaut isn't a mutant.
How come Rogue can't fly?

We geeks know all these answers and i'm cool with that. I feel like this franchise is speaking to me personally and that i'm getting a really big inside joke. Hollywood has to change some things to appeal to the masses so if you didn't think you got enough Colossus or maybe too much Kitty Pryde, just remenber there's another geek who wanted to see Cable or Shatterstar or Skin or Chamber or The White Queen or Apocolypse or Gambit or ......

As far as any more X-men movies go? I leave you all with two words:

Parallel Universe
You know what's really gay? The name "James Howlett". I quit comics around the same time as Otis, but I'd read about Wolverine's real origin online, and I think I liked it better when his name was Logan and it was all a mystery.

Angela Bassett might have been a good Storm 10 years ago, but definitely not now.

Darrell, here's that video everyone is talking about. Mind you it contains strong language, and you might appreciate it more if you'd seen the episode. It's also long and really stupid, but you will get the idea within the first minute or two. You'll also be surprised that the filmmakers put in a nod to it, probably as much as the creators were.
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