Hugh Jackman - Logan/Wolverine
Halle Berry - Ororo Munroe/Storm
Famke Janssen - Jean Grey/Phoenix
Ian McKellen - Eric Lehnsherr/Magneto
Patrick Stewart - Professor Charles Xavier
Kelsey Grammer - Dr. Hank McCoy/Beast
Anna Paquin - Marie/Rogue
Shawn Ashmore - Bobby Drake/Iceman
Rebecca Romijn - Raven Darkholme/Mystique
James Marsden - Scott Summers/Cyclops
Aaron Stanford - John Allerdyce/Pyro
Ben Foster - Warren Worthington III/Angel
Ellen Page - Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat
Vinnie Jones - Cain Marko/Juggernaut
Dania Ramirez - Callisto
Genre - Action/Fantasy/Comic Book
Running Time - 104 Minutes
A lot of people, including myself, credit 2000's X-MEN to be the reason why we've gotten so many comic book adaptations in recent years. Due to its success, we got Sam Raimi's SPIDER-MAN films, Christopher Nolan's BATMAN films, the set up to THE AVENGERS movie with IRON MAN, both HULK films, THOR, CAPTAIN AMERICA: FIRST AVENGER, as well as graphic novel adaptations such as SIN CITY and WATCHMEN. There have been great comic book films [the first two X-MEN are definitely included in that] and there have been really bad comic book films [CATWOMAN and ELEKTRA anyone?]. But we can pretty much agree that Bryan Singer truly captured much of the essence that made many of us love the X-Men characters for so many years, proving that comic book adaptations can be deep, thought-provoking, and entertaining with special effects and action at the same time.
As I mentioned in my X2: X-MEN UNITED review, Singer was setting up a treatment that would lead into the third film that would be loosely based on, what is probably considered the greatest X-Men story of all time, The Dark Phoenix Saga. Obviously much of the background portrayed in the comics [and later in the 90s FOX cartoon] would have to be changed, but the general idea was definitely present. Not only would it had allowed Jean Grey to become the main villain of the piece, which would have also included Emma Frost [with Sigourney Weaver in mind for the role] and Magneto using Phoenix as their tool of destruction, but it would have allowed the major love triangle between Jean, Cyclops, and Wolverine to truly play out - allowing Cyclops to actually be in the film for more than 15 minutes. Singer was excited about it. The fans were really excited about it.
Unfortunately, the plans were hit with kryptonite, as Singer was given the opportunity of a lifetime - to direct and plan out the next SUPERMAN film. Singer had been a huge fan of 1978's SUPERMAN and 1980's SUPERMAN II and wanted to take the franchise to the next level, which culminated into SUPERMAN RETURNS in 2006. Because of this, 20th Century Fox was in a bind. Also seeking a 2006 release date for the third X-MEN film, they refused to wait for Singer to return to the franchise, instead going into a different direction with the series. A new treatment was created, one that would use The Dark Phoenix Saga as its emotional core while taking Joss Whedon's and John Cassaday's six-issue arc in The Astonishing X-Men comic books, called Gifted [where a cure was found to get rid of the mutant genes], would be the political arc of the film.
A whole bunch of directors were sought out of what would become X-MEN: THE LAST STAND. Hugh Jackman, who actually had approval for directors in his contract, wanted Darren Aronofsky to direct the film, due to their great collaboration on THE FOUNTAIN. Aronofsky refused. Joss Whedon was next, but he was preparing his ill-fated WONDER WOMAN film. Zack Snyder was also a contender, but was focused on 2007's 300. Matthew Vaughn, who would later direct the appropriately titled KICK-ASS and the latest X-MEN film, FIRST CLASS, signed on. After casting a few characters, such as Kelsey Grammer as Beast and Vinnie Jones as Juggernaut, a family emergency caused Vaughn to drop out of the project. Vaughn was frustrated with the project anyway, since Fox was rushing the production, making him feel that his ideas wouldn't play out as well as he would have wanted them to. The studio then decided on RUSH HOUR director, Brett Ratner, who is known more for his style than his substance - something that's completely opposite with the first two X-MEN films.
The actors were also getting into the mix. Signed on for only two films, the main actors signed on for the third, with Jackman getting producer's credit this time around. Halle Berry, still riding her ego for winning the Best Actress Oscar for 2001's MONSTER'S BALL, wouldn't sign on as Storm unless her part was expanded and was made to be a huge character like her comic book counterpart. Apparently, Berry and Singer had issues during the filming of X2 due to this. Ratner agreed, which explains Storm's greater presence in the film, for better or for worse. Alan Cumming, who was going to reprise his role as Nightcrawler, had major issues with the make up for the role. While he was still willing to sign on, the studio felt Nightcrawler wasn't in the film enough to justify the cost of time to provide make up for the actor, especially since Beast was already in the film. His disappearance was explained in the X-Men: The Official Game video game, where Nightcrawler left the X-Men due to the violence that came with the uniform. Gambit was also supposed to be in the film, played by Lost's Josh Halloway. Combined with the fact that the studio wanted Gambit to have a bigger role than what the script provided with Halloway's decline due to feeling that Gambit and his Lost character, Sawyer, were too similar and didn't want to be typecast, Gambit was taken out in favor of Angel.
The film had twenty re-writes, and was rushed into production, but X-MEN: THE LAST STAND made its release date on May 26, 2006. While the critical appeal of the film took a downward spiral compared to the first two films, the box office was so high that X3 became the highest grossing film in the franchise as of this writing. But quantity doesn't always equal quality, and X3 is not the fanboys' X-MEN film at all. In fact, fanboys have and will hate this film for pretty much destroying an anticipated storyline that was tamed and reduced to pretty much a big-budget take of the Dark Willow storyline from the 6th season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer [another Joss Whedon creation]. Still, in terms of being a summer popcorn flick, X3 does succeed in providing entertaining visuals and a quick pace. So let's see why my reviewer side and my fanboy side are at odds over X-MEN: THE LAST STAND.
Jean Grey's (Famke Janssen) death has darkened the mood at Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is put in a co-leader position with Storm (Halle Berry) as Cyclops (James Marsden) copes with Jean's passing. The mood dims more when they learn from Beast (Kelsey Grammer), who works in the Government as the Secretary of Mutant Affairs, that Warren Worthington II (Michael Murphy) and Dr. Kavita Rao (Shohreh Aghdashloo) have developed a serum that can cure the mutant gene, allowing mutants to de-evolve back to humans. This creates a debate about the drug: some favoring it like Rogue (Anna Paquin) and some opposed by it. Magneto (Ian McKellen), in particular, is disgusted by this and decides to clan together an army of misfit mutants to wage war against the Government if the cure isn't destroyed.
Meanwhile, Cyclops leaves the school, receiving mental messages near the location of Jean's death. He finds Jean is still very much alive, but much stronger and deadlier. Storm and Wolverine find Jean, but no Cyclops, taking her back to the mansion to figure out what's going on. Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) is not surprised by Jean's resurrection, claiming that Jean is the most powerful mutant he has encountered, to the point that he had to trick Jean into suppressing her evil alter-ego known as Phoenix - a part of her subconscious that has unlimited power that could be dangerous for everyone. Xavier is proven right when Phoenix seduces Wolverine into escaping, setting off a chain of destruction that leads her into the arms of Magneto, who wants to use her as his ultimate weapon. As Magneto, Phoenix, and the newly formed and larger Brotherhood head towards Worthington's laboratory on Alcatraz Island, the X-Men must decide to whether to join Magneto's cause or go against it.
Where do I even begin with X-MEN: THE LAST STAND? The fanboy in me finds nothing but disappointment in this film, due to the fact that what was set up in the previous films ends up being nothing compared to what was expected. However, as a movie goer, it's a more than decent summer blockbuster with a lot of action sequences, a massive amounts of special effects and colorful characters, and a brainless pace that feeds your eyes rather than your brain. So how do I review this? As a fanboy? As an unbiased reviewer? Somewhere in the middle, perhaps?
Let me just get the elephant in the room out of the way. Zak Penn...Simon Kinberg - The Dark Phoenix Saga this ain't. Look, I wasn't expecting exactly the same scenario as the comic book story. It's obvious it would be too much, in such a short span of time, to go into the whole Shi'ar Empire, M'kraan Crystal, Phoenix entity duplicating Jean's body and taking her place, having the Hellfire Club [who just happen to be the villains in X-MEN: FIRST CLASS] manipulate Phoenix deal. That's something you'd take like 2 or 3 films to do. I do like the fact that the Phoenix powers are already part of Jean's DNA. It's an easy way to get around the whole thing, as well as it being quickly accessible to the audience. However, I feel that this whole sub-plot is not only disappointing, but a lost opportunity to really create something special here.
The Dark Phoenix storyline is meant to be the emotional core of the film. How hard is it to figure out that Jean's betrayal would effect the X-Men deeply, knowing that they'll have to kill her due to her uncontrollable power and urge for destruction? You have two men in love with her, who want to save her, but realize they can't. You have a villain who wants to use her as his personal weapon, only to realize he has no idea what he's unleashed upon everyone. And you have a character who is struggling with her growing power and rage, knowing she needs to be stopped but doesn't want to be stopped because the power is corrupting her. Do we get some of these themes? Not as much for it to truly work on an emotional level.
For example, here's an opportunity for Cyclops to finally be in the spotlight in one of these films. For a guy who's supposed to be the leader of the X-Men, he hasn't done much since the first film. But with a storyline like this, this should have been Cyclops' time to shine as Jean's protector. She's in love with Scott. She chose Scott over Logan. There has to be some reason why these two people are together, which we understand as a comic book fan, but have yet to see it unfold in any of these films. But instead of doing this, Cyclops is killed off in the first thirty minutes of the movie. Now I understand James Marsden couldn't really commit to a full schedule due to joining Bryan Singer in SUPERMAN RETURNS in a beefier role [and he's quite honestly the best part of that film, in my opinion], but to kill Cyclops off so quickly feels like a slap in the face to all the fans. Now if his death led to some sort of emotional scene where Jean feels guilty about it, making the X-Men wonder whether it's safe to keep Jean around when she's just killed off one of their own, I wouldn't have much of a problem with it. Instead, Jean is unsure she's killed him, feeling slightly guilty about it, and then it's forgotten like it didn't mean anything. Hell, the X-Men learn about Scott's death and don't even seem to flinch like they never gave a damn about their leader. It's terrible screenwriting because this is the point where the emotion should have started in the film. Instead, it's treated as if Cyclops meant nothing and he was just an afterthought.
At least with Professor Xavier's death at the hands of Phoenix, there's a better attempt at emotion here. Not only is Jean in shock after she's done the deed, but Magneto, who wanted to one-up Xavier by recruiting her, is genuinely troubled by Xavier's death due to their weird friendship. Wolverine and Storm are distraught over it, even holding a funeral for the man. Where was this when Cyclops died??? This should have been the moment where the X-Men realize that Jean has to pay for what she's done. Instead, they grieve, decide to ice skate, and walk around as if they're waiting for something to motivate their vengeance. Huh?
Also, we have a cure storyline that's going on at the same time as this storyline. While I'll get into the cure stuff in a bit, it's obvious as you watch this that the two storylines really deserve their own respective films because the blending of the two seems forced. If they really wanted these storylines to really work together, the cure issue could have made a great example with Jean's behavior and her uncontrollable mutant abilities. Here is the perfect opportunity to showcase why this cure is beneficial to society - because it could stop someone like Phoenix from doing more damage if her powers are stripped. Not only would this have maintained the political element, but also create a stronger ethical element. While the Phoenix probably deserves to be shot with this serum, is it really the right thing to do morally to take away what's made her special since birth? Instead, it's just a straightforward "cure - bad, wage war to stop it - good" deal. I'm not saying that's horrible, but the two plot points could have really come together in a better, more thoughtful and emotional way.
As for the Phoenix character, watching her here makes me sad. There's no Phoenix emblem anywhere [with a $210 million budget, you couldn't at least design one for her costume?], no fiery aura around her, no fire powers anywhere, and no feeling of Godliness when it comes to her power. Sure she destroys a bunch of shit and kills people, but this character is not Phoenix - only in name. If I want to see this character portrayed, I'll watch Dark Willow from Buffy. At least it was done better there and actually have an emotional arc leading into it, during it, and after it.
As for the cure storyline on its own, I guess it's okay. It's obvious that this serum wasn't done as quickly as it was portrayed in the film. In fact, for the Government to let this be used as a weapon against mutants, it had to have been planned for months, even years. So it makes the Government look like prejudiced douchebags. But at least, compared to the other storyline, it moves the story forward in a believable [for a comic book film] way and there's actually some thought into how it's played out. It motivates the Brotherhood's justification for war. It divides the X-Men, with some members actually wanting to be cured. And when it is used on certain characters, it brings out the true colors in those they relied on, realizing they were never their friends at all. So it is the stronger plot point of the two and it does allow some sort of thought process to occur not only in the characters themselves, but in the audience as well. And that's a great thing because it's realistic. It does feel rushed at times [this film really is too short for what it's trying to attempt], but the story is strong enough to keep the film balanced. Like I said, this should have been its own film.
The main problem with X-MEN: THE LAST STAND is that it reminds me of MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION - too many damn characters. It's obvious Fox wanted to please fans by throwing every X-Men character they could manage into 104 minutes. Every X-MEN film has had this as one of their flaws to begin with, but at least Bryan Singer and his screenwriters were able to sort of maintain a healthy balance where we never felt overwhelmed. In this film, you can hardly keep up with all these people. You already have the X-Men, who are now joined by Beast, Colossus, and Shadowcat. You have a much larger Brotherhood that adds Multiple Man, Juggernaut, Callisto, Kid Omega [who's really Quill], Arclight, Psylocke, Phoenix, and a whole bunch of nameless mutants that all seem to share similar abilities [lazy...]. Then you have Dr. Moira McTaggert, General Trask, and a whole bunch of politicians and soldiers. It's just too damn much and it doesn't allow the characters to develop with each other or with the audience. Instead, you just point at the screen and randomly name the characters you recognize off to your friends. It sinks the film in a lot of ways, even though it's always cool to see them on screen.
As for the characters themselves, it's a mixed bag. Wolverine loses his edge a bit in this film, becoming more emotional - crying and screaming whenever he loses a loved one. He doesn't really go berserk here, instead acting more like a tamed leader than a hothead. I guess that's a natural progression of his character after three films, but the edge should never go away like it does here. Storm is more of a presence in the film. While she does do cool tricks and uses her power like the comic book storm would do, she acts like a bitch on her downtime. Plus, she's not that interesting as a character in these films, so she does nothing for me. Xavier comes across as a total dick to everyone, accusing Wolverine of letting Jean escape and acting sort of sly when he admits to keep Jean's Phoenix persona in check. Now this is something the real Xavier would do in the comics, but after seeing how level-headed he was in the first two films, it's a dramatic change that'll give you whiplash. Rogue is a waste. Her only purpose is to be part of a lame love triangle with Iceman [who she has no chemistry with at all, which makes me wonder why she even bothers taking the cure - Iceman, by the way, is only here to be the opposite of Pyro for their fight at the end...nothing more, nothing less] and Shadowcat [who actually has a personality and should have been in the film more]. I can't even write about this "Rogue" character anymore. Ugh. Colossus is just background dressing. Beast is actually interesting, but isn't in the film enough to really grab you as much as he should. Angel, who should have been a major character in the film since he was supposed to be a victim of this cure to please his father, is given the shaft fairly quickly until the predictable moment arrives where he has to save his dad from being killed by the Brotherhood. What's the point?
As for the villains, Mystique is still f'n cool as always. Unfortunately, her role is really small here and doesn't really get to do much. Multiple Man, due to Eric Dane's acting, is a character you would want more of. Of course, they give you less instead. Pyro's only real moments are with Iceman. Besides that, he does nothing. Juggernaut is just a mess here. He's a mutant in this film, which is totally wrong from his comic book character. Juggernaut is powerful due to the Gem of Cyttorak, with gives him his superhuman abilities, not because he's a mutant. Also, he's Xavier's stepbrother, which is never acknowledged in the film and could have added some much-needed drama. Other than that, I'm cool with the character. "I'm the Juggernaut, bitch!" is still my favorite piece of dialogue in this franchise. Psylocke, Arclight, and Kid Omega are wasted. Callisto, even though her powers are wrong, is one of the better new characters in the film. She actually has personality and her battles with Storm are entertaining, as well as being true to their rivalry in the comics. And we have Magneto, who is great as always. He's more crazed, evil. yet human here in this installment. It's really hard to mess up a character like him, and Penn and Kinberg do right by him.
X-MEN: THE LAST STAND holds the biggest budget in the franchise, and you can definitely tell by all the special effects created for this film from beginning to end. Hundreds of mutants battling each other, with some growing bone daggers out of their forearms, some regenerating limbs, etc. Plus Storm gets to fly and shoot lightning like crazy, Callisto runs at super speed, Phoenix turning people into ash, and Magneto taking the Golden Gate Bridge and using it as a pathway to Alcatraz in probably the best moment in the film next to Phoenix battling Xavier inside her family home. We also witness the classic Colossus and Wolverine "Fastball Special" twice, especially during the Danger Room sequence with the Sentinel [which looks incredible - too bad it's just a tease]. And Iceman finally ices up into...Iceman! And compliments to the make-up team, who turn Kelsey Grammer into a truly believable Beast. To be honest, the special effects are the best part of X-MEN: THE LAST STAND, truly making it feel like a comic book film. It's total eye candy, which is perfect for a summer film like this.
Brett Ratner takes over for Bryan Singer here as director. Now it's widely known that Ratner isn't the most popular director in the world. A lot of people believe it's Ratner's fault that X-MEN: THE LAST STAND didn't really succeed on the level of the previous two films. A part of me does agree with that. In fact, Ratner is very much an ADD type of director, where he goes from one visual to the next without letting it resonate with the audience. I do think the film moves a bit too fast at times, which you can tell by how rushed the story progresses, as well as some bad edits that appear from time to time. However, Ratner does create an energetic movie that I can't honestly say I'm bored by. Do I think the direction is flawless? Absolutely not. But he provides a quick paced, entertaining popcorn flick that truly looks and feels like an all-out comic book brought to life. He could have let certain scenes play out longer to create more emotion, but the man has always been more about style rather than substance. Were people expecting anything less?
The acting in the film is great as usual. Hugh Jackman, as Wolverine, still rocks. His character isn't all that great this time around, but he definitely makes the most of it. Famke Janssen does her best work in the franchise as Phoenix, truly creating a dual-personality driven character that you actually feel sorry for. I wish she had less moments where she just stood around like a statue and more scenes where she just hurt people because she could, but Janssen does really well with the material. Ian McKellen is fantastic as usual as Magneto, bringing a class to the film that it truly needs. Same goes with Patrick Stewart, who plays a douchier character this time around. Ellen Page is great as Kitty Pryde. She got the role due to her phenomenal work on HARD CANDY, and truly creates a pitch perfect Shadowcat here. I think she should have been in the franchise since the start as a main character instead of Rogue, to be honest with you. Kelsey Grammer is the ultimate surprise as Beast. I remember thinking that the casting choice was terrible before watching the film, but I'm glad to have been wrong. He's really good as the character and his action sequence during the final act put a smile on my face. Vinnie Jones is funny as Juggernaut and Dania Ramirez is very cool as Callisto.
Unfortunately, Anna Paquin is totally wasted as Rogue. She doesn't do anything but whine. And Halle Berry, "Queen" of the X-MEN franchise, is terrible as Storm. I don't care if she has an Oscar and looks hot. She's still miscast as Storm and giving her a bigger role just proves it. It's sad that I think her acting was better in CATWOMAN. Scary, isn't it?
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE SITTING DOWN AFTER MY LAST STAND
- Guys only have their minds on one thing. Ben Grimm is a cool character and all, but my mind is usually on sex - or like I usually call it, "It's clobberin' time!"
- Mystique is the perfect woman. She can shape shift into anyone, never giving you the need to find another woman that could give you something else your girlfriend or wife can't. Just like Paris Hilton, she's everyone's type.
- Jean Grey's dormant personality calls itself Phoenix. That's one of my nicknames as well. I usually get called that every time I arrive at a strip club, or watch porn.
- Captain's Log, 6311 - Phoenix turned Professor Xavier into a pile of ash with her powers. Being transformed into a Borg is probably a more pleasant experience. At least he doesn't have to deal with that annoying Crusher kid anymore. What a douche!
- Magneto broke off the Golden Gate Bridge to make a pathway to Alcatraz. Too bad he didn't do this during the intro of Full House to save me from that torture. How rude!
THE FINAL HOWL
X-MEN: THE LAST STAND is an entertaining film for those who aren't too familiar with the X-Men storylines and characters from the comic books, providing great eye candy and a decent enough story to keep you interested from beginning to end. X-MEN: THE LAST STAND, for fans like me, is truly a massive disappointment and should have been a lot better than what we were given. But I can't say that I hate the film or that I wasn't entertained by it. I just wish things could have been different behind-the-scenes to truly see the full potential that's never touched upon. And while this film was called THE LAST STAND, it's anything but since Fox has already announced an X4 and an X5 coming soon dealing with Mister Sinister and Apocalypse supposedly. Let's hope those films aren't as flawed as this one and especially X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE. But that's a review for another time...