X-Men: The Last Stand
2006Director: Brett Ratner
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart
certainly won’t be the first to point out the quality drop-off in the latest installment of the X-Men franchise. I really liked the trailer and really loved shirtless white-winged Ben Foster appearing on all of the advertisements, so I handily passed the early buzz off as groupthink. Sadly, everything you’ve heard is true. Director Bryan Signer signed off, and explosion guru Brett Ratner signed on. Alan Cumming is nowhere to be found. At this point, I was going to draw some clever analogy between how obviously bad this project looked on paper and how obviously predictable the punch-lines of the film were. Alas, I cannot summon the energy. Which is a very bad metaphor for the X3 experience as a whole, my own special way of externalizing disappointment.
For those who aren’t familiar with X-Men, let’s revisit the central premise. Humanity has taken the next evolutionary step by producing a mutant gene, which provides its benefactors with all kinds of crazy superhero powers. The normal population soon realizes its major disadvantage, and begins to suppress mutant-kind. Once oppressed, the mutants form a counter-culture and begin to provide fabulous metaphors for disadvantaged minorities. The overarching plotline of X-Men: The Last Stand regards a controversial cure for the mutant gene. The government steps in, the military makes the cure into a weapon, and mutants stand bitterly divided on the whole messy issue. The story is cogent, politically relevant, and analogically fascinating.
For what it’s worth, The Last Stand vaguely captures the implications of this excellent story. Energetically juggling a massive cast, the script breezes through mountains of plot with real gusto. Several characters die, others are cured, and many more are introduced. Consistently entertaining, the movie utilizes nearly every second of its sparse screen-time. Incidentally, I was bored by the interminable action sequences, but I nearly always yawn through fight scenes. So, if you like brainless testosterone or whatever, then you’ll probably be thrilled by just about every second. But despite the impressive efficiency, the film sacrifices emotional resonance for superfluous plot development. I’m not just being weepy here; the audience literally has two seconds to process developments before being whisked to the next turning point. When I wanted to take a moment to rejoice as shirtless, white-winged Ben Foster (sigh) defies his father and declines the normalizing cure, I got a snapshot of glorious flight before abruptly being jerked to the next expository/action sequence. Last Stand certainly possesses the potential for emotional impact, but never shifts into pay-off mode.
Plausibly, these issues with pacing could be fixed with the aid of a remote control; I could just pause every time I want to mull. The soundtrack breaks might fuck up my sense of atmosphere, but I’m a tough guy. Although one can self-impose those long moments of meditation, character skeletons cannot be arbitrarily fleshed out. As I mentioned before, X3 has a gigantic cast of characters. After allowing just enough time to witness each superhero trait in action, Brett Ratner decisively moves on. Where in the two previous films each mutant chose her team based on personal morality, a Kantian sense of community preservation, or plain bravado, Last Stand eschews rich character dynamics in favor of whichever two mutants would look coolest in combat (in the case of Porcupine Man hugging Shohreh Aghdashloo to death, this works). With emotion and character removed completely from a stimulating context, the bare bones of a great film cannot suffice—no matter how accommodating the audience.
Of course, there’s still some great stuff on display here. Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen, as always, have genius chemistry. Ellen Page, despite playing something akin to an 11-year-old, is of legal age. A middle-aged man calls a young girl a bitch—twice. I never really got the Hugh Jackman as Wolverine appeal, but he struts around in an audience-pleasing fashion. Rebecca Romijin warns her captors not to refer to her by her Slave Name. Famke Janssen’s eyes bug out amusingly before she wreaks major plot-hole violence. Ben Foster, shirtless, emits giant white wings and flies around in repression. Nonetheless, it’s a long, hard fall from grace, and the third time can’t always be the charm. As the closing credits reveal, however, a spin-off film is always in the works. Inconvenient plot devices can be explained away. Perhaps, a director of moderate talent shall stumble into power once again.
X-Men: The Last Stand is in theaters across the country now.