Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
May 2006

'X' marks the lame finale

Half-baked 'The Last Stand' falters under feeble storyline and a few too many mutants

X-Men: The Last Stand
20th Century Fox
Director: Brett Ratner
Screenplay: Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Famke Janssen, Halle Berry, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Kelsey Grammer, Shawn Ashmore, Anna Paquin, Ellen Page and Cameron Bright
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 44 minutes
Opened May 26, 2006
(out of four)

This could have been avoided - all of it. The rushed production schedule, the hack director, and most importantly, the cardboard storyline on which the filmmakers decided to rest the legacy of the X-Men franchise. Needless to say, it doesn't take long to collapse.

The government conspirators in X-Men: The Last Stand who seek to "cure" the mutants' physical abnormalities may just be slightly off track: Physically, the mutants seem to handle themselves just fine; mentally, however, none of them seem to have much of a grasp on logical reasoning or rationale. The same could be said for screenwriters Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn.

It's a pity, then, that there likely won't be any chance at redemption for the series, as the studio has announced that this, the third installment, is to be the last. The last stand, if you will.

If that holds true, it's an unfortunate end to a series that boasted two good films, only now to fall apart when it should have climaxed (box-office receipts notwithstanding).

We pick up not long after the far-superior X2: X-Men United, with the death of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) still fresh in the minds of her two competing suitors, Scott/Cyclops (James Marsden) and Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). While Scott woefully weeps into his bourbon, the rest of the mutant community has a more pressing matter on its hands: A group of government researchers, led by Warren Worthington II (Michael Murphy), has discovered a mysterious cure for mutants, which will permanently eliminate their powers and which will soon be readily available for those who decide they would rather live a human life.

Worthington is desperate for such a cure because he has been shamed by the fact that his son (Ben Foster) is one of "them," the one known as Angel for his tremendous wingspan (quite lovely, by the way) and ability to fly.

This familial connection, you see, heightens the film's emotional impact. Presumably.

With such a grave threat jeopardizing the mutants' very livelihood, and with an ethical debate now squarely on the table, battle lines must be drawn and...well, they aren't. And here is where we start to realize just how undercooked this movie really is.

While some mutants - namely Rogue (Anna Paquin), whose powers of absorption prevent her from even touching her boyfriend - see the cure as a way to live a normal, healthy life without all the negative side effects of a life lived as a mutant, most of them are vehemently against the idea.

Most of the X-Men are against the idea. Human-rights activists are against the idea. And the "bad guys" - I use that term very lightly in the context of this film - like Magneto (Ian McKellen) are against it as well, and form a "Brotherhood" whose goal is to destroy the cure by any means necessary.

The cure, you see, is being turned into a weapon, with a strong possibility being that soldiers and civilians alike could potentially open fire on mutants at will, exterminating them for good. Naturally, Magneto sees this not as a possibility but as a probability, and decides to take violent action on the government, the facility that houses the cure, and the cure itself...or, rather, himself, as the "cure" comes in the form of a boy, Leech (Cameron Bright) who is impervious to all mutants' powers. (Any mutant that comes near him temporarily loses his or her power.)

And the X-Men's objective is...what again?

I mean, doesn't Magneto sort of have a point?

And aren't the good guys and bad guys pretty much on the same page here? And aren't they all doing a lot more harm than good? I mean, once the war begins, countless innocent civilians are left dead - for which both the X-Men and the Brotherhood are responsible - and hundreds of mutants lose their powers anyway. So, as I said, couldn't this all have been avoided? Did anyone in this story ever try to think things through? Even a little bit?

When all is said and done, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge have been destroyed and hundreds are either dead or powerless - including some major characters - and what, exactly, has been accomplished?

The only real difference between the two warring sides is the matter of strategy. While both seem to be against the cure, only Magneto and the Brotherhood actually take any action. And it may be the wrong course of action; it may even be terrorism (though, considering the weapons the military plans on using to combat them, it's really hard to say). The X-Men, however...well, they don't really stand for anything in this movie. They certainly don't really believe in anything, or fight for anything, or have any kind of clear, conscious objective. They're just there because...well, because the movie requires that they fight a Bad Guy. That seems to be good enough for Brett Ratner and Co., but as a premise for a film, it's embarrassingly flimsy.

At times, the movie survives just as good, dumb entertainment. Some actions scenes are fun and, yes, some of the powers these mutants have are pretty awesome.

With a wealth of comic books and two previous movies to build on, Ratner and his screenwriters had plenty of material to work with, but they had more than a little trouble picking and choosing. There are a host of new characters in The Last Stand, not a single one of which is well-developed. They all show up for their obligatory introductory scenes, where they show us what Cool Thing they can do and then promptly disappear, until the plot and/or action scene requires the use of aforementioned Cool Thing. The most interesting "new" character is the reincarnated Jean Grey, who by all accounts is the most powerful mutant anyone has ever encountered. She returns from the dead, only it's no longer the loyal and righteous Jean Grey we know, but her darker side - the Dark Phoenix, an alter ego driven by desire and rage and who teams up with Magneto, much to the chagrin of her mentor, Professor X (Patrick Stewart).

But even the Phoenix is as half-baked as the rest of the movie. Also along for the ride are newcomers Kitty Pride (Ellen Page), Juggernaut (Vinnie Jones), Callisto (Dania Ramirez), Spike (Lance Gibson) and Beast (Kelsey Grammer). But there's hardly any opportunity to get to know any of them with a running time that, excluding the closing credits, is barely past the 90-minute mark. (For comparison, X2 was well over two hours.)

The role of Storm (Halle Berry) has been enhanced, which is great from an eye-candy standpoint, but not so great in terms of interesting character development. Beast is particularly disappointing. He serves on the President's cabinet in addition to his allegiance to the X-Men, but over the course of the movie his character is never explored. He never really does anything. Those not familiar with the comics won't even know what his powers are, other than that cool blue skin and a fantastic head of hair.

The simplicity (which is mind-boggling) aside, X-Men: The Last Stand fails on all but its most basic levels. The action is all well and good. But the filmmakers spread all the characters a little too thin and, most egregiously, never realized the idiocy and pointlessness of the story. And so it goes that the financially lucrative X-Men movie franchise goes out not with a bang, but with a bust.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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