Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Reviews@24 Panels: X-MEN: THE LAST STAND (2006)

[Sadly, I wasn't able to attend the recording of the episode dedicated to X-Men: The Last Stand, so here's my review.]

Some nights I am still haunted by the squandered potential of Brett Ratner's X-Men: The Last Stand. Some point their finger at The Matrix sequels or the Star Wars prequels as the biggest disappointment of our generation, but I am inclined to give that distinction to Ratner's entry in the X-Men franchise. Given the huge momentum built by the first two films, a third X-Men film had the potential to be something as great as 2012's Marvel's The Avengers; the sheer amount of missed opportunities in The Last Stand absolutely mind-boggling. When original series director Bryan Singer jumped ship to helm Superman Returns, Marvel – in what can only be described as a ballsy, spite-fueled move – hired yes-man director/professional douchebag Brett Ratner (the Rush Hour films, Red Dragon) and rushed The Last Stand into production.

The third go around for everyone's favourite mutants concerns itself with a so-called cure for the mutant gene, one that strips mutants of their internal and external differences. Rightfully up in arms, the mutant community revolts in various ways, from peaceful protests to out-and-out violence. All the while, Jean Grey mysteriously returns in the most half-hearted attempt to shoehorn the much-beloved “Dark Phoenix Saga” of the comics into the film. The Cure plot, which is loosely adapted from Joss Whedon’s “Gifted” run as writer on The Astonishing X-Men, and the Dark Phoenix Saga both provide enough material to each warrant their own film; cramming both into 104 minutes does the source material a great disservice, and indeed, they feel more like window dressings and lip service to fans than an actual coherent plot.

The reaction to the cure by the mutant community would seem to provide ample material for social commentary – something the comics are know for – yet Ranter has no such interest in these matters; the politics of the film don't carry any weight because there are too many characters here with very little to do. None of them really have an arc, and their motivations somewhat arbitrary. Instead of exploring the ideas behind a cure for the mutant gene and how it would affect individuals and the mutant community at large, or causes of Jean's dark side, Ratner moves the film from one beat to the next with nothing resonating beyond individual scenes (even deaths have little effect on the plot and even less on the other characters).

While there are still some remnants of Singer's thematic concerns from the first two films – like Magneto's lack of belief and trust in government – they're  superficial, or just something that's been carried over by the actors. Ratner's entry in the franchise largely eschews those concerns in favour of elaborate and expensive action set pieces – the film’s climax involves Magneto using his powers to move the Golden Gate Bridge to access Alcatraz.

The character development is non-existent to make room for more flashy mutants and spectacle, which barely hang on the paper-thin plot. Beloved characters are arbitrarily killed off – although, maybe Cyclops’ off-screen death is just a big “eff you” to James Marsden for going with Singer to Superman Returns. Yet, above all, the film plays everything so safe: the major events of the film are all but undone by the end of credits, making The Last Stand a low-stakes place-holder for the franchise.

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006, USA, 104 mins). Directed by Brett Ratner. Written by Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn. Starring Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen.

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