By Vic Holtreman
Short version: Much like the popcorn I ate while watching, it was kind of tasty but not very satisfying.
OK. First things first… I have to give props to Brett Ratner for stepping into this X-Men film at the last possible moment and putting it together in an insanely short amount of time. It was barely a year between the time Ratner came onboard and the movie showed up at your local multiplex. I still don’t know how they managed to do it.
Right here is where I wanted to say “And now for the bad news…”, but really it’s not so much bad as it is tepid (you know, lukewarm). :-)
If there was any doubt about all the statements coming from those involved in the production that X-Men: The Last Stand would indeed be the last full-on X-Men movie I’m here to tell you that they weren’t kidding. Either that or they’ll have to chalk this entire film up as a dream sequence a la that one season where the TV show Dallas jumped the shark. This is it, folks, and they’re not subtle about it at all.
Yes, characters die, but not only that, some characters lose their mutant abilities, and I’m not talking about the extras. Although I’ll try to make that the extent of the spoilers in this review.
The film opens 20 years in the past with a much younger Charles Xavier and Eric Lensher (pre-Magneto) visiting a pre-teen Jean Grey. The special effects crew did an alternately really cool and creepy job on making these two guys look much younger. At times it was really convincing, and during a couple of shots it looked like Botox gone horribly wrong, but I digress.
It turns out that Miss Grey is a “Class 5 mutant” putting her either on par with Charles or even above him in power level. We come to find that Charles put a series of blocks in her mind to shield her from the fact that she is in fact such a powerful mutant in order to protect her and others. Problem is that he couldn’t quite bury it far enough and it lurks just beneath the surface. We are also introduced to Warren Worthington III (aka Angel) as a young boy, grappling with his (as far as he sees it) deformity.
From there we are taken to a battle scene with Wolverine, Storm, Kitty Pryde (apparently the only mutant on the planet without a cool “handle”) and a severely underutilized throughout the film Colossus. The point being that “they’re not ready”, thus saith Wolverine.
Soon Xavier and Cyclops each get a psychic shot upside the head indicating that Jean Grey’s consciousness is still possibly alive out there. Cyclops goes off to Alkali Lake where Jean supposedly died and lo and behold she appears to him, alive but slightly creepy.
On another track, the story is following the creation of a new drug that can cure mutants of their powers and make them into plain old homosapiens. Some mutants rejoice at the news while others are outraged. Of course it starts out with the powers that be stating that it will be completely voluntary, but that doesn’t stop them from developing weapons which can deliver the drug from a distance. Of course Magneto becomes leader of the “Brotherhood” while the X-Men grapple with the ethics of the so-called cure.
Enough about the plot… is it any good, you ask?
Well… sort of, but not really. Of course you need more than that. :-)
There is plenty of action in the movie to justify its existence as a superhero/action flick. No doubt. Big production pieces with hundreds of mutants, fireballs, people flying through the air and smashing stuff and so on. The problem is that there isn’t really much else to draw you in. Also there are moments where the lack of production time comes through and it looks like they skimped here and there.
See the problem is that a LOT happens in this film that should have enough of an emotional impact to make you feel like you’ve been kicked in the gut. Except it doesn’t. At all. And that stinks because with the things that happen to characters we know in this film we should leave the movie theater dumbstruck and shaking our heads at the losses.
Now I’m not a filmmaker, so I can’t put my finger on what exactly the problem is but I reckon it’s a combination of both script, direction and performance (what else is there, right?). I’m sure that you’ve heard by now that main characters die in the film. With one of them you’ll blink if you miss it, and wonder if you DID miss it, another has some impact, but by the end of the scene actually makes you question whether it could have been stopped. The third one at least does have some impact, but that’s more attributable to the character we all know is the star of these X-films. It was actually more jarring (and one of the better handled scenes in the film) to see one of the mutants lose their powers involuntarily and what happens to them afterwards.
The other thing that really confuses me is whether or not there is a clone of Halle Berry walking around out there. This can NOT possibly be the same actress who has won an OSCAR for crying out loud! Nope, I refuse to believe it. In one scene she delivers a eulogy for one of the characters who has died and it was stone, cold boring. This was a scene that should have had a powerful impact but it fell completely and utterly flat. Imagine being at a funeral and the eulogy is so trite and dull that you find yourself looking at your watch. Simply awful. There was even a throwaway line by Ian McKellan towards the end that made me cringe.
They do manage to throw the fans a bone or two… we see the Danger Room briefly, a Sentinel makes a semi-appearance, Kelsey Grammar as The Beast actually worked pretty well, I thought (right down to the “stars and garters” comment), and the portrayal of Jean Grey as Phoenix was pretty well done, with some shots of her reminding me of the Dark Phoenix saga from the comics 20 years ago. We even finally get to see Bobby Drake totally “ice up”. I also really liked the guy they picked to be Juggernaut. That dude just has to be a mutant in real life! And of course once again Hugh Jackman as Wolverine is the real star of the film.
So overall, it really was disappointing, but at least it delivered some action, tidbits for the fans and a few suprises. The problem was that by the time they were done, the suprises didn’t seem to mean as much as they should.