At the Movies with Alan Gekko: X-Men: The Last Stand “06”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: X-Men: The Last Stand “06”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Superhero/Stars: Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, Kelsey Grammer, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn, Shawn Ashmore, Aaron Stanford, Vinnie Jones, Elliot Page (credited as Ellen Page), Ben Foster, Cayden Boyd, Dania Ramirez, Michael Murphy, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Josef Sommer, Bill Duke, Daniel Cudmore, Eric Dane, Meiling Melançon, Omahyra Mota, Ken Leung, Cameron Bright, Lance Gibson,  Clayton Dean Watmough, Olivia Williams, Stan Lee, Chris Claremont, R. Lee Ermey, Haley Ramm/Runtime: 104 minutes

Having the distinct advantage of time on my side as I write this review, I can safely say that the first 2 entries in the series of movies based off the iconic comic book characters that are the X-Men are ones that have survived the sands of time and in the process found a nice comfortable nesting ground among the pinnacle of what people often think of when it comes to comic book character cinematic adaptations. I mean when your movies manage to have in their possession a top-notch cast, narratives that are incredibly well penned, thematically riveting, action-packed, and helmed phenomenally well by Bryan Singer, is it any wonder that 2000’s X-Men and 2003’s X2: X-Men United are so highly regarded? Unfortunately this is not a review of one of those films. Rather, this is a review of 2006’s X-Men The Last Stand and this is one that is to some degree a bit more “fun” (note the quotes around the word fun) for me to talk about. This is because the 3rd entry in the X-Men series is a slice of cinematic pie that right off the bat was one that had a lot of issues behind the scenes courtesy of helmer of the first 2 Bryan Singer leaving the film high and dry so he could instead make his own take on the saga of Superman in what would become Superman Returns. Thus after a lengthy hunt for a new helmer to take the reins, a hunt which had such candidates as the guy who did I, Robot thrown in the ring for contention, the movie finally nabbed none other than Brett Ratner (the Rush Hour movies) to make the movie and in the process not only give audiences a film that was on the same level as the first 2, but also wrap everything up in a way that would give audiences the first genuinely great comic book movie trilogy. Having seen the movie, I think it’s safe to say that perhaps the studio might want to have taken a much closer look at the finished product before releasing this into theaters. I say that because whilst there are some good things I can say about this slice of cinematic pie and this is to some degree an alright ending to the first trilogy of X-Men films, this is still by and large a fairly significant step down from the phenomenal work that was on display in the first 2 films thus making for a film that is more a disappointment than much of anything else..

The plot is as follows: Set a year or 2 after the events of X2: X-Men United, X-Men: The Last Stand opens its uncanny (little in-joke for you comic book fans out there) saga as we see that whilst things in the X-Mansion are a bit sadder than they were before, things are trying to go back to normal. This however will be quickly challenged since as the simmering conflict between humanity and their mutant counterparts continues to broil, things are quickly and rapidly about to reach a head. A head that comes in the form of the announcement by a pharmaceutical giant named Worthington Labs that has uncovered a possible “cure” for those with mutations. A “cure” that will, when taken, permit those with mutant gifts of all types to eradicate themselves of said gifts and thus once again be able to be embraced by society at large. Thus it should come as no surprise to see that mutant community finds itself torn over this debacle as there are those who decide to keep their gifts since they feel like they are a definitive part of themselves and then there are those like Rogue who see their gifts more as a curse and would love nothing more than to just be rid of them once and for all. However there is a third group who slinking about in the shadows that consists of a group of mutants who, despite a mutant-tolerant President and a mutant secretary in his cabinet in the form of one Dr. Hank McCoy aka Beast, see this “cure” as nothing more than just continued existence of the belief that humanity and mutants were never meant to exist together and as such this group, led unsurprisingly by Magneto, prepare to finally at long last trigger a long-gestating war for supremacy on the planet. Thus it is up to the X-Men to not only take on this increasing escalation to peace for all of man and mutantkind alike in a head-on approach, but to also come to grips with the unexpected return of one of their own who has now been consumed by a seemingly omnipotent force only known as “The Phoenix”……

Now to this film’s credit, X-Men: The Last Stand does do an admirable job in its aspirations to model how it does things after the first 2 movies. However even with that in mind, throughout this whole movie’s 104 minute runtime, the vibe that is perhaps not on the same level as what came before is very apparent especially when watching the first 3 back to back. This is because try as hard as it might X-Men: The Last Stand is the unfortunate recipient of messy dialogue, action beats that are riveting, but not as solid as the first 2 movies, a rushed feeling throughout, and a narrative that does continue with the key franchise themes yet doesn’t give them the best transition possible. To that end, this film plays almost like a kind of oddly disjointed entry where the pathos and key narrative wrinkles feel very much obligatory and slapped on in a half-cooked attempt to keep continuity with what came before. Also whilst the first 2 movies did a great job in constructing action beats around integral thematic concepts and a cast of characters you could identify with on some level, this film often acts as if the pathos is a vital impediment between moments of action which results in this movie’s stabs at getting potent pathos, especially after one or 2 genuinely surprising moments, falling horrifically flat. Worst of all is the fact that the bond between Magneto and Xavier, a bond that is both more than just one between a hero and villain and the one that shows definitively the 2 points of view these films try to present us with, seems to have the bottom fall out from under it and not just because of events that happen in the film proper. Rather it’s because the chance to see the chemistry between Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen in action as well as how vital their bond it seems to have been severely and tragically watered down. Thankfully, this film does wrap things up with a terrific final shot that when you see it will definitely leave you anxious to see where this series can go from here (spoiler: some good, some great, some mehhh, and some so bad you will wonder how in the world they could mess up so bad).

Ultimately though, if there was ever a singular reason I could give you for why in the world this distinct slice of cinematic pie was worth watching it wouldn’t be because it’s a part of a series of films and is definitely necessary to watch in the grand scheme so certain things later down the road make more sense (Jean Grey’s role in 2013’s The Wolverine for example). Instead, I am going to instead make the claim that it is the truly gifted and wonderful cast that has been assembled (Marvel pun intended) here which is the main reason why you should at the very least give this slice of cinematic pie a watch. This starts with, of course, Hugh Jackman as Wolverine who once again does a great job at being both the snarky stoic outlier in the room as in the first 2 movies, but also a bit more of a reluctant team leader in this one as well and Jackman sells it, claws and all, in a way that few if any other actors could have. I also really appreciated the work done in this by returning screen veterans Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart as Magneto and Xavier respectively. Indeed one might not have as much screen time as the other, for reasons I shan’t spoil here, but both men do a wonderful job of not just reprising their respective roles for this installment, but also in adding new shades and depth to their characters as well. A depth I also feel is also wonderfully applied to the character of Storm in this as well who is given quite a bit more to do in this one than in the previous 2 installments and Halle Berry does terrific in the role. Out of the numerous, perhaps quite a few too many for one movie to handle, newcomers in this installment though there is one that I am fond of more than the rest and that is Kelsey Grammer as Hank McCoy/Beast. Indeed I must confess that initially the idea of Dr. Frasier Crane playing this iconic Marvel superhero did seem to be one that I had mixed emotions about. However Grammer does a phenomenal job not only in looking like a comic book-accurate take on the character, but also in regards to who the character is as an individual (albeit one that has a shedding problem) as well be it the diplomat who tries to utilize a pragmatic approach to a given problem or the one who has no issues suiting up and delivering a serious beat down. Suffice it to say that my only problem with Grammer as Beast has nothing to do with his performance, but rather that he is not in the whole movie. Indeed it is that good of a performance.

All in all if you make the choice to view this completely on its own, and in the process conveniently ignore that X-Men and X2: X-Men United are in existence, then I think you will come to the conclusion that I did which is that X-Men: The Last Stand is a good, but not great or even remotely iconic for that matter entry in the land of superhero movie magic. As a movie though that was meant to wrap up the first trilogy of films in the X-Men franchise on the other hand this is a slice of cinematic pie that is decent on a good day and exasperating on a bad day or Monday (since as we all know those are 2 seemingly separate entities that are really one and the same). Jokes aside however, the creative sorcery behind both X-Men and X2: X-Men United which was highly accentuated by potent pathos, riveting thematic material to really think about and consider even after the movies had come to a close, to say nothing of wonderful performances from a game cast including Hugh Jackman and Sir’s Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart all contribute immensely in making these a pair of movies that are truly iconic and integral in the history of superheroes in cinema is absolutely not even close to being found anywhere in the immediate vicinity of this particular slice of cinematic pie. Instead what we have been given here is a run of the mill slice of cinematic pie that manages to go through and check all of the necessary boxes, but doesn’t exactly feel that it needs to do this with much in the way of passion, joy, enthusiasm, or all of the above for that matter. Thus X-Men: The Last Stand is a decent popcorn film that does have some well-done action beats, some truly terrific-looking set designs and locales, fairly well-construed work by the special effects department, and pretty much every single main character, with the exception of one from the second film for reasons not explained here, but rather in the mehhh X-Men: The Video Game from 2006, in the first 2 movies has decided to come back for another go-around in this particular superhero themed sandbox. It’s just that no matter how hard this movie tries (or in some cases doesn’t try) it’s just not nearly on the same level as the first 2 movies from 2000 and 2003 respectively. Make of that therefore what you will dear reader. On a scale of 1-5 I give X-Men: The Last Stand a solid 3 out of 5.