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Friday, May 26, 2006

Fun and frustration from X-MEN: THE LAST STAND

"Doh you know oo I am?! Ah'm da Jugga-nawt, bitch!"

-- Juggernaut, X-Men: The Last Stand

This is the line that forevermore wiped out any personal sense of being wildly satisfied with X-Men: The Last Stand.

Don't get me wrong though: I had a lot of fun watching this final chapter in the X-Men film series. I was also frustrated beyond belief at the all too numerous problems in this movie.

It's NOT the train wreck that a lot of us had been expecting after hearing reports for the past year or so on how bad things were going during production. Based on some of those, it had sounded like a stinker on par with Batman and Robin. Thankfully, it's not that bad (and I doubt anything again ever will be as loathsome as that piece of dreck from Joel Schumacher).

No, X-Men: The Last Stand is more like being told you've got a beautiful baby on the way... and then being forced to stand and watch as that baby gets aborted against all moral soundness and sanity. That's what X-Men: The Last Stand is most to me, after seeing it at 12:01 AM this morning: an act of cinematic vacuum aspiration sucking out any and all hope of a future for this series.

The biggest thing I have against this movie is that Fox has stated that this will be the last X-Men movie. And they go all-out here to make darned sure you understand without any doubt that they mean it. From killing off several major characters (and not even giving a few the benefit of a meaningful onscreen death) to setting things up at the end so that the whole mutant crisis that's driven these movies since 2000's X-Men is made thoroughly kaput... I've never before seen a major studio fall over backwards to give euthanasia to a successful string of movies, until X-Men: The Last Stand.

There is absolutely no reason at all why the X-Men series could not go on for another two or three installments, or even six or seven more movies… if that few. This could have been Fox's own franchise like the Harry Potter movies, or more accurately the James Bond series. There's more than enough material from the comics and raw potential per its own merit to drive the X-Men movies to last for decades. Oh sure, there'd have to be recasting every once in awhile, like when Ian McKellan decides he no longer wants to do the Magneto thing, but think of the rat race there would be in the entertainment industry to be that next actor who plays Magneto. Or more wildly yet: Wolverine. Who says that has to be Hugh Jackman (who has done an amazing job bringing Logan to life) who plays everyone's favorite Canadian wildman? James Bond has gone on now with five or six actors playing the role... so why can't the same be done with several characters in one franchise? It would keep the whole shebang a lot more fresh and fun, without necessarily going stagnant in the way Paramount’s Star Trek series did. It's... insanely stupid to be stopping a series with such brilliant potential.

But anyway, about the movie...

The story starts with a flashback to 20 years earlier, a time when Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellan) are friends and co-workers. We see them approaching the home of the adolescent Jean Grey, to offer her a place in Xavier's school. Look for the amazing effort that was made to make Stewart and McKellan look 20 years younger, if not more. Also look for the obligatory cameo appearance by Stan Lee (that guy shows up at every Marvel party). Pretty solid opening, the movie's going good so far...

Flash forward to ten years afterward, to the office of industrialist Warren Worthington, who walks into the restroom at his office to find his son clipping the feathered wings that have grown from his own back.

Flash forward again to "a few years from now", a point some time not long after X2: X-Men United (one of the few sequels that managed to be better than the original). Xavier's Institute is still in pain after losing Jean Grey. Logan is filling in as a "substitute teacher" and when we first see him, he's leading some students through an exercise in something that longtime fans of the comics have been wanting to see ever since this movie series started: the Danger Room. Meanwhile in Washington D.C. word has reached the office of the President that a "cure" for mutations has been found.

It's a very promising first twenty minutes or so. And then things just... start feeling rushed. Tacked-on. Devil-may-care. Instead of one cohesive X-Men movie it feels like bits and pieces of several stories are slapped into place one after another with no sense of plot or pacing or emotional attachment or build-up to something that pays off in the end.

James Marsden's Cyclops is the worst offense. This morning it's barely registering with me that he was even in this movie at all. I think Cyclops probably has less than five minutes of total screen-time in X-Men: The Last Stand, most of that is feeling guilty and angst-ridden about what happened to Jean. The rest is the most clumsy way of getting rid of a character in a movie that I can think of from recent memory.

Though for some reason, as a counter, I feel compelled to praise Kelsey Grammer's portrayal of Henry "Hank" McCoy, better known as that lovable blue furball Beast. Grammer's McCoy was my favorite new addition to the X-Men series: he’s exactly like the comic book original, right down to saying "by my stars and garters" at one point. Grammer had fun with this role, you can tell. You've no problem believing in Beast whether he's in a three-piece suit advising the President of the United States, or swinging in action during the scene's final battle at Alcatraz Island. Of all the good that was in this movie (and there was some), Kelsey Grammer as Beast is the big standout.

Then the pendulum swings wildly toward the other way again when I think of Juggernaut and that horrible "Don't you know who I am...?!" line. For some reason (I think it has to do with a video that's floating around on the Internet) this line garnered the biggest applause from the crowd at where we saw X-Men: The Last Stand. I didn't find it particularly funny or fitting with Juggernaut's character though (and I've already ranted in this space about some of my other issues with the movie's take on Juggernaut). To his credit, Vinnie Jones brings all the right attitude to the onscreen incarnation of Cain Marko. The problem is that one line... and the fact that he's about four times smaller in the movie than Juggernaut really should be. If they'd poured a few million more into CGI enhancing his build, I bet Jones would have made a much more impressive – and scary – Juggs. And he wouldn't need that stupid one-liner that's now probably going to join other legendary American pop-culture quotes like "Eat my shorts!" and "I've fallen and I can't get up!"

Charles Xavier's death... was ridiculous. I didn't feel this at all, at least not how it was probably intended that I be touched by his loss. I don't know what else to say about this before descending into a diatribe against everything that was so wrong about killing him and how the deed was done.

Logan fighting a Sentinel? Cool! Now, why can't they show us more of the Sentinel other than just the head? Come to think of it, why couldn't this entire movie have been about Sentinels hunting down mutants, instead of it being relegated to a mere exercise in the Danger Room? Again, another element wasted that otherwise could have been terrific.

I didn't care at all about Callisto (Dania Ramirez) and the other "punk/gotchic" mutants that follow Magneto. The only one that really seemed cool to me was the one throwing those "bone knives" at Logan during one scene later on in the movie. On a similar note, I didn't feel anything resonate with the Angel (Ben Foster)

X-Men: The Last Stand's director Brett Ratner has taken a lot of flack for this movie, and during the year-long or so run up to its release. I didn't really see anything wrong here to pin on Ratner as a director, just going by what I understand of the situation. Based on everything I've heard, he was just asked to drive the thing toward whatever destination the Fox execs told him to. Indeed, you can see the heavy-handed mangling done by the suits all over this movie. It's like "blockbuster by committee". In some ways it makes X-Men: The Last Stand a harder thing to watch than Alien 3: a movie that had something like forty writers before it ended up on the screen.

This is like what happened to Star Trek V, but far more unforgivably so. Paramount slashed the funding on that movie but they weren't crazy enough to kill off a proven cash cow. X-Men: The Last Stand could have benefited from longer production time, a better script, a longer running time and maybe a bigger budget... everything needed to give this series a half-decent sendoff if this really is what it retires on. It got none of that. It's like Fox couldn’t decide if they wanted a tent-pole summer blockbuster or a tent stake through the heart.

And now on the morning after... I feel like I watched a movie with a lot of interesting visuals and a few interesting performances, and enjoyed watching what good there was... but ultimately it went nowhere.

I'm sorry, but Fox really, shoulda, oughtta have done better with X-Men: The Last Stand. I can't say enough that there are some fun moments and bits of eye candy in this movie... but in the end, they really can't redeem this film as being a worthy addition to the series, much less a fitting capstone to it all.

One word of warning: stay for the credits. There's one final scene that's well worth waiting a few extra minutes to see.


qemuel said...

Y'know it's funny, several of us have written what is basically the same review:

Brett Ratner probably could've made a pretty decent movie given more time and resources, and had he been allowed to make the movie a good thirty minutes longer.

Tsk, tsk, FOX. Much like Galactus, you are the ravager of worlds.

qemuel said...

Oh yeah--I think your comparison to ALIENS 3 is much more accurate than all of the ones to ROTJ. Kudos!

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Jenna St.Hilaire said...

I finally got to read your review tonight! having saved it till I'd seen the movie myself. You know much more about the behind-the-scenes work than I do, so it's great information. Too bad they didn't give a good director more freedom.