Released in 2006, X-Men: The Last Stand was the third movie of Marvel’s mutants which made $459,359,555 worldwide establishing new box office records at the time including the Memorial Day weekend opening and a single-day record for Friday openings. It was also the highest grossing X-Men movie until X-Men: Days of Future Past exceeded it in 2014.
While the first two flicks were directed by Bryan Singer (who literally abandoned this movie in favor of the big letdown Superman: Returns), this one was done by Brett Ratner who is best known for Rush Hour films. For the superhero concept of the film, Ratner clearly depended on the script by Simon Kinberg (who directed X-Men: Dark Phoenix) and Zak Pen (X2: X-Men United).
The story begins some time in the past with Charles Xavier and Magneto visiting the house of a little girl named Jean Grey whose power of telepathy and telekinesis make her dangerous. Her own father thinks she has an illness. In another scene, a young boy desperately tries shaving off something on his back which turned out to be a mutation. To put it short, the prologue establishes the two concepts this movie tried to emphasize – the Dark Phoenix (from the classic comic book storyline by Chris Claremont and John Byrne) and the Mutant Cure (in reference to one particular episode of the 1990s X-Men animated series).
The result? A rather unfocused narrative that bogged the movie throughout. In the present day, Charles Xavier and the X-Men are no longer hiding from the federal government (which in turn has Hank McCoy/Beast as part of the US President’s cabinet). A cure that can neutralize the mutant gene has been revealed and eventually Jean Grey suddenly returns back to life in front of Scott Summers/Cyclops. Then trouble in the story (and for this film in particular) sets in.
On storytelling, the lack of focus on a central concept really dragged this movie down even though the filmmakers made attempts to link them together. This is a very unfaithful adaptation of the Dark Phoenix Saga – instead of showing the Phoenix Force as a cosmic entity the filmmakers used the dual-personality concept in Jean Grey. There are no alien civilizations (read: no Lilandra) involved nor anything related to outer space (a key element in the comic book storyline). With regards to the cure concept, Rogue in this film makes a move to be cured loosely following what was shown in the animated series.
Having these two concepts connect to each other showed Magneto getting motivated to rally the mutants to oppose the humans. Jean Grey meanwhile gets controlled by the Phoenix personality and gets very destructive with power which makes her an asset to Magneto and his brotherhood of evil mutants.
As the filmmakers struggled to tell the story, the social relevance and symbolism emphasized in the first two films got weakened. The core concept of mutants getting isolated and discriminated by humanity simply because they are so different became much less relevant here.
As if that was not bad enough, the characterization also changed for the worse. Magneto here became one-dimensional as a villain and the way he reacted to Charles Xavier’s destruction in front of him and Jean Grey reflected bad screen writing. Any true X-Men fan would know that even though he and Xavier were adversaries with a past friendship, Magneto should have been outraged over his old rival’s destruction and strike at Jean Grey (even if it is suicidal for him to fight a more powerful entity, the Phoenix).
For his part, Charles Xavier turned out to be a manipulator of Jean Grey’s mind making him look as evil and manipulative as Magneto. Jean Grey, despite actress Famke Jansen getting more screen time than before, ended up as a visual tool and was clearly NOT the central figure of the story rather she ended up being a tool of power by Magneto. By today’s standards, Jansen’s portrayal of Jean Grey/Dark Phoenix pales in comparison with Sophie Turner’s performance in X-Men: Dark Phoenix.
More on characterization, the triangle between Iceman, Rogue and Kitty Pryde was executed with no real depth and only served to show Anna Paquin’s character search for the means to be normal (because Rogue absorbs the power and life of people she touches) which ended up being not so meaningful for viewing. Young adult Angel’s (one of the original X-Men in the comics) minutes-long presence in the movie only served to showcase special effects. Storm’s prospect of succeeding Xavier as leader of the X-Men and the school was sloppily done. Oh yes, the showing of multiple mutants (in supporting roles, non-speaking roles or as mere background characters) that weakened the narrative of the first two films was even worse here. As a result, there’s quite a lot of fan service in this movie.
Going back to storytelling, I should say that the early demise of Cyclops (played by James Marsden for too little screen time due to his work with Bryan Singer on Superman Returns) and Charles Xavier were attempts by the filmmakers to raise the stakes and even shock viewers. The problem is that the third act of the film became more of an action and CGI bonanza ultimately failing to justify the loss of Cyclops and Xavier. The story ended with not much impact on me as a viewer and the late scenes showing Magneto recovering a little of his power (plus the post-credit scene about Xavier’s survival) were unsatisfactory. By comparison, X-Men: Dark Phoenix concluded with satisfaction.
Performances? The actors did what they could with the weak screenplay. Patrick Stewart played Charles Xavier managing his school but gets burdened heavily as Jean Grey returns with the Phoenix in her (which makes Xavier feeling guilty over his past manipulation of Jean’s mind). Ian McKellen played a one-dimensional Magneto (forget about the reasonable fighter for mutants you saw in the first two films) and really had little room to flesh him out. Clearly this version of Magneto, even though he has a lot of screen time here, is rubbish when compared to the cinematic Magneto in X-Men: Dark Phoenix.
Hugh Jackman as Wolverine is clearly the hero of this movie and was given a lot to do showing a deeply concerned Wolverine as well as showing him with lots of action on-screen. His emotional reaction towards Jean Grey near the end of the movie was believable. Halle Berry meanwhile failed yet again to capture the leader in Storm from the comic books.
Another thing to mention regarding the weak script is the lame attempt at humor in the film. Just look at the exchanges of words between Wolverine and Beast which only made me frown instead of laughing.
Dr. Hank McCoy: Wolverine. I hear you are quite an animal.
Logan: Look who’s talkin’.
Logan: Well, for all we know, the government helped cook this up.
Dr. Hank McCoy: I can assure you, the government had nothing to do with this.
Logan: I’ve heard that before.
Dr. Hank McCoy: My boy, I have been fighting for mutant rights since before you had claws.
Logan: [to the Professor] Did he just call me boy?
If there is anything positive at all with this movie, it is the spectacle (action, stunts and special effects). If you want to watch an X-Men movie without thinking too much and just enjoy the spectacle, The Last Stand is heavily loaded! The scope of destruction (including the major showcase of Magneto’s power with the Golden Gate Bridge) is also great and helped this weak movie look epic (even more epic than the better film X-Men: Dark Phoenix). There is also a big battle of multiple members of Magneto’s brotherhood attacking the soldiers at the Alcatraz facility. Action is where director Brett Ratner is good at and it temporarily helped this film feel fun to watch. The visual design and special effects are of good quality as well.
One last positive thing to mention here is the casting of Kelsey Grammer as Hank McCoy/Beast and his performance was, indeed, superb. I really saw the scientist, the intellect and the fighter of Beast from the comics translated nicely in cinematic form.
A striking shot as a result of Magneto’s power.
By today’s standards of superhero movies, X-Men: The Last Stand unsurprisingly went from big-budget disappointment to what is now an overall bad movie that just happens to have some fun action sequences. As far as adapting the Dark Phoenix Saga from the comics, this film is definitely inferior to X-Men: Dark Phoenix. X-Men: The Stand does look good when compared to the terrible X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
If you are a true fan of the X-Men or if you are moviegoer who wants the best superhero cinematic experience, I won’t recommend watching X-Men: The Last Stand.
But then if you are a moviegoer who cannot do anything except hate and uncontrollably bash the new movie X-Men: Dark Phoenix, then maybe The Last Stand will be your bout of fun.
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