A disappointing conclusion
By Lady Liberty
X-Men: The Last Stand
* 1/2 out of ****
Having seen both X-Men and X-Men 2: X-Men United — and liking them both — it was pretty much a no-brainer that I'd stand in line to see the third of the X-Men films. Was it worth the wait? Well, I suppose that depends on why you were standing in line in the first place.
The first film introduced those of us who aren't comic fans to the X-Men characters; the second took the adversarial relationships established in the first film and forced their interaction against the enemy that threatened them both. In the third, we find that the enmity between the two primary groups of mutants is simmering still, but that there's yet another threat to them both.
Dr. Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) still runs his euphemistically named "School for the Gifted." Some of the older mutants help him by teaching the younger. Among the best and most gifted of the teachers are Ororo Monroe (known as Storm, played by Halle Berry) and the volatile Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). Scott Summers (Cyclops, played by James Marsden) was once a competent teacher himself. But the death of his love, Dr. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) in the battles depicted in the second film has devastated him.
Neither Xavier nor Summers are able to get Grey off of their minds. Thinking his grief has him hearing her voice in his head, Summers runs off to Lake Alkali where Grey died. Xavier, however, fears there's more to Summers' actions than mere grief, and he sends Storm and Wolverine to check things out. By then, Summers has already discovered that Grey has somehow survived, and his joy is such that he doesn't stop to wonder how it is she lives, nor does he take notice of the fact that the woman he finds on the lake shore has changed.
Meanwhile, pharmaceutical magnate Warren Worthington, II (Michael Murphy) has discovered a "cure" for mutancy. His inspiration for the discovery is his own mutant son, Warren Worthington, III (called Angel, and played by Ben Foster). The President of the United States (Josef Summer) advises that the "cure" is available on a voluntary basis for any who want it, and he enlists the aid of his Mutant Affairs Secretary, Dr. Hank McCoy (the Beast, played by Kelsey Grammer) to interact with the mutant community.
At the same time, Xavier and his old friend turned enemy Eric Lensherr (better known as the evil Magneto, played by Ian McKellen) both try to talk to the resurrected Grey. Xavier wants to help her deal with her trauma, but Magneto wants to enlist her aid against those he believes would threaten all mutants. Grey, however, isn't inclined to listen to anyone or anything but the newly unleashed emotions in her head.
No matter what Dr. McCoy says, there are more than a few mutants who believe the "cure" won't be voluntary for long. Among them is Magneto's longtime associate, Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) and a mutant we've not seen onscreen before, Juggernaut (Vinnie Jones). Their treatment at the hands of government authorities can only make others wonder just how legitimate the offer of a "cure" may be, and how voluntary any application will prove.And even if the "cure" is voluntary, many more resent the idea that mutancy is anything that requires a cure in the first place.
Once again, we need to remember that this is a comic book brought to the big screen. It's not cerebral drama, nor is it witty comedy. It's pure action entertainment, nothing more and nothing less. In this case, though, I'm leaning toward the "less" more than I am toward "entertainment." Oh, the acting is fine, particularly on the parts of Hugh Jackman and Ian McKellen. And the special effects are, as is to be expected, very, very good. It is, instead, the direction and the script that are lacking.
Bryan Singer, who directed the first two X-Men films so ably, chose instead to helm the upcoming Superman Returns. Bret Ratner was tapped to direct The Last Stand in his place. Ratner, whose credits include Red Dragon — a film that didn't do particularly well, but which I thought was brilliantly put together — was simply not up to the job. There was no particularly creative camera work which, in the company of very big effects, can be forgiven. What can't be let slide, however, are some slow and overtly obvious edits. Edits ought to add to the excitement and suspense; these were so badly managed they actually took significantly away from it.
Whoever wrote the script (where are the credits?) also made some very real mistakes. By packing so many new mutants into a single film, nobody got much screen time and as such character development suffered horribly. In the previous X-Men films, we enjoyed them in part because we empathized with or envied them. In this movie, we're very much on the sidelines and trying desperately to keep up with a story that hops everywhere because it seems incapable of settling anywhere. In fairness to Ratner, I'm not sure Singer could have managed this mess much better.
If you're looking for a lot of special effects, and to incidentally revisit — briefly — some of your favorite X-Men characters, X-Men: The Last Stand won't be a waste of your time and money. But if you think this film will in any way live up to the first two, well, think again. For the record: I thought it was okay, but that's largely because I really, really like good special effects.
POLITICAL NOTES: Perhaps the one thing of real interest here is the development of a "cure" for those who aren't like most. The implications here are strong if you care to look for them at all. For example, if a "cure" for homosexuality is developed, should it be offered? Would parents give it to infants or fetuses in utero? Would adults consider it? And since homosexuality is obviously a part of who any homosexual adult is, would it be ethical to even suggest such a thing let alone strongly encourage it?
While the rejection of a child by its own parents is poignant and painful within the movie — and should certainly give pause to those real world parents inclined to disown children who don't match up to their own notions of what is or is not acceptable — there's more than family dynamics at stake here. It's the very notion that something not "average" or "normal" might need to be "cured." What's next? Skin color?
FAMILY SUITABILITY: X-Men: The Last Stand is rated PG-13 for "intense sequences of action violence, some sexual content, and language." I can't see that there's anything in the movie that the average 12 or 13 year-old hasn't seen before, and more than once. The three 14 year-old girls I happened to be with (don't ask) all liked it, and they liked it a lot (all three also made it a point to tell me that they'd not seen the first two, but had no problem following the storyline in this one). Meanwhile, a friend's 18 year-old son informed me that he thought the movie was "retarded." Some reviewers have suggested that X-Men: The Last Stand is aimed at the average 15 year-old. I'm having a difficult time arguing against that.
Lady Liberty, a senior writer for ESR, is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at firstname.lastname@example.org.