Derek Winnert

X-Men: The Last Stand *** (2006, Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn, Shawn Ashmore) – Classic Movie Review 258


For the 2006 Part III, Brett Ratner takes over the X-Men helm in a hurry from Bryan Singer, who unfortunately left the series to make Superman Returns. Matthew Vaughn stepped in as director with new ideas and new casting – Kelsey Grammer and Vinnie Jones – till he had to drop out for personal family reasons. The studio wanted to rush production and hired Ratner as a director who had succeeded with a speedy turn-round with Rush Hour.


Ratner is an excellent director, as he showed with Red Dragon in 2002. But it’s obvious here that Ratner wants to be a new broom, inheriting the mantle of thr two previous movies and blueprints for this one from the two previous directors. The clean sweep wasn’t really needed. All was well before.


Maybe it’s not Ratner’s fault but the threequel is not quite as awesome as the first two movies. Entertaining and thrilling but not quite special or memorable, it’s a slight bit of a disappointment as a climax to the trilogy.


Ratner wants to movie the series forward. That’s good. But he acts like a new boss of an ailing soap opera, bringing out his hatchet as well as his broom.


The clean sweep is partly about the characters. There’s too much of Storm (Halle Berry, demanding a lot more to), who replaces Cyclops and Dr Xavier as team leader of the X-Men. The promising Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) has disappeared. Jean Grey’s return as a flame-free, whispy Phoenix (Famke Janssen) is a bit of a damp squib. Cyclops (James Marsden) is quickly and unforgivably killed off (after less than five minutes).

Patrick Stewart’s Professor X is too confined to his wheelchair to be all-powerful as supposed. New mutants or actors (Kelsey Grammer’s Beast, Eric Dane’s Multiple Man, Vinnie Jones’s Juggernaut, Ben Foster’s winged Angel) don’t make enough impact. Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) is sidelined and the character of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) has altered, and not for the better.


Somehow, the balance is all wrong. Motivations and allegiances are unclear. There’s a script problem with plot and characters.


It’s a busy, fast-paced movie, cramming several storylines of the Marvel comic into the complicated mix in a short, 104-minute running time. But it’s a slightly stodgy, indigestible mix and the storylines don’t meld smoothly into one story.


It goes like this: from the X-Men comics storyline Gifted, humans find what causes them to mutate and then they find a cure for the mutant gene. Magneto (Ian McKellen) promptly organises his Brotherhood, an army of mutants to wage war on the humans. The rumble between the X-Men and the Brotherhood is the best of the movie’s plotlines.


Meanwhile, from the X-Men comics storyline The Dark Phoenix Saga, Jean Grey rises again as Phoenix (Famke Janssen) to cause quite a bit of trouble, one way and another. And mutants kiss! It’s a big deal when Jackman gets into a liplock with Janssen.


Obviously, it’s all leading up to the final conflict and, when it comes as the Phoenix and Professor X showdown, it is a CGI triumph and one of the exciting sci-fi scenes of the year. Janssen makes a strong impression, convincing as someone with a split personality, and won Best Supporting Actress at the 2007 US Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films. McKellen, Jackman and Grammer are of course rock solid.


Nevertheless, for all its faults, it is a brilliant looking, impeccably crafted movie, with vast excellence behind the scenes. Full credit then to Dante Spinotti’s cinematography (he replaced Philippe Rousellot), the visual effects of John Bruno, Eric Saindon and Craig Lyn, Judianna Makovsky’s costume designs, Kris Evans’s makeup, the film editing and the sound editing and mixing. All this is way over the call of duty.


And all is well on the action front. There are some incredible fights and stunts. Wolverine is thrown through a house window, crashes onto a table and is thrown through walls and the ceiling. In another rumble, two women fight inside a home, tearing through walls and crashing into furniture. Excitement is guaranteed.


Around $35million, a sixth of the film’s total budget ($210million) was spent on the astonishing, spectacular Golden Gate sequence, with Magneto ripping the end of the bridge and moving it towards Alcatraz. They built a full-scale section of the bridge, 100 feet long and CGI-ed the rest of it.


The moral is, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But I don’t want to be too hard on the movie, it’s still hugely enjoyable.

It grossed a safe $235million in the US and £20million in the UK, prompting further sequels: X-Men Origins Wolverine (2009), the X-Men: First Class prequel in 2011, The Wolverine in 2013 and X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014). There’s apparently an insatiable appetite for X-Men and especially Wolverine.


Singer’s version of The Last Stand was based entirely on The Dark Phoenix Saga, with a plot that sounds compelling. Some of this remains in The Last Stand. Vaughn’s casting of Grammer and Jones and some other ideas survived too.

© Derek Winnert 2015 Classic Movie Review 258

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