Bryan Singer’s X2 was the bee’s knees, the cat’s pajamas and, yes, even the lobster’s dinner shirt of comic-book movies. But it was ludicrous to think that a third entry helmed by Brett Ratner — known for the Rush Hour franchise, and as a Hollywood party boy and an egotist without a cause — would be anywhere near that caliber. Who knew it would be an unintentionally funny camp-fest?
Considering that Ratner apparently thinks Chris Tucker is actually funny, it’s equally possible that he didn’t realize that the screenplay by Simon Kinberg (xXx: State of the Union) and Zak Penn (Elektra) was overflowing with howlingly bad cliches, transparent exposition and plot holes large enough to contain the entire continent of Africa — with room left over for Ratner’s judgment and an artichoke.
The unfortunate thing is that there’s a solid and intriguing premise at the core of X-Men: The Last Stand — or as it might more honestly be called X-Men: The Last Stand Until the Contract Renegotiations. The concept of the discovery of a “cure” for the mutants — a “cure” by which they can shed their “abnormal” qualities and powers, and assimilate with society at large — is a heady one that could have resulted in an explosively pertinent film in the hands of Bryan Singer.
But Singer is openly gay. It was in his X2 that the gay subtext found its most persuasive expression with the stunningly on-target “coming-out” scene between a son and his parents. Ratner is clearly not gay (he doesn’t seem all that fond of women either), and just as clearly unsuited to and uncomfortable with the material. So while the movie addresses idea of the “cure” and the moral/ethical dilemma it poses — would you trade the things that make you who you are in order to fit in? — the theme is neither developed, nor approached with even the slightest understanding.
If anything, Ratner’s film undermines the idea by presenting those who oppose the “cure” as terrorists, incorporating imagery that recalls everything from bombing abortion clinics to wanton destruction of national monuments and wholesale murder. The results are at the very least peculiar.
Magneto (Ian McKellen) is, of course, the villain of the piece because that’s his function as the militant pro-mutant activist in relation to Prof. Xavier’s more middle-of-the-road pro-mutant approach. As usual, Magneto is allowed to make some very reasonable points, but the film is more concerned with his function as a plot device to get on with the effects set-pieces. This ends up making Magneto spend most of his time wearing a ridiculous looking helmet and fomenting a war between the mutants and the Homo sapiens. His perfidy is never in question, but no concerns are raised about the morality of arming soldiers with weapons that fire syringes containing the “cure.”
That’s hardly surprising in the context of a movie that turns out to be little more than bad comic-book dialogue and special effects — not to mention introducing so many characters that almost no one gets enough screen time to make an impact. The character of Cyclops (James Marsden) is killed off quickly — presumably so the actor could join Bryan Singer on the set of Superman Returns.
A new character, Warren Worthington III/Angel (Ben Foster, The Punisher) is brought in as the major driving force of the story — his mutant nature serves as the reason that his father, Warren Worthington II (Michael Murphy,Silver City), is so hot to find the “cure.” Of course, in the slapdash world of the film, this means that both characters will disappear for reels on end, while Ratner blows things up, recreates a mutant version of the King Kong-goes-ice-skating scene from King Kong, and honors Halle Berry’s contractual demands for more screen time. Oh, they’ll reappear in the climax for a father-son reconciliation that has no pay-off.
Then there’s Leech — the little mutant boy with the power to de-mutant-ize other mutants. Leech is played by perennially-endangered boy specialist Cameron Bright. Bright’s already been imperiled this year in Running Scared and Ultraviolet, thereby proving that this kid just can’t get a break. To add insult to injury, this round he sports a shaved head, making it look like he’s destined to grow up to be Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor in Singer’s upcoming Superman Returns. And, yes, once established, he disappears till the big climactic battle at Alcatraz — at which time his powers could have come in right handy to prevent the film’s comic book notions of grand opera tragedy from coming to fruition — but, of course, this doesn’t happen.
Other characters pop-up for no very good reason. Few of them make much impression in the midst of all the noisy attempts at spectacle. Kelsey Grammer’s somewhat Uncle Tom-ish Dr. Hank McCoy/Beast comes off best (when was the last time someone got to swear by saying, “Oh, my stars and garters”?) and gets the most screen time. The less said about Ellen Page’s (Hard Candy) role as Kitty Pryde, the better, though it’s nice to see that the Corey Haim school of mouth-breather acting is alive and well.
McKellen is fun as always, Stewart is amusing in his forced pomposity, Hugh Jackman is stalwart, etc., but it adds up to nothing but the degradation of a once extraordinary series into just another cash-cow franchise. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence, some sexual content and language.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke