X-Men The Last Stand (2006)

Director: Brett Ratner

Starring Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, Kelsey Grammer, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn, Shawn Ashmore, Aaron Stanford, Vinnie Jones, Ellen Page, Ben Foster

Movie trailers are deceptive little buggers. Among the greatest films of all-time there are those which have, as part of their advertising arsenal, some of the most terrible trailers. Trying not to fall asleep during the interminable trailer for “Casablanca” is nearly impossible, yet that movie is one of the greatest love stories ever told. Then, you have trailers like the one for “X-Men: The Last Stand”…

Based solely on those two minutes and thirty seconds, this looked like a sequel worthy of bearing the “X-Men” name, and potentially a fantastic closing chapter (as if they really were going to stop after just three movies). So… What the hell happened?! The writer(s) for this film had the most popular storyline in the history of the X-Men comic handed to them on a silver platter, courtesy of a setup provided by “X2.” As originally told in 1980, it’s a pretty basic premise, with Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) having made a gesture of self-sacrifice so that her friends might live on to fight another day, only to herself be reborn as the entity known as the Phoenix. She then becomes drunk on power, a threat to all life everywhere. Like Superman, the Phoenix could destroy the universe just by listening too hard. The only thing keeping her grounded is Jean’s personal relationships with Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Cyclops (James Marsden) and Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart). In one “What If?” scenario published separate from the original “Dark Phoenix Saga,” the Phoenix kills Jean’s friends, saving Cyclops for last. Upon realizing she has killed the love of her life, the distraught Jean reacts by destroying the Earth. She cannot face living in a world without him in it. I don’t know who among the production crew is responsible for the garbled mess that is “X-Men: The Last Stand,” but I don’t feel at all smug when I say I understand these characters far better than they do. I’ll wager that most anyone else who counts themselves as an “X-Men” fan could say the same.

As “X-Men: The Last Stand” begins, I see that the movie is wasting no time whatsoever in botching this whole thing completely. In a flashback to when Xavier and Magneto (Ian McKellen) were still working side by side and actively seeking out other mutants together, they visit the home of Jean Grey’s parents. Jean is described as a Class 5 mutant, meaning that she’s an exceptionally gifted and powerful mutant. We also have the introduction of Warren Worthington, III, aka “Angel” (Ben Foster), referred to as such because of his angelic wings which give him the power of flight. This is all before the opening credits and, while Warren’s father figures prominently in this movie, if you think that Angel himself has any major contributions to make, you’d be sorely mistaken.

It’s Warren Jr. who has the important role to play. His own fear of mutants, and guilt in fathering one, has led Warren Worthington, Jr. to devise a method by which the mutant gene can be “cured” like a disease. From its beginnings, “X-Men” has always been a reflection of the persecution of those whom the uneducated perceive as “different.” Only the names have changed. In the 1960’s, it was the Civil Rights Movement of the African-American community, and the resistance to the end of segregation, which the comic was addressing. Nowadays, the metaphor could extend to the LGBT community’s fight for the right to be counted as equals, their struggle to be who they are and love whom they choose without constant scrutiny. From that perspective, the “Cure” storyline… an invention of the early 2000’s… could be seen as being like “praying the gay away.” That might have made for a good enough movie all by itself. So why the need to squeeze that story together with one which isn’t even remotely compatible?

Now, get this: Cyclops was the leader of the team all along. It wasn’t Jean Grey, Storm or, as one might have suspected, Wolverine. Still grieving, the X-Men’s captain returns to the site of Jean’s death at Alkali Lake, only to find her very much alive. His joy is short-lived, however, because Jean KILLS HIM. You know, that one act that would cause her so much emotional turmoil that she burns the world to a cinder? In “X-Men: The Last Stand,” Jean directs her anguish toward only a handful of fragile items in a single room. Oh, wait, it gets better. Xavier tells Wolverine that, when he first met Jean, upon witnessing how unpredictable her abilities were, he has from then on been placing mental blocks in her head to keep those powers in check. Doing so, he says, created a dual personality. Yes, folks, the Phoenix in this movie is no supernatural or alien entity. That stuff in “X2” about her powers becoming enhanced/out of control? This movie wants you to forget all that. Turns out it was just the breaking down of Xavier’s mental blocks. How exactly was the Professor, as powerful a mutant as he is, supposed to have been maintaining these walls while asleep, otherwise rendered unconscious, or (as in “X2”) under the influence of a mind-controlling mutant, hmm?

While the Phoenix’s story largely ends up taking a backseat to the “Mutant Cure,” both lead to a big showdown at Alcatraz Island. It’s there that Magneto intends to wage his war, choosing that site because that’s where the mutant known as Leech, a kid who renders all mutants powerless as long as they remain within close proximity to him, is being kept. He’s the lab rat that the U.S. Government is using to produce their Mutant Gene suppressant. It’s quite a knockdown, drag out fight, but I can’t help noticing that most of the participants on Magneto’s side are unfamiliar figures who were given quite a lot of screen time during the course of the film. Don’t even bother wondering who any of these people are. The movie is never going to tell you. It doesn’t matter anyway, because they’ll all be dead by the end of the battle.

It would seem fruitless at this point to make any observations about the acting in this film, having pretty much beaten to death the poor quality of the story itself, but I’ll go for it. The one bright spot comes from Ian McKellen, who has never been more Magneto-like. There is good in Erik Lensherr, but it is overwhelmed by his hatred. He who experienced the cruelty of the Nazis, Magneto does not see that his own superiority complex when it comes to Mutants vs. Humans is no better than that of the Third Reich. His undying respect for Charles Xavier, despite their opposing views, is his one saving grace. “X-Men: The Last Stand” was the first place I ever saw actress Ellen Page. Mostly known for quirky roles in independent films, she’s more subdued as Kitty Pryde. Sadly, many of those who made the first two “X-Men” films so enjoyable are not allowed to contribute much at all this time. Anna Paquin, Rebecca Romijn, and Patrick Stewart are all sorely needed at key points late in the film, but circumstances dictate that they be absent. Famke Janssen, who impressed me in “X2,” is criminally misused in “X-Men: The Last Stand.” Jean was better off dying at the bottom of Alkali Lake. That’s where all copies of this movie should be, too.

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