Copyright © 2006 by 20th Century Fox
After the events from X2, the humans and mutants are seemingly living peacefully together. But wary of possible threats on mutant kind, both the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Mutants continue to fortify themselves should such a day occur. Things are set in motion when Worthington Labs, a pharmaceutical company has successfully developed an inoculation to suppress the X-gene that gives mutants their abilities and is offering a ‘cure’ to all mutants who wants it. Magneto (Ian McKellen) and his Brotherhood are convinced that all mutants will be forced to accept the cure and manage to persuade many in joining his fight against it. Matters are further complicated when Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) is resurrected as the Phoenix, a Class 5 mutant who possesses potentially limitless telepathic and telekinetic powers and her loyalty lies with Magneto instead. To prevent the battle from escalating to a full fledge war with the humans, the X-Men will once again need to make their stand for peaceful co-existence led by Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Storm (Halle Berry) against the Brotherhood’s more radical approach.
After two highly enjoyable and emotional outings with our favourite mutants, expectations will indeed be high for its next saga. Third time should still be a charm considering how X2 ended with so many possibilities that Last Stand can head. Loosely basing on two comic book story arcs ‘The Dark Phoenix Saga’ and ‘Gifted’, the emotional gravitas that you can get out of it is abundant. Unfortunately, it felt hollow and slightly manufactured. The characters are there just to move the plot along and do not impact any lasting impressions as compared to earlier installments. The decisions made by some major characters feels calculated and killing them off halfway through to muster some shock value only screams desperate and unnecessary.
As many have put the blame solely on Brett Ratner for this outcome, things began falling apart right after Bryan Singer, director of the first two movies left the project to direct Superman Returns instead (another well-made albeit underrated treatment of The Man of Steel). The story was to focus on Jean’s transformation and how she is manipulated by Emma Frost to gain control of her powers. While the finished movie still retains Jean being misguided by Magneto, the entire script had to be rewritten from scratch. Though Matthew Vaughn (Singer’s first replacement) would have surely retained the emotional depth and skewed towards heavier characterisation as will be seen in the next chapter of the X-Men saga that he undertakes, it was still a commendable feat that Ratner was able to get the job done in order to meet its release year in 2006. Vaughn withdrew even before filming began due to family issues and was cautious about the rushed production.
It is a culmination of many unfortunate circumstances that leads to this misstep and Ratner should be spared from all the loathe he has been receiving since the movie’s release. Granted that I would have preferred to see more of James Marsden’s Cyclops (again!) on screen or the motivations behind Pyro’s (Aaron Stanford) decision to join the Brotherhood, there are still many great moments that Ratner did bring to the table. Known for his flair in directing stylised action sequences as was evident in his Rush Hour series, the X-Men’s powers once again take centre stage to contribute to three very exhilarating and dramatic scenes. It starts off with Jean’s family house getting an unplanned make-over, followed by the restructuring of the Golden Gate Bridge to provide access to Alcatraz Island which leads to the climatic battle among the humans, the X-Men, the Brotherhood, the Omegas (a group consisting of mutant outcasts) and Jean.
While character development for the main and new characters are light, the introduction of a cure to the mutants’ abilities reflect how being in the minority who are different will usually need to adhere to conditions that are perceived as normal or acceptable, providing the political angle that permeated in its predecessors. To maintain its serious tone throughout, John Powell, the composer for this film scored a splendid soundtrack infusing the orchestra with lyrics from Benjamin Britten’s Requiem Mass to create a heightened sense of intensity in each rousing scene. As the focal point to the entire plot, Famke Janssen gets to shine and reminded us why she was one of the best things to happen in GoldenEye. Although the explanation as to how she unleashed the Phoenix is left to be desired, her portrayal as the conflicted and ‘darker’ Jean deserves recognition for elevating the overall mediocrity of the film’s storytelling.
Despite the flaws and some unanswered questions raised, it is still recommended for all X-Men fans and casual moviegoers alike to see and be entertained with state-of-the-art effects, stylised action, great acting and a thought provoking story with subtle political undertones. For all the ongoing internal issues that plagued this project, it deserves a lot more love than what it is getting now. It may be the last stand for some of the mutants here but the journey is ubiquitously far from being the last.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence, some sexual content and language