First off, no; X-Men: The Last Stand is not as bad as everyone says it is.
The third installment in the X-Men movie franchise, released ten years ago today, is widely considered one of the (if not THE) worst of the core movies (excluding the Wolverine movies, for good reason). Meant to be the epic final chapter of the franchise, the film received mixed reviews from critics and left a sour taste in the mouths of fans awaiting a grand spectacle from Marvel’s mutant family. With the impending release of another X-Men movie receiving mixed reviews (X-Men: Apocalypse, out tomorrow), it’s all the more appropriate to review the first speedbump in the franchise canon and whether or not it truly deserves all the hate from fanboys.
For those new to Marvel’s mutant family, a plot recap: The U.S. government has developed a “cure” for mutation in humans and naturally, the public is divided. Some think the mutant cure is the greatest medical miracle of all time, especially those mutants who have been shunned from society for their powers. Others think it’s a damnation of mutant kind and want to riot against those trying to “cure” them. In response, Magneto (Ian McKellen) uses it as a final rallying cry for the war against humans while Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) is trying to keep his fellow mutants calm in the chaos. His team of X-Men isn’t doing too well, still dealing with the death of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). However, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Storm (Halle Berry) find Jean alive but unconscious at the bottom of the evaporated Alkali Lake. It turns out that she has an ultra-powerful alter ego called The Phoenix that may be ready to take over Jean and the world as well.
Why is X-Men: The Last Stand hated by so many? Most of the blame is pointed at the director’s chair. Bryan Singer, who helmed the first two movies, jumped ship to make Superman Returns and Fox ended up bringing in Brett Ratner (Rush Hour, Red Dragon). Ratner isn’t known for his style considering his movies show little to none of it whatsoever, but Ratner seemed to know the stakes of X3. He shot the movie with a dour atmosphere emphasizing the dread of the movie’s plot. He also knows when to stage drama, as evidence by the death of Professor Xavier, Magneto’s moving of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Alcatraz fight scene for the climax. Sure Singer’s touch of character drama and Cronenberg-esque body horror for the mutant powers is missed, but Ratner clearly took the gravity of the movie’s events seriously. The main error seems to be that these big events were supposed to be bigger and didn’t have the emotional weight they should’ve had. While true, that doesn’t mean those scenes fall flat.
There’s a lot more to like about X3, mainly the new additions to the cast. Kelsey Grammer may be the standout of the new crop as Hank McCoy/Beast. He shows one of the best struggles in the mutant cure debate of the story: a mutant trying to support something against his species. Grammer shows the internal struggle McCoy is dealing with: whether or not to be loyal to the kind that identified him or the kind that embraced him. A similar story goes with Warren Worthington III/Angel (Ben Foster), whose father manufactured and mass-produced the cure. Ashamed of his gorgeous wings, Angel ends up being one of the first to have the cure tested on him at the wishes of his own father. He may only get one real big scene in the movie, but it remains effective. For those looking for pure schlock value, say hello to Vinnie Jones. Well, I’ll let him introduce himself.
Of course, there’s the current cast. Jackman seems much more comfortable letting Wolverine become emotionally vulnerable this time around. He would improve on it later, but X3 is a nice starting point to it. Stewart and McKellen are fantastic as always, especially in the confrontation with Phoenix when the two collide with their intentions for Jean. It’s clear these two are good friends who can easily read each other’s cues and balance one another in scenes. There is a weak link and unfortunately it’s a main one in the chain. After the death of Xavier, Janssen is given nothing to do until the climax where CGI-infused black eyes make her seem imposing. In between, she just stares blankly in the distance without showing any confliction to her actions or any malice in her intent. It’s a real tragedy considering the great comic storyline the movie is based off of.
Is X-Men: The Last Stand the great epic trilogy climax Fox and Ratner wanted it to be? Hell no, but it’s certainly not the great disaster everyone says it was (that came later). The worst thing to be said about X3 is that it was disappointing, a fine movie that should’ve been a great one. The main complaint for people about the X-Men movies is that they all feel the same with very little deviation to the formula. For those who like the movies for the reason why they’re so likable (i.e. the characters), there’s still that element in X3. Ratner seemed to understand the big moments though not what should make them feel extra special. These were characters that audiences had followed for six years and wanted to see an emotional crescendo to this journey. What they got was a studio mandated summer popcorn movie, not that that’s a bad thing and certainly not a bad movie. Perhaps X3 is one of the early example of comic fanboy overhype and studios playing it safe with comic book movies, which doesn’t end well. Let’s see how it turns out when another world ending villain challenges the X-Men.