Since I have been rather absent in my blogging duties recently, I thought I would provide a special feature today (along with my other posts.) I don't go to the movies much anymore, preferring to watch them at home. However I have recently seen X-Men: The Last Stand (twice in fact) and must recommend it.
This movie has had it's fair share of negative reviews, but has also had a hearty amount of positive reviews to go along with its nice box office numbers. I fall into the second camp. I enjoyed it, flaws and all. And there are some flaws that we will take a look at. I must admit that I am a big fan of both of the previous films, and certainly of the comic book they are based on. Though I did not read many comics growing up, X-Men was one of them. I came in after the Phoenix saga and my team usually consisted of Wolverine, Storm, Rogue, Colossus, Nightcrawler and others, but not Jean Grey, Beast or Cyclops to be sure. I was pleased when they focused on Rogue and Wolverine in the first film. I was blown away by the second installment. And I have followed closely the months that followed that film while waiting for this third chapter.
It was a rushed production, and some elements of that can be seen. The script is somewhat flat in places and certain special effects could have been handled better (some of the wire work is almost painfully obvious.) But on the whole, Ratner did a fine job behind the lens and the actors certainly did their work in front of it. There are those that lament the loss of Bryan Singer from this project as he certainly brought something special to these films that seem lacking in other comic book adaptations. However, though I see the difference, I do not mind it. Singer made it a personal story with action thrown on top of that. Ratner has made an action film that at times focuses on the personal stories.
To please many fans, there is a large cast of characters, many of which fans have wanted to see for some time. There is still no Gambit, and unfortunately very little added Colossus (though he does have a larger role here) and sadly, Nightcrawler was not included in this film and Rogue's part was slimmed down considerably. But to stack the deck with so many other characters, it would have been impossible to include back-story on all of them or give them too much attention, else we might have seen a three hour epic. Some would suggest that was what they desired, and I might have been perfectly happy watching such. But I will say that clocking in at just over an hour and a half makes the pacing on this film just about perfect. The editing does not get in the way, but rather makes the film move quickly along presenting the plot and development, all leading to the final showdown billed in the title.
The plot itself revolves around a mutant "cure" developed by the father of a mutant named Warren Worthington, III (otherwise known as Angel to X-Men fans.) Though simply offered at first, Magneto makes sure that the government will begin forcing the issue so that all out war comes to pass - something he has desired and worked towards since the first film. Charles Xavier's X-Men try to stand in his way even though there are some of his students that actually wish to take the "cure" in order to blend in with those normal humans around them, or not be afflicted by their own mutations. It's an interesting question of whether to change oneself or not, and some have complained that it is not looked at deeply enough. Perhaps Singer might have spent more time on that, or another twenty minutes of run time might have allowed for time to explore the issue further. But for me, I found the attention to the question just right. It is addressed, but not so that it overshadows the action and pacing.
There is a sub-plot, or second plot involving what was hinted at in the closing moments of X-Men United - that of Jean Grey's fate, and her resurrection as The Phoenix. The path this film takes to show that story is far different from the original saga from the comic, and rightly so. The universe set up by the first two films would not support the origin story surrounding such a Phoenix. I won't go into it, but you can research it here if you are unfamiliar with it. Instead, there is some slightly confusing explanation given by Xavier as to how it inhabits Jean's body/mind and then we are off as the two sides of Jean struggle against one another and those surrounding her. And it is a highlight of the film. This may be one of the most on target complaints - that to properly address such a character and situation, they should have devoted this film (and perhaps another) to such by itself. I can understand that. But at the same time, I found the way in which it is incorporated to work perfectly and allows for a character that we have learned was good to suddenly join with Magneto and show a much darker side. And allow me to say that the beautiful Famke Jannsen does some wonderful work here as that character.
In fact, the cast does a super job all around. Those we are already familiar with from the previous films are back here (with the odd exception of Alan Cummings as Nightcrawler.) But the added cast make for a more well rounded mutant universe, especially by the twin additions of Kelsey Grammer as The Beast or Dr. Hank McCoy and Ellen Page as the third person to play the role of Kitty Pryde, also known later (but not in this film) as Shadowcat. Both shine in their roles, though there are some moments that the make-up for Beast could have been better. But Grammer is perfect for the role and his later moments are a highlight of the film for me.
There is some question (AND SPOILERS AHEAD SO SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO KNOW AHEAD OF TIME) about the role James Marsden as Cyclops plays in the film. He is only in it a short while at the beginning and is supposedly the first of many destroyed by Jean as The Phoenix. As I was never a large fan of either Cyclops the character or Marsden playing him, it does not bother me in the slightest, and those few moments he does have work extremely well. But I can understand the complaints as Cyclops is/was the leader of the X-Men, especially in Xavier's absence, and would have been the likely person to lead during the final battle. However, when I took on the comic, Storm was the leader, and Berry certainly has a beefier role this time around. Personally, I think she plays it right. Some disagree, but she inhabits the Storm I know as well as it could be done on screen without becoming laughable.
In fact, the only quibble I have with any of the characters is that Wolverine seems tamer in this film. It may very well have been a conscious decision, but if so a poor one. Wolverine is feral and only gets to show that once, in my opinion. Never does he utter "bub" though he does have some humorous moments with Beast and one early on that makes me laugh every time. But he seems too laid back and calm - not near as ferocious as Wolverine should be.
McKellan shines as Magneto - the most evil we have seen him yet. Romijn has few moments but plays them to the hilt as Mystique, including a heartbreaking moment with Magneto. And Stewert has an amazing role this time around. His Xavier is far more complicated than we have yet seen him, and his fight with the Phoenix is memorable to the point of being unforgettable. You will be moved if you care at all about these characters.
The much talked about Vinnie Jones casting as Juggernaut does not come across quite as might be expected, but it seems to work for the limited amount of time he is on screen. And here is another situation in which it would have been difficult to utilize the real back story of this character. In truth, Juggernaut is not a mutant but has powers because of a special crystal (and is also Xavier's step-brother.) I do have one quibble with a line of dialogue he uses, not because it disturbs me but that it seems superfluous though there is a payoff with the response he gets because of it from Kitty. However, I think the script could have cut it without any adverse effects and it seemed jarring.
And on that note there are a few others lines of dialogue that are weak and could have been punched up by another pass. However Beast's seemingly odd line is not to a true fan of his character. You will know it when you hear it. Other than that, however, the film scores a hit. The film score, in fact, is top notch in my opinion rising when it needs to and slightly off kilter at moments when the action on screen demands it. There is a definite theme and it fits this world perfectly. The sound mixing could have been better as could some of the editing cuts, but I would put this perhaps on the theatre I saw it in rather than the actual film. It will be interesting to see the DVD. Some people just don't know how to splice anymore...sigh.
On the whole, this is a great summer action blockbuster. It may be a step down from the second installment, but that was slightly expected given that it was rushed to the screen (14 months is probably not long enough to take from idea to the screen for a film like this, especially after what was hinted at from the ending of the second movie.) However, this film is certainly a step above the first film and wonderfully meshes with the feel and world built by Singer. It plays extremely well as the third in a trilogy, as it should as that is what this is. The title, action in the film, and "word on the street" suggest that this will be the last of this series, at least involving the cast we have known thus far. I certainly hope it is not the last ever of an X-Men film as that world has an infinite amount of source material to pull from and could churn out films from now until the end of time seemingly. It would be a stupid move by Fox if they did end it here completely. But with all that said, this film delivers and does so with both sorrow and joy. You should be moved and you will certainly cheer. And if anything else, you will see one of the better films made thus far this year, though that is not saying much considering what Hollywood gives us. Go see it today.
I have added some discussion of more spoiler specific elements in the comment section. Do not read that first comment if you do not wish to have the film spoiled for you. That is all.