REVIEW: X-Men: The Last Stand [PG-13]
20th Century Fox
Release Date: June 28, 2006
Director: Brett Ratner
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Patrick Stewarr, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin
Taking place shortly after the concluding events of X2: X-Men United,
X-Men: The Last Stand opens to a war scene set in the Danger Room, the training facility used by the X-Men to prepare themselves for battle. Led by veterans Wolverine (Hugh Jackman – Van Helsing) and Storm (Halle Berry – Gothika), the younger mutants, Rogue (Ana Paquin – Finding Forrester), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore – Underclassman), Colossus (Daniel Cudmore – Alone In The Dark), and Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page – I Downloaded A Ghost) are all going through preparation with an emphasis on teamwork. While the previous movie had the core group of mutant heroes join together to save their race from extinction, there was a key loss that left the rest of the team divided and this is one of the focal points of the movie being explored early on. Ever the loner, Wolverine single-handedly ends the battle session, leaving him and Storm at odds as she feels strongly about teaching her students the values and benefits of coming together to accomplish a goal as opposed to individual achievements.
Storm’s fellow group leader, Cyclops (James Marsden – Superman Returns) has yet to come to terms with the perceived loss of his girlfriend, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen – Hide & Seek), after she sacrificed herself to save the team at the close of X2, deciding to get away from the X-Mansion in search of both solitude and healing. As he arrives at Alkali Lake, the landmark which she performed such a heroic act, he witnesses a miracle as Jean, left for dead, breaks through the water and for the first time in the franchise, her incredible power becomes evident. While she is deemed a more powerful mutant than even the master of magnetism himself, Magneto (Sir Ian McKellen – The Da Vinci Code), the seemingly limitless power is too much for her to handle as she is portrayed throughout the film as out of control. Tragedies occur due to this uncontrollable power that she is capable of now that she has been set free from herself.
The action in this film, as noted from the opening scenes, is of greater significance here than in the previous two entries of the series, and rightfully so seeing that this should be a staple for the comic-book genre made relevant by this very franchise at the turn of the century. However, there is, perhaps unnecessarily at times, too much being done, as the increased focus on action can easily take away from the significance of character-driven sequences. Another staple to the genre would be the special effects, and as with the action, this film goes above and beyond its predecessors in that area. CGI-technology is used to make Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart – Star Trek: Nemesis), the creator of the X-Men, and his longtime friend, but often nemesis, Magneto appear twenty years younger as viewers are introduced to a young Jean Grey, whose power is so great at such a young age that it causes her parents to fear the worst. Other notable moments where the special effects excel are the “iced-up” Iceman, Colossus in his metal form, Storm’s weather-controlling abilities, and practically every time Jean Grey’s alter-ego, Phoenix, lets loose on a perceived enemy.
In an attempt to build his own army of sorts, Magneto has recruited several minions to help in his war on humankind. Along with mainstay Mystique (Rebecca Romijn – The Punisher), “The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants,” as his group is known, is made up of the mighty Juggernaut (Vinnie Jones – She’s The Man), Pyro (Aaron Stanford – The Hills Have Eyes), Multiple Man (Eric Dane – Feast), Callisto (Dania Ramirez – Fat Albert), and what seems to be an endless number of second-string mutants who have been outcasted by the society which fears them. The key new member to this group would be Phoenix, Jean Grey’s unstable alter-ego, as her powers alone are seemingly greater than those of the rest of the cast of mutants collectively. While outnumbering the X-Men by far, The Brotherhood find themselves in quite the dilemma as the emotionally-driven Wolverine lets loose with a purpose on more than one occasion, taking out the villains in great numbers, with his determination to assist Jean in overcoming the Phoenix being his main priority throughout the film.
Elsewhere, at the Worthington laboratories on Alkatraz, a “cure” has been developed by using the DNA of a young mutant whose power consists of any mutant who gets within a certain distance of him to lose their abilities. This cure is to be initially tested on Warren Worthington III (Ben Foster – Hostage), the son of the cure’s founder, who also may be recognized as “Angel,” a mutant who has 2 giant wings that allow him the ability to fly very much like a bird. There are many ethical themes at hand to consider. With the possibility of mutants having their powers stripped from them, either willingly or not, there is a conflict as to what holds more ground, loyalty or likeness. When a mutant loses his or her powers, becoming relatively human, how will this effect pre-existing relationships? Both sides of this are explored, making it more of an internal conflict then an external one as it becomes clear that the reaction is subject to the individual.
The newly introduced, yet longtime X-Men acquaintance, Hank McCoy (Kelsey Grammar – 15 Minutes), otherwise known as Beast, has an internal conflict of his own to face throughout the movie. The U.S. President’s Secretary of Mutant Affairs, Beast must choose between supporting the “cure” or fighting alongside his fellow X-Men. Keeping true to the character, while adding some liberties to ease the transition from animated comic hero to a live-action likeness for the big screen, the excellently casted character adds both humor and intellect in his dialogue, making the most of his screen time.
Of course the ongoing debate between Xavier and Magneto, along with their respective followers, is whether or not mutants and humans can ever coexist amongst each other. This has been a key element throughout the franchise, with Magneto being made the villain due to his willingness to use extremities to reign superior. However, in this film more so than the others, the military forces that police the mutants are worse than even the villainous Magneto as they too now have a “by any means necessary” attitude in regards to defeating disruptive mutants who infiltrate Alkatraz. While this may leave viewers on the fence as to who is ultimately morally righteous, leading some to even question the moral values of the X-Men at times, this is what makes this film stronger than the others as there is far much more of a “shade of grey” in regards to who is good and who is bad. Instead of fighting on one side or the other, there are characters such as Wolverine, sympathetic to Jean, questioning Xavier at times, or Beast, who has close ties to the government as well as to the X-Men. There is a deeper character exploration here than in previous films despite being overcrowded at times with less-important characters.
While it would be unreasonable to expect great character development for many of the characters whose roles consist of nothing more than a cameo, there are those lesser characters, such as Angel, who, despite minimal roles, are used to set up future storylines. This, along with several of the students at Xavier’s school becoming full fledged X-Men, make it hard to consider this film is the actual “last stand” for the X-Men, as a collective group, on film. With so many stories yet to be told, and significant characters, such as the ever-popular Gambit, who have yet to be introduced to the X-Film universe, here’s hoping that this is the end of one trilogy, with others soon be explored.
– Christopher Griffin