Director: Brett Ratner
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Famke Janssen, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Shawn Ashmore, Ellen Page, Aaron Stanford, Kelsey Grammar, Vinnie Jones, Dania Ramirez, Ben Foster, James Marsden with Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan
Plot: When rumours of a mutant cure hit the streets, it provokes the Brotherhood into action, while the X-Men are distracted by the resurrection of the deadliest mutant yet.
The Last Stand is a very good way of highlighting how a change of directors can almost destroy a movie franchise. Bryan Singer might not be the flashiest director out there, but the original two X-Men are lessons in how sophisticated a superhero action flick can be. Alongside having fun with these interesting mutant characters and delivering an epic showdown each time, Singer squeezed in life lessons and themes that meant a lot to him. The X-Men movies are an allegory to homosexuality and being ‘different’. In many ways, the heroes of X-Men became a source of confidence for teenagers with identity crisis issues. It might seem like a weird thing, but it gave depth to the X-Men films and it is one of the elements that makes X2 up there with the greatest of the superhero movies. However, then you hand that movie franchise over to Brett Ratner. Ratner is a director famous for movies like Rush Hour and Skyline, which should already make alarm bells go off over your head. He is a simple action movie guy and while you could argue that this is the kind of director a movie about superheroes knocking ten shades of shit out of each other needs, it is the not the man you want following up Bryan Singer’s legacy.
Legacy is probably the word that got us all into this mess, because it is clear from the get-go that Ratner has entered this movie, wanting to make his mark. That is usually a commendable thing, but Ratner lacks the subtly to pull something like that off. When the first half of this movie has passed and several characters have been removed from the plot by one means or another, you realise that Ratner is going for the shock element. Killing off important characters can work, if done correctly, but Ratner is clearly just trying to pull the rug from under our feet, rather than trying to progress the narrative in a meaningful way. I am going to come out with a controversial statement and say that the biggest death of the movie worked. Sure, it changed the face of the X-Men franchise (before the producers hit the re-do button), but it actually worked in its own way. Strip away the fan-boy love for the character and you’ll realise that the death had the right build-up, moved the story along in a decent enough way and gave that character a bad-ass way to leave the movie. It also builds up the Dark Phoenix and raises the stakes of the final conflict. If that was the only big death, I would have been satisfied. But Ratner also killed off another important character half an hour earlier in a really pathetic and useless way, along with stripping the powers of one of my favourite mutants, making her useless to the story. It is showing off and I think everyone agrees it killed this movie.
In theory, Ratner had the easiest job in the world, because Singer set him up with one of the best X-Men stories out there (I am reading the original comic right now and it really is a good one!). Going back through X2 and you can see the slowing development of this story arc, and it acts as a great build-up to what should have been a climatic third movie. However, Ratner bullies his way into the franchise and just kills the story. The Dark Phoenix comes across as a spoilt teenager, following Magneto around like a misbehaving puppy until Ratner can come up with something interesting to do with the character. The cure subplot is mildly interesting, especially where Rogue’s character comes into play. It’s good, but it lacks all of the subtle touches that made Singer’s previous entries so hard-hitting. Ratner shoves the moral in our faces, rather than leaving it just on the surface for future viewings to help dissect. Then there is the over-abundance of characters that fail to hit the mark: Angel, Juggernaut, Spike. At least Beast and Shadowcat finally get some much-deserved time to shine.
But now I am going to say something that will have Tim the Film Guy foaming from the mouth with rage: I don’t hate this movie. In places, it is quite enjoyable. The saviour of this film is that when we forget about the plot and just get down to the action sequences, Ratner delivers. I could happily stick this DVD on, fast-forward straight to the final showdown on Alcatraz and spend the next half hour of my life quite happy. We get the right amount of fun, blended with tension, with a jolt of emotion to make it a truly good sequence. The Dark Phoenix is such a terrifying concept that it is impossible not to find yourself gripped by events as they happen. And the ending with Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine (always a pleasure to watch), character confronting Jean Grey is heart-breaking. This is the movie we all wanted to see right from the start.
Final Verdict: While the set-pieces are terrific, this movie would have been better left in the hands of Bryan Singer. Messy, bloated and lacking the subtly of Singer’s work.