Movie Review: X-Men: The Last Stand
As I noted in my review of the first X-Men film, I never got into their various comic book series despite reading a ton of superhero comics during the peak of their popularity. I’m still not sure why that is, but I think one of the barriers to my reading it was the convoluted soap opera-ish nature of their series.
Originally created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1963, the X-Men didn’t really take off until Len Wein‘s now historic Giant Size X-Men #1, published in 1975, and which introduced the modern team of mutant superheroes made so popular by writer Chris Claremont in the regular series (Chris has a cameo in The Last Stand during the opening scene as a guy mowing his lawn — just before Stan Lee’s lawn-watering cameo).
For whatever reason I never fully enjoyed the X-Men comics — even the Dark Phoenix saga I own in a collected graphic novel — has probably allowed me to enjoy the films that much more. The few X-Men fans I’ve talked to after each film always seemed disappointed in some aspect of the movies that I didn’t bother me since I don’t have the same attachment to the comics, e.g. how certain heroes powers were different or their personalities didn’t match up to the characters in the books. However, just as the X-Men comic book was a turn-off by its soap opera elements, so have the films had diminishing returns as they’ve gone on.
My main issue with this installment of the series is that there’s just too many darn characters. The X-Men have a 40+ year history of comic book characters and the the two movie sequels seem to be trying to cram in as many of the popular ones that got left out of the first film. The original X-Men film had a fairly large cast, but the glue that held the film together was the nice relationship developed between Rogue (Anna Paquin) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). The film stayed mostly with those two characters as it navigated through the complicated world of good mutants vs. bad mutants.
While X2: X-Men United started to suffer from character overload, it at least had the mystery of Wolverine’s origin and a strong nemesis in Brian Cox’s William Stryker to keep the plot moving. To its detriment, The Last Stand has both a humongous cast to keep track of so that no character stands in strong focus and only a vague, nebulous threat. While I liked the idea of a drug offering a “cure” to mutation, neither the administering of that drug nor evil mutant Magneto’s army out to stop the drug manufacturer seems neither particularly menacing or immediate.
But that’s not to say it’s a bad or an unenjoyable movie and it does have some truly spectacular sequences, including the fight over Dark Phoenix (Famke Janssen) by Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) and the film’s climax, which after Superman II‘s big fight scene may be the second greatest superhero fight on film.
It’s just as though the material in the film would have been better as a TV series there’s so much going on (given that a TV show could keep the dazzling special effects) or at least split up the movie into two films, one with the old guard and one with the new. If they could have filmed the Pirates of the Carribbean sequels back to back, why not the X-Men? Who cares if the series is a trilogy anyway? Anyway, the future will see if calling this film The Last Stand is appropriate or is the equivalent of calling Friday the 13th Part IV the “Final Chapter.”