Sunday, June 05, 2011

X-Men 3: The Last Stand


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 5/28/06 w/ Extensive Re-Edits & Revisions.


When the X-Men comic books finally became feature films in 2000 with director Bryan Singer in the helm. The response at first was mixed but positive since it brought new fans a nice introduction to the cast of the X-Men team while giving Australian actor Hugh Jackman a real breakthrough as Wolverine. In 2003, Singer reunited with most of the cast for the sequel called X2: X-Men United that not only received better reviews but spectacular box office numbers as fans praised the film for a stronger story, more characters, and better performances from the cast. What really shocked fans in the second film was the sacrificial death of one of the story's major characters in Jean Grey. Yet, when fans heard she would return as the Dark Phoenix, it was clear that the X-Men franchise was getting into better storylines.

Unfortunately, plans for the third film was becoming very troubled as the development for the story was troubling as Bryan Singer chose to leave the franchise with his team to work on the much-delayed Superman movie. Problems also occurred when Halle Berry chose to leave the franchise for her own attempt in stardom but after 2004's Catwoman got destroyed in the box office, she returned awaiting to see who would become the new director. After Layer Cake director Matthew Vaughn was signed on and then chose to leave, Rush Hour director Brett Ratner came into the helm where to some fans, it leaves a lot of worries but Ratner ensured that he wouldn't screw it up. With the focus on the Dark Phoenix plot and the war between the X-Men and Magneto's Brotherhood in the story, X-Men 3: The Last Stand is well underway.

With a screenplay by Zak Penn and Simon Kinberg with Brett Ratner as director, X-Men 3: The Last Stand revolves around a vaccine that cures the mutation gene which gives mutants the chance to be cured. While neither Magneto or his former friend Charles Xavier are fond of the cure, it only increases Magneto's hatred for humans even more as he declares a war against them. Making things worse for the X-Men team is the re-discovery of Jean Grey's body that has evolved into something far worse as she becomes the Dark Phoenix who joins the Brotherhood. With the X-Men short on allies, it's up to Xavier, Logan, Storm, and company to save the humans and make a stand against the Brotherhood.

Returning from the previous parts of the franchise are Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Halle Berry, James Marsden, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, Shawn Ashmore, Daniel Cudmore, Ian McKellen, Aaron Stanford, and Rebecca Romijn. Joining the new cast are Ben Foster, Kelsey Grammer, Ellen Page, Shoreh Aghdashloo, Olivia Williams, Josef Sommers, Dania Ramirez, Vinnie Jones, and Cameron Bright. X-Men 3: The Last Stand has its moments but is a very un-compelling, messy film.

A new U.S. President (Josef Sommers) has maintained peace with mutants by being open to their cause with from its Secretary of Affairs in Hank McCoy/Beast (Kelsey Grammer).  When news about a cure for the mutant gene developed by Warren Worthington II (Michael Murphy), McCoy is worried as he turns to his old mentor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) about the cure and its source in a young mutant named Jimmy (Cameron Bright).  Xavier worries that it will give his old friend Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Ian McKellan) more reasons to fight as his comrade Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) has been captured.  With Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Storm (Halle Berry) helping to train young mutants for combat, both are unsure if their pupils are ready with Scott Summers/Cyclops (James Marsden) still in mourning over the death of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen).

With news of the cure reaching Xavier's school, mixed feelings arrive among everyone though Rogue (Anna Paquin) sees it as a good thing as she isn't fond of her powers.  Even as her boyfriend Bobby/Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) has been taking interest towards Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat (Ellen Page).  Magneto meanwhile, uses the news of the cure as a rallying cry to forge the Brotherhood with help from his new protege Pyro (Aaron Stanford) and other new mutants in Callisto (Dania Ramirez) as they help retrieve Mystique along with a couple of mutants in Multiple Man (Eric Dane) and Juggernaut (Vinnie Jones).  When Scott goes to Alkali Lake where Jean has reappeared as Xavier senses Jean only to realize something is right.  Logan learns that Xavier used psychic blocks to prevent a dark personality in Jean in order to protect her as Logan's feelings for her lead to an escape.

With Magneto realizing that Jean is alive and more powerful, he tries to get her to his side as Xavier pleads to not to let her dark side control her while Logan and Storm try to fight off Magneto's Brotherhood.  Following a devastating loss and pondering what to do, Logan tries to find the Brotherhood and what Magneto is up to while Warren Worthington's mutant son Warren III (Ben Foster) joins the school as he helps out.  After returning from Magneto's secret base and learning his plans, Logan, Storm, and Hank along with younger, trained mutants decide to fight Magneto and his Brotherhood and the more dangerous Jean who is now Phoenix.

When the X-Men franchise was in the hands of Bryan Singer and his team, it allowed Singer to get a chance to develop the characters and create something that was more than a typical blockbuster action film.  Singer's departure along with his team changes things as the franchise goes into the hand of a much more commercial filmmaker in Brett Ratner.  While Ratner does have a good ear for humor and knows how to get the ball rolling.  The problem is that he along with screenwriters Zak Penn and Simon Kinberg cram too many ideas, storylines, and exposition into a film that becomes very messy.  The script doesn't allow the audience to figure out what's going on or to slow the story down.  Even as there's too many characters to follow where things needed to be simplified or have some of central figure to follow.

Ratner's direction does have a few excellent moments such as the training scene as well as some intimate scenes at Xavier's school.  For the rest of the film, it seems uninspiring and overblown at times.  The action scenes move a little too fast while the dramatic moments comes across as cheesy and unnecessary.  While Ratner does try to put some humor in scenes where he gets one notable humorous action moment right, the rest of it doesn't seem to work.  A lot of the big action moments don't feel very natural as the overall film is an excessive mess that doesn't stretch itself or simplify things for its audience. 

Cinematographer Dante Spinotti does an OK job with the photography though at times, he goes overboard with visual flair and digital coloring that makes the film seem unnatural in its look. Production designer Ed Verraux does excellent work in creating the look of the school and the meeting of the Brotherhood through its forests where most of it is shot in Vancouver. Visual effects supervisor John Bruno and team do great work on the visual effects, notably the final battle sequence and Magneto's movement of the Golden Gate Bridge. Sound designer Craig Henighan also does excellent work on the sound while editors Mark Goldblatt, Mark Helfrich, and Julia Wong do a decent job in the cutting work in giving the story some speed although the fast cuts tend to lose sight on the story.

Costume designer Judianna Makovsky does great work on the costumes while giving the X-Men suits a new look of sorts while make-up supervisor Rosalina Da Silva and her team do great work on the makeup, particularly for the character of Beast. John Powell also does good bombastic work on the film's score that plays up to the intensity of the action as well as the dramatic moments of the film.

The film's cast features some great, small performances from Anthony Heald as an interrogator, Haley Ramm as the young Jean Grey, Cayden Boyd as the young Warren III, and the cameos of Stan Lee, Olivia Williams as an associate of Xavier, and the voice of R. Lee Emrey. Bill Duke as General Trask and Josef Sommers as the President are decent in their brief roles while Oscar nominee Shoreh Aghdashloo as Dr. Rao is sorted of wasted in a thankless role. Michael Murphy is also good while Ben Foster is OK as Angel though he doesn't get much to do. Omahyra and Eric Dane are memorable in their role as Brotherhood mutants while Daniel Cudmore is somewhat wasted as Colossus since he only gets one line in the film. Rebecca Romijn is also wasted as Mystique since by the first 20-30 minutes, she's gone which is a shame to a very enjoyable character that only Romijn could do. Cameron Bright is terrible as Jimmy as he spends most of the film giving the creepy gaze that he's always done in a lot of his performances.

Dania Ramirez is awful as Callisto as she tries to be all tough when it doesn't really work as her dialogue delivery is very amateurish.  James Marsden's role as Cyclops is also brief as only becomes a plot device in the part of Jean Grey's evolution as Phoenix. Of all the newcomers to join the film, Ellen Page, in her brief moments, is a real standout in the role of Kitty Pryde as she reveals all the insecurities and attitude in what it takes to be a mutant of power.  Shawn Ashmore also stands out as Iceman as he develops from a character who finally gets to use the full potential of his powers for the use of good as he has a great scene with Aaron Stanford. Stanford really shines as Magneto's new right-hand man who apparently still has a lot to learn about morals in his scenes with Ian McKellan. Vinnie Jones is another big standout in the role of the Juggernaut as he has some great, hilarious one-liners and some cool moments where he quotes, "I'm the Juggernaut bitch!"

Of all the new actors to join the series, Kelsey Grammer is very good combining his intellectual wit that he brought from Frasier to the role of Beast. Grammer brings full advantage of a mutant who understands both prejudice and intolerance while he got to do some amazing fight scenes as well. Anna Paquin, unfortunately, despite her efforts couldn't make Rogue into a strong character that was expected from the comic book fans. Paquin is forced to act frustrated and lonely as she ends up being really wasted after having a flawed if strong performance in the first film. Ian McKellan is great, as usual, in the role of the villainous Magneto whose fury upon the humans reveals his prejudice and how blind he's become from the person he was early in the film's first few minutes in a flashback scene. Patrick Stewart is also great as the more tolerant Charles Xavier whose fear of Jean’s full powers show that he's a flawed man trying to do what is right for everyone including his students.

Famke Janssen delivers a good as Jean Grey/Phoenix as a woman whose emotional and mental disability clashes with the woman that fans knew in the previous film and the dark, maniacal Phoenix. Janssen reveals the troubles of the character full-on as it's a woman we all know we don't want to mess with but have pity for. Halle Berry is good as Storm can do and delivers a kick-ass performance by flying, shooting out lightning, and doing all sorts of stuff though her dramatic moments are weak due to the script's shortcomings. The franchise's breakout star Hugh Jackman is good though not great as Wolverine as he does what he's expected to do though he's not really given the chance to be more out there as it's a step-down from the more developed role he had in the previous film.

Despite some decent moments and some performances, X-Men 3:  The Last Stand is a very disappointing film in the X-Men franchise.  Blame should go to Brett Ratner for just trying to do too much and give people what they want except giving them a cohesive story and a central story to focus on.  It's no doubt it's the weakest of the first three films though it's not the worst film of the X-Men franchise which goes to the debacle that was the prequel X-Men Origins:  Wolverine.  It's a film that does have some entertaining moments but not enough to satisfy its fans who enjoyed the previous films as X-Men 3:  The Last Stand is a full-blown mess. 


(C) thevoid99 2011

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