I had a weird sensation watching X-Men The Last Stand for the first time in many years. I found myself, initially, sort of enjoying it.
“Huh, that’s weird,” I thought to myself “I remember hating this. So why am I sorta finding this to be okay?”
The reason, dear reader, is because this movie is a treacherous snake.
It does a passable job of masquerading as a decent X-Men movie. The cast is all here minus Alan Cummings’ Nightcrawler (because the makeup took frickin’ forever to apply and Alan Cummings was all “Fuck this, Alan Cummings’ got shit to do”) and the new additions to the cast were mostly excellent. Ellen Paige as Kitty Pryde? Who could say “no” to that? Kelsey Grammer as Beast? Perfect. Just perfect. You could not cast that role better. Also, like X-2, the movie stakes two very well regarded X-Men stories and works them into a single story, specifically the seminal “Dark Phoenix Saga” by Chris Claremont and Joss Whedon’s “Gifted” story arc from the early 2000’s. Alright! Great cast, strong source material, what could go wrong? Why, God himself couldn’t tank this film!
Yeah, so how did that happen? Alright, so Fox quite naturally wanted Bryan Singer to come back for X3 but Singer had been lured by the siren call of the Distinguished Competition.
Singer had done a little preliminary work on X3 before he left Fox for that tramp Superman, which would have been a re-telling of the Dark Phoenix with Sigourney Weaver as Emma Frost (oh fuck yeah). With Singer gone, the suits at Fox held an emergency meeting to decide who would replace him, with the understanding that they had to get someone lest they had to settle for Brett Ratner, a desperate last resort in the form of a man. And what’s really tragic about this is that they tried. They really did. A veritable directorate of directors were approached for this movie and any one of them could have made a great X-Men flick.
Darren Aronofsky’s X-Men? Sign me up.
Matthew Vaughan’s X-Men? We got it a few years later and it was awesome.
Joss Whedon’s X-Men? Oh, he could have done it in his sleep.
Zak Snyder’s X-Men?……
Alex Proyas’ X-Men? He made Dark City so he’s alright by Mouse.
But a combination of bad luck, scheduling conflicts and ego all conspired against Fox and they were left with a choice: A Brett Ratner directed X-Men movie, or no X-Men movie at all.
They chose wrong.
The movie begins “twenty years ago”…
Wait stop. I thought the series takes place in the “not too distant future”? So…is that twenty years ago from when the bulk of the action of the movie is set or twenty years from when we the audience are watching it which would only be like…ten years ago? I guess? Not counting people like me who are watching it in the actual not too distant future that turned out to be far more dystopian than anyone could have anticipated, fuck it, moving on.
At the Grey household, a teenage girl named Jean Grey is visited by oh SAINTS IN HEAVEN PRESERVE US.
Anyone seen Green Room? Patrick Stewart’s in it. He’s awesome. He plays a murderous Neo Nazi and he’s genuinely terrifying. But he does not inspire one tenth of the fear in me as this CGI atrocity. This was the film-makers attempt to create a realistically young Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan, despite the fact that Patrick Stewart didn’t change appearance from 1987 to 2003 and young Ian McKellan was God’s masterpiece and only a fool would try to re-create that.
So they took photos of Stewart and Ian McKellan and digitally grafted them onto their faces like serial killers and it’s just wrong, wrong, wrong like Donkey Kong in a thong.
Anyway, Xavier and Magneto are here to recruit Jean into their army of revolutionary child soldiers lovely school where nothing bad happens and Jean demonstrates that she’s a little bit more than what they’re used to. And she does this by levitating every car in the neighbourhood. While the neighbours watch. Which causes them not to run around screaming but simply stare curiously as if to say “My. How odd. Cars do not typically do that. What a funny old world.”
Honestly, I don’t see why Jean needs to come to Xavier’s in the first place. This is clearly the safest place for her, these people wouldn’t know a mutant if it crawled out of the sewer and stole their pizza.
We now cut to “ten years ago”…
WHOAH. WHOAH. STOP. Is that ten years before the last scene or from the present of this movie which is also the future? Are we going back in time or forward? I sincerely hope the other movies in this series won’t be this confusing in terms of chronology.
Anyway, we get a scene that is actually pretty hard to watch where young Warren Worthington is cutting off his wings in the bathroom while his father bangs on the door and demands to know what he’s doing. He finally breaks down the door and finds his son weeping in a pile of blood and feather’s and whispers “Oh Warren. Not you.”
The next scene takes place in the “not too distant future” but it’s now a post-apocalyptic hellhole and oh, you know what movie? Fuck you and your temporal shenanigans you gutless churl. I’m an established internet movie critic and I deserve to be treated better than this.
Anyway, Storm and Wolverine are leading a team of young mutants through the wasteland including Iceman, Rogue, Colossus and Kitty Pryde (Ellen Paige), whose power is that she can phase through walls and have literally no effect on the world around her. The publicity for the movie promised that we’d finally get to see the X-Men fight Sentinels in this film which was…what’s the word I’m looking for? Outright mendacity.
Wolverine basically gets hurled offstage and we see a giant robot head get thrown into view.
This movie staged it’s big epic robot versus mutant fight the same way your local amateur dramatics society would, only the am-drammers might have put some effort into the damn prop.
Anyway, we learn that this is actually a training simulation where the students can use their powers, notwithstanding the fact that these “holograms” can slice bits off Wolverine like cured ham. You know. So the kids can learn.
So it’s not actually the grim and dark future it’s just the regular future that looks exactly like the present just with mutants and I’m done guys, I’m done.
Storm is angry at Wolverine because they’re supposed to be a team but Wolverine keeps charging off and making it all about him because apparently she doesn’t get how this franchise works. She also says that they’re supposed to be teaching the kids to fight defensively.
Wolverine tells Storm that if she doesn’t like his teaching methods she should complain to Xavier or, y’know, hire someone who’s actually a teacher. I don’t know if we’re supposed to believe there’s a load of teachers offscreen but going on the onscreen evidence, between Jean being dead and Scott down with a bad case of sad-beard, the entire faculty of this massive school is Xavier, Storm and the knife-handed Canadian hobo they let live with them. I’m just saying, I don’t see Xavier’s becoming a feeder school for Harvard anytime soon.
As well as the lack of teachers, Rogue has to deal with jealousy as she suspects that Bobby has feelings for Kitty, a girl he can actually touch (well, some of the time). Bobby is understandably annoyed by this, saying that he’s never pressured Rogue and she responds “You’re a guy, Bobby. You only think about one thing.”
Hey, hey, whoah! Firstly, this guy chose to be with a girl who he knows he can never sleep with so I think it’s pretty obvious that he’s not using you for sex. He’s using you as a beard. Second. That’s a pernicious stereotype that men only think about one thing. I think about four things thank you very much.
Meanwhile, Cyclops is in his room, pining fer his lady love and even Logan thinks he’s overdoing it with the brooding. Logan tells Scott that maybe it’s time to move on from Jean’s death. This (as well as the fact that there’s a new president) suggests to me that it’s been a good few months since the end of X2 unless Logan’s being a massively insensitive dick (which, okay, in character) but at the end of X2 we saw the Phoenix rising from the bottom of the lake. So…has the Phoenix just been swimming around down there all this time like the Loch Ness Monster? Anyway, Scott tells Logan to screw off and decides to ride his motorbike. To Alkali Lake. Which, of course, is just a stone’s throw from Westchester.
In Washington DC, we meet Hank “Beast” McCoy, the furry blue Secretary of Mutant Affairs played by Kelsey Grammer in an absolutely perfect piece of casting. And I say that despite the fact that a friend of mine auditioned for the part and just missed it by this much.
McCoy’s secretary enters his office and tells him that “the meeting’s started” and he says “thank you” and not “Really? You didn’t see fit to tell me that the meeting was about to start so that I wouldn’t arrive late to a meeting with the frickin’ president and the Joint Chiefs of Staff? Buh bye, fired lady.”
He arrives in the Doctor Strangelove room and is informed that Mystique has been apprehended breaking into Worthington labs and they watch as she’s interrogated. Her interrogator calls her “Raven” and she replies “I don’t answer to my slave name.”
That…that line makes no sense. I mean, yeah, sure, it’s a reference to how in the real world some black people refuse to use the surnames of the people who enslaved their ancestors but nothing like that happened to mutants in this world that is fucking stupid. Mystique, just say “Raven is a fucking terrible name that my awful Goth parents saddled me with, please don’t use it” we’ll all respect you a lot more. Beast tells the President that Magneto is absolutely going to bust her out of prison and it’s probably going to look awesome but the President shows him what Mystique stole. The file belonging to Leech, the mutant otherwise known as “Jimmy”.
Jimmy’s power is that he makes mutants not be mutants, kind of like how Kevin Spacey turns other gay men straight with his mere presence, and Worthington labs have been able to use Jimmy to create a cure for mutation which obviously could set off a few calm and well-reasoned debates in the mutant community.
In Westchester, Xavier is teaching an ethics class…
Sorry, where was? Yes, Xavier’s teaching an ethics class and they watch a video of Doctor Moira McTaggart (who is looking great for someone who was running around saving the world during the Cuban missile crisis) and she explains that she has a patient who’s in a coma, physically fine but with no brain activity. Xavier asks his pupils if it would be ethical to transfer the mind of someone who was dying into the body of this man, seeing as he’s not using it and no one’s left a note or anything. He cuts the lesson short however, when he seems a storm brewing and realises that Storm is brewing. He goes to talk to her and they have a rather aimless conversation that doesn’t really go anywhere but at least gets them inside the house where they meet Beast who’s just arrived to tell them about the mutant cure.
Rogue runs in excitedly asking if it’s true that she can be cured and Storm coldly replies to her that it’s not true because there’s nothing wrong with being a mutant that needs to be cured.
So here’s another example of where the X-Men are used as an allegory for a real world issue and it just…doesn’t…work. As a story element within the fictional world of the X-Men, the cure is great. It generates a lot of conflict and interesting questions for our characters. But it’s also being used here as an allegory for gay conversion therapy and sorry, that bird don’t hunt. Or something.
See there are some pretty glaring differences between the cure as presented here and gay conversion therapy, the most important being that the cure actually works and has no negative side effects. The reason why gay conversion therapy is immoral is because it is incredibly harmful and doesn’t work and there’s a long history of people being forced to undergo it against their will. But if hypothetically there was a way for someone to effectively and safely change their orientation and it was genuinely something they wanted to do, well, who are we to stop them?
What right would we have? If someone wanted to be straight or gay or bi or whatever and there was an easy way to do that, why shouldn’t they be allowed to make the choice that they think will let them lead a happy life? Also, I have zero patience for anyone in this movie who is guilting Rogue over wanting the cure. I mean that shouldn’t even be up for debate, especially since she’s not even “cool, flying, super-strength Rogue”, and is just regular mopey “can’t give my boyfriend a handjob without putting him in a coma” Rogue. Rogue’s power is not a vital part of her identity, it is a medical condition that is severely impacting her quality of life and also represents a serious threat to the people around her. Just let her take the dang cure and screw Jake from Animorphs! Gawd!
But the announcement of the cure creates ructions throughout the mutant community which allows Magneto, still accompanied by Pyro, to pick up some new disgruntled followers.
Cyclops finally arrives and we get to see the frankly magnificent sight of a man trying to fight a lake as Scott is so overcome with grief that he blasts the water with his eye beams.
Look, I get it.
So many times I’ve written something that I thought was the most epic, awesome thing ever only to find that it withered and died upon contact with reality. I have no doubt that the “Cyclops versus the Lake” scene seemed like an awesome moment on paper. I could definitely see why you might think that. But ultimately, it’s a man fighting a lake, and ‘tis silly. I am not here to mock, because honestly, I can sympathise.
Suddenly, the water parts and a resurrected Jean walks out of the lake like the combined form of Jesus and Moses (I call him JOSES!). Scott can’t believe it and he kisses her and for a minute it’s all gravy but suddenly Jean gets evil-veins, well known to be the evillest part of the human circulatory system and starts…draining his life force? Maybe? I dunno. Look, if the movie can’t be bothered to make clear what happens to Scott I don’t see why I should have to.
So remember at the end of X2 when Xavier sensed Jean returning and, with a winsome smile, told his students that everything was going to be alright? Well, he issues a hasty retraction and tells Logan and Storm that no, actually, everything is fucked hard without a johnny, and dispatches them next door to Alkali lake to see what’s going down. They find Jean unconscious with rocks floating around her and nothing left of Cyclops but his stylish shades.
So here’s my deepest darkest confession. I’m a Cyclops fan. I really dig the character. I think the design is genius, the powerset is amazingly cool and he’s a fascinatingly dark and complex character. A comic writer (I forget who) once said “Why do comic fans prefer Wolverine to Cyclops? Wolverine’s the guy who used to stick our heads down the toilet in school!”, a sentiment I can definitely get behind. But even if you don’t like Cyclops (and statistically you probably don’t) can we all agree that this a really shabby way to treat the character? I mean, kill him off, sure. That’s shocking. But killing him offscreen? Damn that’s cold. What did James Marsden do to you, Fox?
Magneto takes his new crew to spring Mystique out of jail and, as promised, it is pretty awesome. He also busts out two mutants who were being transported with her, Multiple Man who can turn into multiple men, and Juggernaut who can’t be stopped once he’s in motion. Juggernaut is played by Vinnie Jones, who embarked on a career in acting after being permanently banned from football for eating a referee. Now, Jones is certainly not the worst choice to play Juggernaut, he’s a big guy with plenty of menace, but the costume is just the pits and neither Jones nor the movie really know what to do with him. It would be another dozen years before we finally got a screen Juggernaut done right.
But then, one of the guards shoots at Magneto with a dart gun full of mutant cure and Mystique takes the shot for him, losing her mutant powers. And Magneto instantly abandons her, saying “You’re not one of us anymore.”
This…bugs me. But honestly I’m not sure if that’s my problem and not the movie’s. It bugs me because I want Magneto to be a tragically flawed noble villain and not a small minded extremist but at the same time I have to admit that this isn’t exactly out of character for a man who almost wiped out the entire human race last movie. Anyway, Magneto leaves a distraught Mystique behind saying “A pity. She was so beautiful.”
Magneto’s newest henchwoman, Calisto, has the power to sense powerful mutants and also has superspeed which is…an eclectic mix, to say the least. She tells him that she can sense a “Class 5” mutant and Magneto says “where is she?”.
Back at the mansion, Xavier tries to psychically wake Jean and explains to Logan that in her teen years Jean manifested a second, dangerous personality called “the Phoenix” which Xavier used his powers to repress. Logan is horrified, because apparently dangerous alternate personalities are people too and Xavier’s all “Well, I have doctorates in Genetics, Biophysics, Psychology, and Anthropology, and an M.D. in Psychiatry but if the Wolf Man of Alberta thinks it was a bad idea I must have been wrong, get the fuck outta here with that shit”. Later, Jean wakes up and she and Logan get over their mutual grief at Cyclop’s disappearence by making out right there in the medbay. But when Logan finally asks her what happened to Cyclops (seriously, everyone’s lack of concern for poor Scott is just hilarious) she freaks out and goes all Tetsuo, wrecking the mansion on her way out.
The X-Men and the Brotherhood both track Jean down to her old family home and they basically both make her a pitch. Magneto’s all “Hey, I got an opening for a red-haired psycho lady, join me and we shall crush the humans!” and Xavier’s more “What? No. That’s crazy. C’mon.” Phoenix finds Magneto’s argument the more compelling and promptly vaporises Charles, much to the horror of Logan and Ororo.
Back at the mansion, the X-Men reflect on what is really turning out to be a pisser of a day. Hank says that because Xavier funded the school out of his own fortune, now that he’s dead the school will have to close, all the kid’s will have to be sent home and the glee club won’t make it to sectionals and this was their year. Warren Worthington, the kid with the wings, arrives after having escaped from his father who was trying to cure him and asks if this is the place where mutants go to be safe. Beast says that it was, and Ororo says that it still is and that the school is going to stay open and the glee club will make it to sectionals, god damn it! Note that nothing has actually changed. Xavier’s still dead, there’s still no money. Storm has just elected to ignore that.
Magneto launches his attack on Worthington labs with the Brotherhood and Jean and the X-Men roll up to stop them. And you know things are bad when our heroes have resorted to using virtual extras like Colossus, who gets exactly one line in the whole movie. Anyway, we get what was, at this point, the largest super hero brawl ever captured onscreen and it’s…kind of underwhelming to be honest, coming across as a series of indifferently staged, barely connected one on one brawls. Logan fights a guy who grows back his arms when they’re cut off (his dark mirror!) and Storm fries Calisto with lightning.
Meanwhile, Kitty Pryde has to stop Juggernaut from killing Jimmy.
So I suppose it’s time to talk about the line. You know the one.
The “I’m the Juggernaut, bitch!” is the Holy Grail of bad fanservice, reference to a YouTube parody that had already been largely forgotten by the time the movie came out. Plus, it’s Vinnie Jones. That line should not be anywhere near the vicinity of Vinnie Jones’ lips. It’s far too American. You’d have to completely re-write the line for it to work.
The battle goes south for Magneto when he gets shot with cure and depowered, so he orders Phoenix to go super-saiyen and wreck this joint. Logan tries to talk her down, and she seems to be calming down but then some of the lab’s security grunts open fire so never fucking mind.
Okay, so, major problem with this movie: We know nothing about the villain. I don’t mean Magneto. I mean the Phoenix.
It’s made clear throughout the movie that Jean and the Phoenix are not the same. It’s not that Jean has gone evil, it’s that there’s another, entirely separate being inside her that’s making her do all this stuff. Okay fine. But WHY? Why is the Phoenix doing ANY of this? What’s the goal? What is it trying to achieve? Phoenix just kind of stumbles around aimlessly randomly reacting to other characters and getting bounced from Point A to Point B as the script requires. What’s Phoenix’s connection (thematic or narrative) to the cure storyline? Nothing. Zilch. Magneto doesn’t even use her until the very end. She just sits there like a bright red “Press to Activate Final Battle” button. The whole movie builds up to this climactic showdown to stop Phoenix and WE HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THIS CHARACTER WANTS OR WHY SHE’S DOING WHAT’S SHE’S DOING. SO NOT MUCH WITH THE CARING. We desperately needed a scene where Xavier or somebody actually talks to the Phoenix and we learn what it wants apart from Wolverine’s dick (because you can’t really build a movie around that).
Anyway, Wolverine is the only one who can get close to Jean and she briefly regains control and tells him to kill her. Which is just the final little rabbit dropping on this turd sundae. In the original story, Jean sacrifices herself because she realises that her powers have become too dangerous and she’s risking the lives of everyone she loves. Here, the movie can’t even give her enough agency to commit suicide.
Logan stabs her through the chest and he’s very sad because it’s all about him and it’s all over except the codas. We learn that Rogue took the cure after all (right call, good for her), Angel has joined the X-men, Xavier, Jean and Scott are all buried in the garden so that the children can now that their teachers are decomposing nearby while they play.
And the movie ends with a depowered Magneto in a park in San Francisco playing chess with himself. He reaches out a hand to one of the pieces, and it moves ever so slightly…
Oh, one last observation.
- Depowered or not, he’s still the most wanted terrorist on Earth.
- Just hanging around.
- In broad daylight.
- Literally less than a mile from the scene of his last terrorist attack.
- This movie is so insulting to the intelligence it could advertise a mobile game app.
Dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb. Just a bad, dull, muscleheaded lunk of a film.
Moira McTaggart is shocked to hear her brain dead patient speaking to her Xavier’s voice because he transferred his consciousness to him because apparently that whole “ethical quandary” wasn’t as ethically quandrous as he made it out to be.
And the audience went:
Nothing, because it’s 2006 and the audience don’t know that you’re supposed wait until after the credits. The audience have gone home, and are living their lives. Must be nice.
Hey was that Stan Lee?!: That was Stan Lee, watering his garden and being slightly confused at gravity not working any more.
Department of Duplication Department: Kitty Pryde gets her third actor and is now played by Ellen Paige. Hank McCoy is now played by Kelsey Grammer after a blink and you’ll miss it cameo in X2 where he’s played by Steve Bacic.
How worried is Guinan right now?:
Wait, Magneto is how old?: In the real world there’s been six years between X-Men 1 and The Last Stand but onscreen we’re probably talking around a year. So let’s say he’s now 71.
Mutant Heaven has no pearly gates, only revolving doors: Here’s where we talk about dead characters coming back to life, as much a staple of the X-Men as clones, chrome and overly complicated timelines. We get Jean, obviously, and a partial resurrection for Xavier that won’t go anywhere.
Today, Mutants are: Mutants are still gay, but are appropriating black mannerisms like a bunch of assholes.
FINAL SCORE: This movie is…
NEXT UPDATE: 19 July 2018
NEXT TIME: Back for more, eh Bakshi?