Revisiting the Reviled – X-Men: The Last Stand, or Days of Decisions Past That Will Have To Be Undone In Future Past

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(In unison) “It’s fun to stay at the…”

In 2000, Bryan Singer finally brought the dreams of countless children of the ‘80s and ‘90s true when his film version of X-Men finally hit the screens. At once, it ended the painful reign of ‘90s comic book films and laid the groundwork for the current trend of superhero shenanigans on the silver screen. After the considerably improved sequel, X2: X-Men United, Singer left the franchise to make Superman Returns. Initially Matthew Vaughn, who’d later direct X-Men: First Class, was hired to helm X-Men: The Last Stand, only to leave due to professional and personal issues. At the last minute Fox brought in Brett Ratner, of Rush Hour fame, to direct.

As head of 20th Century Fox’s film department, Tom Rothman exerted large influence on the projects his studio turned out. Praised for his work in creating Fox Searchlight, Fox’s independent film subdivision, and derided for his meddling in Fox’s blockbusters, Rothman ran his big studio films like the big studio heads of old. If you ever wondered why the original X-Men trilogy featured no Sentinels, Rothman didn’t want them. Watching X-Men: The Last Stand, following another Fox production of a Marvel character, Daredevil, it became apparent these Fox films feel more like a product of the old studio system. For all their influence on the business of modern movie making, the original X-Trilogy never has anything resembling a singular style. It’s how dudebro extraordinaire Brett Ratner can step in for Bryan Singer and easily replicate the same aesthetic.

X-Men: The Last Stand holds the distinction of being the 2nd most hated X-Men film. The dubious honor of the most reviled X-Film goes to X-Men Origins: Wolverine (I wrote about a few months ago here). Now we’re approaching the return of Singer to the X-Franchise with X-Men: Days of Future Past, a time-travel saga that will likely serve to undo the events of The Last Stand.

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Intended to be the epic conclusion of a saga, The Last Stand only continues the on-going theme of the previous films – mutant persecution. It is important to note that best X-Film, First Class, does not carry on this tradition. There’s a feeling a familiarity in The Last Stand as a fair number of the battles are slight variations on things we’ve already seen. For example, the climax of each film is: 1) They’re gonna make all the humans become mutants. 2) They’re gonna kill all the mutants, then humans. 3) They’re gonna make all the mutants become humans, and Jean Grey is gonna kill all the mutants and humans. The end of each installment is basically, “We won! We’re kinda, sorta accepted by society!”

Though I’m only part-way through this excursion into the pits of comic book cinematic history, I’m already noticing a very distinct trend among the big-budget pieces of mega-crap. Pretty much all of them attempt to do too much, sacrificing a cohesive story complete with character arcs in favor of more characters and bigger action sequences. The Last Stand tries to blend a storyline about a mutant cure as well as the resurrection of Jean Grey in a half-baked take on the Dark Phoenix storyline to ineffectual results.

Issues concerning character are all over this film, but nothing is more reprehensible than the casual misogyny that surrounds the resurrection of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). In the previous film Grey, a teacher and doctor, sacrifices herself to save the team, like Spock in The Wrath of Khan. Now we’re informed that Jean Grey is a mentally unstable woman who was able to achieve all that she had because her emotional imbalance was corrected by Professor X. Not only does it negate Jean Grey as a strong female character, it turns Professor X (Patrick Stewart) into the creepy teacher who mentally manipulates his students. It turns his lectures about mutant morality into the sad ramblings of a hairless hypocrite.

"Don't mourn me. I'll live on as long as there is substantial financial incentive."

“Don’t mourn me. I’ll live on as long as there is substantial financial incentive.”

When she is under the influence of her father figure, Jean is a smart, capable force for good. But when she ignores the commands of her father figure, she goes through wild emotional tantrums resulting in death and mass destruction. When her sexual urges are left unfulfilled, it is followed by a mood swing and destruction. This incarnation of Jean kills both prominent male figures in her life, Cyclops and Professor X, as a result of her emotional rampages. Cyclops was killed off because James Marsden had signed on to be in Singer’s Superman Returns, not for any purposes related to story.

Jean Grey isn’t the only source of regressive gender politics. In the first scene with the X-Men, Storm (Halle Berry) nags Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) for doing things his way. Later, during the final battle, Storm looks at Wolverine, repeats his earlier line of dialogue, as if to say, “I should’ve listened to you earlier, you rugged individualist, you.” The relationship between Rouge (Anna Paquin) and Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) is strained because Rogue saw Iceman touch Kitty Pride (Ellen Page) in the Danger Room. Desperate to know the touch of Iceman, Rogue wanders off to take the cure without mentioning it to Iceman. Following a skirmish, the villainous Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) is hit with the cure. Abandoned by Magneto (Ian McKellen) because she’s now human, Mystique quickly turns State’s witness and provides the government with Magneto’s secret location. This revelation is punctuated with the quip, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

The changes to Wolverine in The Last Stand are just a form of cheating. Having gone an off-screen change from rugged individualist who will do the right thing when it matters to not just a team player, but a team leader. This evolution could’ve been interesting if it occurred onscreen, not magically between movies. The relationship between Jean Grey and Wolverine is like something out of a terrible romantic comedy that turns into a creepy stalker story. Even though she’s killed her long-term boyfriend, Wolverine sees so much to care about that he tries to fix this poor, broken woman. Even after killing her surrogate father, Wolverine again tries to restore her. It is only after she is indiscriminately killing countless people with her mind that Wolverine must kill her. Wolverine is broken up about having to kill the woman that he loved, even though she always rejected his come-ons in favor of her long-term committed relationship. He loved her so much he had to kill her.

There are too many mutants such as Juggernaut (Vinnie Jones), Multiple Man, Spikey Boy, Androgyny, and Bone Throwing Guy which only exist to provide various X-Characters with mild annoyance. Magneto, once again, plans to establish a new order of mutant domination, because that wasn’t dealt with at all in the previous X-Films. Juggernaut’s sole purpose in the film is seemingly so he can say, “Don’t you know who I am? I’m the Juggernaut, bitch!” Thus making X-Men: The Last Stand a pioneer in referencing YouTube videos in feature films. Well done, fellas, well done.

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“Don’t you know who I am? I’m that character whose dialogue only consists of cultural ephemera, bitch!”

For an epic final battle that is supposed to close out a trilogy, The Last Stand offers a claustrophobic battle that obviously takes place on a soundstage. It’s a long meandering action sequence where the X-Men battle countless nameless mutants. There’s the big showdown between Pyro and Iceman, only they forgot to include anything in the film leading up to this to reestablish conflict between the two. At the very least, the battle does features a blue, hairy Kelsey Grammer fighting those nameless mutants.

Brett Ratner remains one of the more hated directors working today. The highest praise he can receive is that of adequacy, which the action scenes in The Last Stand are. Ratner can stage and film an action sequence, but he is completely incapable of getting strong performances from his actors and remains completely blind to broader themes. Ratner has been dogged by accusations of misogyny and the content of The Last Stand do little dissuade that notion, let alone the crap that spews from his mouth. But he’s still out there. His next film is Hercules, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as the mythic hero, opens this summer.

Whether the X-Men or the new series Hannibal, it seems that there is a concerted effort to erase Ratner’s mark on certain properties. As much as we can hope that X-Men: Days of Future Past brings the X-Films to previously unattained highs, we’ll be more than happy to settle for anything that negates the events of this film.

 

Up Next: The Punisher (1989)

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