X-Men: The Last Stand
From the beginning of production this film didn't seem like it was destined to be. First Bryan Singer was out, the man who did so wonderfully on the first two versions giving us the definitive comic book adaptations. Then Matthew Vaughn was slated to direct and everyone drew breaths at this unknown, despite his fantastic work on Layer Cake (review). Suddenly he pulled out saying that he needed family time, and then the killer announcement came. Brett Ratner.
This was perhaps the kiss of death for the movie. Fans of the comic and films were commenting about the poor choice, and sites across the Internet were full of woe for the film. Then came the teasers and trailers, and suddenly people were wondering if this was going to be a fitting third movie.
Well I've just watched it and I can tell you now, it is a very fitting third film. Ratner has shown his critics he's not the kiss of death.
The film opens well, giving us a little action and setting up some recap of the known characters and poignant introductions to some new ones.
Straight from these early scenes you can see that there's more emotional attachment to the characters. Much more than has been invested previously. This gives the film one of its strengths, the mutants are deepened and made more complex, or in some cases simpler. There's some wonderful moments where the emotion is strong, Wolverine and Storm, Wolverine and Grey, or the opening scene of Angel.
There's a good mix of action too though, and the story doesn't just stick to the action despite what you might expect from both the story and Director. The personal pain of the mutants is explored in the earlier half of the film, particularly with Angel. However some of these explorations are never full completed, or they leap to their final conclusion without the necessary character exporation. This gives the impression of an attempt to tie up the story happily for as many of the characters as possible.
This is a shame because it does give for an overly sweet conclusion. I did have the feeling that we were rushed from the physical conclusions of the big battle to the emotional ones. Therefore giving me a feeling of a Disney-like ending.
However saying that there are a couple of excellent scenes that conclude the movie, some with excellent effects and choreographed fights, as well as one I didn't think was coming at all. Well done to Ratner for misdirecting me on that one.
Talking of endings. Stay till after the credits for this film, it's worth it. All the press at the screening just up and left and missed it. More justification to all those that complain to me about sitting around that staying for the closing credits is worth it!
So what of our favourite mutants? Well this really a film for Storm, Wolverine and Magneto with all the other characters taking second, third or even forth places. This time Storm has much more to her part and Halle Berry does fine with, although she's hardly ever emotionally stretched and at times seems a bit false.
Wolverine's character does feel somewhat weakened and doesn't give the same strength that we saw in the first two films, although his action sequences are superb to watch. This can be equally said for Beast, played wonderfully by Kelsey Grammer who I never knew was so acrobatic, but he does live up to his screen stealing character of Frasier and controls your attention when he's up there.
Famke Janseen is another strong character, and she's enhanced by some superb special effects. She plays her role much stronger and less submissive as she has been, giving some truly tortured moments between her and Hugh Jackman.
Xavier and Magneto are played true to their characters, and I was surprised that what was mentioned a few times was the bond between them. They aren't enemies, they are friends who want the same thing but in slightly different ways, sharing opposing yet parallel views. I enjoyed that this played to on a couple of occasions and that the screenwriters and Ratner had kept this feeling strong. This gives both Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart some very good onscreen moments, and fittingly, some of the strongest scenes of the movie.
The action is very good with some amazing visuals and new X-Men to be had, but despite the deeper look to some of the relationships there was still a feeling that it wasn't quite hitting the mark, mainly through the first half until the action kicked into high gear.
I can't quite work out why, perhaps because some of the story felt so light, and that some of the characters were unexplored, even by the smallest terms. Yet it didn't have the same impact as the original X-Men stories. This could be down to knowing the core characters for so long and being introduced to too many new ones, in a sort of changing of the guard ceremony.
This highlights one of the issues I have with this film from the start, it's too soon to have a last stand. We've just started to get to know some of these characters and have an emotional attachment. We've also only met a few out of the school and Magneto's group, and yet suddenly we're at the last stand with mutants galore. I felt that there was still a good few movies worth of material before this point, and perhaps that's something I couldn't quite get my head around.
That aside I think it's fair to say that Ratner has out performed expectations here and produced a strong X-Men movie. It's not the best in the series, but it is strong. The focus on some of the leading characters and relationships is very welcome, and some of the set pieces with their effects are quite brilliant to watch, my favourite being Magneto taking care of the convoy. There was one poor blue screen moment before the Golden Gate bridge, but then that whole sequence suddenly makes up for things.
As I said, a fitting film for the X-Men series, but by no means the best. I do hope this isn't their last stand, and perhaps we may be playing chess again one day soon...and not as a prequel.