Review: X-Men: The Last Stand

Directed By: Brett Ratner
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKe... look, it's all the same people as the last two times, with a few notable exceptions that I'll get to.

Because I feel vaguely responsible to have some sort of journalistic integrity on this site I usually peruse Imdb's website about whatever movie I'm reviewing, if just so I get the names spelled right. Imagine my shock when I came across this little tidbit:

Halle Berry had initially decided not to reprise her role as Storm for this film, citing lack of character development in the previous two installments and a tense relationship with director Bryan Singer. However, after Singer's departure and suffering a major box-office flop with Catwoman, Berry agreed to return on the condition that her role be expanded. Consequently, in this film Storm serves as leader of the X-Men.

That bit of trivia explains essentially everything I was going to pick on about X3 right there. "Lack of character development?" They didn't give any of the backdrops character development either, but they aren't complaining, because at least they know that they're wooden. Berry's been, hands down, the weakest link of the series, and somehow she gets to strong arm the executive producers into giving her top billing because Catwoman bombed. And to think we might have saved ourselves all of this if we'd all agreed to bite the bullet and go see that bewildering S&M-lite flick while it was still in theatres. If only we'd known.

Instead we get Storm - Storm - being chosen by the usually brilliant Professor X (Patrick Stewart) as the new leader of the X-Men. Swell. Then again, there aren't a whole lot of X-Men to be leading anymore.

Let's sum up: at the end of X2, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) is killed by a whole lot of water, but the movie characteristically ends with a bit of teaser - you see the outline of a phoenix gliding through the water, and the comic book nerd sitting alone behind you in the theatre* explained to no one in particular that she'd be coming back as Phoenix in the next movie. And she does.

gets to this point quickly, I guess because everyone knows it's coming, so why the hell not? They quickly follow this up by killing off a major character so innocuously that, while I'm writing this, I'm still not absolutely sure that they're actually dead. This becomes a theme for the film. The film eliminates characters so quickly that by the time the final showdown arrives, five of the major players from X2's big ending heist are gone. And that's when they were all on the same team. In this standoff, this "last stand," the X-Men are only able to boast six members. And one of those, Shadowcat, is so bland that the current version (Ellen Page) is the third actress to have played her in these movies.** Explain again why Gambit couldn't fit into this movie?

I don't think Ratner - more on him later - realizes the damage this does to his movie. What makes these films work is the grating of these personalities against each other: Wolverine and Cyclops pissing each other off, Jean Grey playing the tortured muse for both of them, Rogue pining for Wolverine while Iceman fights for her attention, Professor X floating serenely above it all, Storm doing absolutely nothing of value. Instead we have Storm and Wolverine mildly annoying each other. This was the character development Berry signed on for?

Which isn't to say that I didn't enjoy X3. This is funny, because everyone that's written a review on the film has said exactly the same thing. There's too many flaws for a conscientious reviewer to look over all of them, but few people have walked out of the theatre feeling completely let down. Here's ten reasons why:

1. Hugh Jackman has made some strange career decisions (Van Helsing leaps to mind), but he is a kick-ass Wolverine and everyone knows it.

2. Kelsey Grammar and some yeoman's work by the make-up department have created something no one thought possible (seriously, no one did. We saw The Hulk): a Beast faithful to both his intelligent nature and ability to beat the snot out of anything that gets in his way. Plus, I got through the whole movie without finding a place to sneak a pop psychology joke, which I didn't expect to happen.

3. Stewart and Ian McKellen are now so fully enmeshed in their roles that one doesn't even blink at the idea of an 80-year-old man in a funny helmet picking on a bald guy in a wheelchair.

4. I'm always a fan of slapstick, and it does a heart good to see Juggernaut run into a wall and knock himself out. The sight of that is something that the comics could never match. Though, I will admit, it is former British soccer star Vinnie Jones, so I guess it's not that surprising.

5. Ratner's cast the two best young rising star actors into this film: emotional firecracker Page (Hard Candy) and the new Haley Joel Osment, Cameron Bright (Birth, Godsend, Thank You For Smoking).

6. It's twice as big as any other X-Men movie, with twice as much going on, and still - the special effects are cleaner, the explosions bigger, every detail is taken care of. Bravo for being careful. Singer was still shooting scenes a month before the release date of X-Men.

7. I understood when I paid admission I wasn't getting La Dolce Vita. It was more fun than The Da Vinci Code or MI3, which is all I could have asked for.

8. I didn't expect all those people to die or lose their powers, so you certainly showed up my expectations, Ratner. The X-Men series had been averaging about one and a half deaths a movie: Toad and Mystique (sort of) in X-Men; Deathstrike and Jean Grey (sort of) in X2. This movie opens with a eight-year-old mutant trying to cut his own wings off. You're not messing around.

9. Ratner, you might not be as good as Singer, but you're a whole lot more fun.

10. And, if you made an X4, I'd go see it. Speaking of which, Berry says that her character deserves a sequel. How did you make it through this movie without throttling her? It's more than I could've done.

Seriously, Ratner isn't my favorite - he's egotistical and brazen about how amazing he is, which considering the fact that this is the person who directed After The Sunset and Red Dragon, is a little presumptious. On the other hand, he did direct the Rush Hour movies, and X3 has that action/comedy type flair that so few directors can effectively handle. I don't think Singer can do that nearly as well, and I love my Brian Singer. On the other hand, Singer directed The Usual Suspects, so top that. That's a movie that has Stephen Baldwin in it and is awesome anyway.

To sum up: X3 is flawed and troublesome and expresses its emotions with the subtlety of a middle school production of The Tempest (or of anything, really). It's a Greek tragedy in leather. It's definitely worth seeing.

Three and A Half Stars out of Five

* It might have been me, but it probably wasn't.
** Though Ellen Page is