Continuing our look back at X-Men: The Last Stand, the third in the series of X-Men films. The film actually didn’t start off too badly. There was decent action, a lot of familiar faces (both from the comics and from previous films), an interesting ethical dilemma in one plot and the continuation of an untied plot thread from X2 in the other main plotline. But fasten your seat belts, because stuff’s about to start going very wrong.
When we left off, Cyclops was receiving a kiss from a resurrected Jean Grey that not only curled his toes, but bubbled his face, which is probably bad. Professor X suddenly sends out a telepathic gasp that causes Wolverine and Storm to rush to his side. The professor tells them to go to Alkali Lake. When they get there, the entire valley is covered in fog. Storm raises a wind and clears the fog away.
There’s a longstanding cliche in anime that when a powerful character begins to build his energy for a big attack, it seems to turn off gravity just around him. Rocks and pebbles begin to lift up around his feet, followed sometimes by larger chunks of ground.
Now imagine that, but in live-action and with the whole lakeshore. The air is full of drifting rocks and drops of water. Oh, and sunglasses.
They find Jean and rush her back to the mansion, but they don’t seem to waste any time looking for Scott, even though they know he was there.
Later, at the X-mansion, Xavier explains to Wolverine that Jean is the most powerful mutant in the world, a “Class 5” (a designation we were first introduced to a few scenes ago, when the unnamed mutant gang girl mentioned that Magneto was a Class 4). Her power was so strong that she developed dual personalities: the good, but weak Jean, and the wildly powerful Phoenix, a sociopathic monster driven by lustful appetites. Xavier managed to lock the beast away in Jean’s mind, but it has been released by the trauma of her near-death under the lake. Wolverine is shocked that Xavier decided to mess with her mind against her will.
I don’t mind that they came up with a new origin for Phoenix, given how many times the comics have retconned the character. But seriously, a split personality? Isn’t that a little tired? What’s worse, the ethical conundrum brought up by the revelation of Professor X’s mental manipulation makes it hard to know whom to root for. The Professor has suddenly become an arrogant know-it-all, and Wolverine is irritatingly bitchy.
Meanwhile, on Alcatraz, the first recipient of the mutant cure being offered by Worthington Labs is stepping into the room. And what do you know, it’s Warren Worthington III (known to comics fans as the high-flying Angel, one of the original team), the grown-up version of the kid we saw trying to file off his budding wings last week. He comes in wearing an overcoat under which he has his wings strapped down with a leather harness to keep them hidden (a nod to the comics, in which he used the same trick). But though his dad tries to keep him calm, Warren freaks out at the needle and his wings burst loose.
And although this movie does a lot of things wrong, they actually manage to make Angel pretty impressive here. He flies off to freedom.
Magneto, meanwhile, has managed to track down the mobile prison and crushed the convoy. There is a really neat shot where we see Magneto levitate a car then clench his fist, which crushes the car instantly. Inside the trailer, Mystique makes good on a promise she made one of the guards earlier in the film by killing him; she sticks her feet out through the bars of her cell and snaps his neck.
Magneto, Pyro, and the gang kids enter the prison trailer to find that Mystique has already freed herself. She tells Magneto that she has learned the vaccine is derived from a young mutant; if the humans lose him, they lose the vaccine. Oh yeah, and there are two other prisoners in the trailer. We didn’t notice them before, because unlike Mystique, they had solid doors on their cells instead of bars.
And why did Mystique’s cell have bars instead of a door? Because the plot required that she kill a guard, and for apparently no other reason. This is sloppy filmmaking. It gets sloppier as they release the two other prisoners and we get half-hearted introductions to Jamie Madrox, the Multiple Man and Cain Marko, the Juggernaut (who is imprisoned in his helmet, for some reason).
Seriously, given how much money they spent on this thing, the writing seems awfully half-assed. Sample dialogue:
Magneto: I could use a man of your talents.
Madrox: (shrug) I’m in.
But then one of the guards pulls a pistol filled with vaccine darts. Mystique throws herself in front of Magneto and takes the hit, losing her powers in the process. And even though we saw Rebecca Romijn as a blonde last film, she turns up here as a brunette.
Magneto coldly leaves her there, telling her she’s no longer one of them. For a guy who ostensibly hates everything the Nazis stood for, he seems awfully strict about racial purity. He doesn’t even thank her for saving him.
Oh, and speaking of half-assed writing, Beast is busy arguing with the President about his resignation over the whole vaccine gun thing. It’s a brief scene, that once again touches on a really potent political and ethical dilemma over government action and civil liberties, but the performances and dialogue seem to boil down to, “I hear what you’re saying, and I’m going to collect my paycheck and go wait for my next scene.”
Back at the X-Mansion, Jean finally wakes up from her coma to find Logan at her bedside. So she makes out with him, until he brings up the Professor and the missing Scott, at which point she goes apeshit and destroys the lab, flings Logan against the wall and stalks out. Professor X, of course, blames the mess on Wolverine.
Unnamed gang girl tells Magneto that she has detected a Class 5 mutant. Magneto knows exactly who she’s talking about, and what is up with his headquarters? I think it’s supposed to be lined with scrap metal or something (maybe to block Xavier’s telepathy?), but from some angles, it just looks like painted butcher paper.
Xavier, Storm and Wolverine arrive at the old Grey residence in Uncanny Valley, only to find that Magneto, Juggernaut, and the three unnamed gang kids are there also. Magneto and Charles go in to talk to Jean. Objects in the house are bouncing around like poltergeisty props in Disney’s Haunted Mansion. Charles tries to talk Jean into coming back to the X-Mansion to let him mess with her mind some more, while Magneto stands in the background snapping his fingers and saying, “Wha’evah! Wha’evah! You do what you want!”
Pretty soon, Jean snaps and starts destroying the house. Wolverine and Storm try to rush in to help, but Juggernaut and the kids fight them. And although some of the moments of action are good, there is one magnificently stupid moment that is unfortunately all too common in superhero movies and TV shows.
Juggernaut grabs Wolverine and flings him up through the ceiling. All well and good. Juggernaut is strong enough to do that. But a second later, Wolverine crashes back down through the ceiling in the next room.
Which looks cool, but is really stupid. Although Juggernaut might have thrown him up with enough force to break through, no way Wolverine then fell fast enough to break through from the upper floor like that. And you see stuff like this in movies all the time: someone kicks a soccer ball or throws a baseball or swings an axe against the superperson, only to have the item explode or shatter against their skin, even if the person doing the throwing or whatever only has normal human strength.
Okay, rant over, because Phoenix has decided she’s had enough of Xavier’s meddling. She levitates him from his wheelchair and holds him pinned in mid-air. And although we’ve seen hints of this before, this is the first time we see Phoenix in all her glory, and seriously, I’m not sure what they’re going for here. Instead of the fiery winged nimbus of the comics or the flaming eyes of the previous movie, they’ve gone for this grotesque swollen vein make-up.
And then there’s this bullet-time moment, where everything slows down, but Xavier delivers a line in his normal voice (I guess it’s supposed to be instantaneous thought speak or something) and then he smiles grotesquely at Wolverine before he explodes.
And now I’m starting to get mad at this movie, because seriously? Cyclops bubbles and dies off-screen, and now Xavier just suddenly explodes, and we’re supposed to care, because it’s wonderful Jean and the beloved, noble Professor from the previous movies, except they’re not. Jean is this weirdly angry retconned creature, and the Professor is an arrogant know-it-all who does whatever he thinks best with other people’s lives, like a bald Bloomberg. I’m not just mad that they killed him off, but I’m mad that they ruined him so thoroughly that I don’t really care that he’s dead.
The only thing that could make this worse is a half-assed job of writing us out of the scene, and right on cue, Magneto steps up and says “My dear, come with me,” and whoosh, they’re gone.
Now it’s time for the funeral, where I can’t concentrate on Storm’s eulogy because I’m still mad, plus I’ve figured out that Storm’s hair reminds me of skunk-girl Chiana from Farscape.
Both during and after the funeral, Bobby comforts Kitty, and he even sneaks her out to the big fountain pool, which he freezes over so they can ice-skate hand-in-hand, which makes Rogue none too happy. But she doesn’t confront Bobby about it, because at least he can hold hands with Kitty without being killed.
So Rogue decides to go and take the cure. Wolverine catches her before she leaves, and she gives him a little speech about being able to hug and shake hands and kiss…
Out in the woods somewhere, Magneto and his Brotherhood have set up a tent city. Magneto tries to cement Jean on his side, only to have Phoenix nearly spear him with darts from the vaccine gun.
Meanwhile, Wolverine, Storm and Beast discuss shutting down the school when Angel shows up, looking for a safe haven. So, Storm just decides to keep the school open as casually as Halle Berry collecting a paycheck.
Wolverine gets a psychic message from Jean and runs off to find her, while Bobby goes to San Francisco (I think) to find Rogue. He runs into Pyro, who challenges him to a fire-and-ice fight before blowing up the clinic.
The President decides it’s time to take the war to the mutants. He orders his National Security Advisor, Bolivar Trask (in the comics, the guy who invented the Sentinels; in the movie, he’s played by a sleepwalking Bill Duke) to issue “Cure weapons” to the troops, and just in case you didn’t get that, the next scene shows soldiers divesting themselves of metal and grabbing plastic weapons as R. Lee Ermey voiceovers that all soldiers should divest themselves of metal and grab plastic weapons. My God, it’s like a cartoon.
Out in the forest, Wolverine runs into some members of Magneto’s Brotherhood and slices them up, just so we can remember what it is Wolverine does, and then he grabs a disguise and sneaks into the camp proper, where Magneto is giving a speech about taking over the vaccine factory on Alcatraz that doesn’t end in “Can you dig iiiiiiit?” but totally should.
Jean recognizes Logan in the crowd and they meet in the forest later. But before they can have a ridiculous by-the-numbers conversation, Magneto appears and flings Wolverine a mile away through the forest.
Back in Washington, D.C., everyone has gathered in the Situation Room to watch the special forces attack Magneto’s tent city. Everything goes like clockwork until the images from the infrared satellite signal show the mutants disappearing until only one is left. This guy, James Madrox, who gets maybe twenty seconds total screen time, but whose name the movie decided we had to know, even though more significant characters are never introduced.
But hey, what are you gonna do?
Next week: The Last Stand‘s last stand.