We have somehow survived to the final segment of X-Men: The Last Stand. And I would like to stop being angry at the movie long enough to say that I understand where a lot of these problems are coming from.
This was not an easy project to make. Bryan Singer, the director of the first two installments of the series, was supposed to direct this one too, but he bailed after Warner’s waved Superman Returns in front of him like Don Ameche enticing Eddie Murphy in Trading Places by saying, “Look! Liquor!”
Their second choice, Matthew Vaughn, did a lot of development and casting, but ultimately left, supposedly because he didn’t think he could deliver a quality product on the short deadline Fox had given him. Which, ironically, forced them to find another director, who had to deliver on an even shorter deadline. And the poor patsy who wasn’t afraid to take that bullet was apparently Brett Ratner.
Because Hollywood is the land where a director can say on a commentary track, with absolutely no irony, “I read the script and loved it. I thought it was just perfect. So I said I would take the job, and then spent six weeks rewriting.”
Unfortunately, the more hands you have in a script, the more likely it is that scenes and lines and moments will become divorced from their intent. The script stops making sense. You end up with orphaned characters like James Madrox, the Multiple Man, who is introduced by name midway through the movie, gets two lines total, and has only one even semi-interesting moment.
While on the other side of the coin, you have Dania Ramirez, who plays Callisto (as you would know if you read the credits on IMDB), who seems to play a pretty significant part early, but who is never named and who gets lost in the crowd by the time we get to the final confrontation on Alcatraz.
Which we’re getting to right now. Magneto and his posse stand on the shore in San Francisco, looking across the bay at Worthington Labs. There’s this weird throwaway scene with Magneto and Callisto and Juggernaut that looks like they all shot their parts on bluescreen on different days, because they’re not even looking at each other.
Meanwhile, Wolverine shows up at the school, which incidentally, the house they used for the X-Mansion…
Is also the same house used as Lex Luthor’s mansion on Smallville.
So anyway, Wolverine rallies the troops, which consist of the same team that was in the Danger Room at the beginning, minus Rogue, plus Beast. When Iceman mentions that there are only six of them versus Magneto’s army, Wolverine gives a speech that’s supposed to be stirring, only it doesn’t really work. He mentions that not only are they outnumbered, but they’ve lost their biggest power hitters, but he is not going to see the dreams of Scott and the Professor die.
It might be more meaningful if Scott hadn’t been reduced to a shambling wreck in this episode, or if the Professor weren’t a lying liar who messed with people’s minds as he saw fit, but hey…
So they take off in the X-Jet, and as they’re all lost in thoughts of their own mortality, Bobby turns to look at Kitty, with whom he’s had this sort-of forbidden romance building all movie. And as the camera zooms in on her face (and although Ellen Page is really cute, she looks really vapid and braindead in this shot, staring slack-jawed at nothing), we think there might be a moment of resolution or development in their story arc.
But no, there are just a couple more random close-ups and then we’re back in San Francisco, where Magneto, instead of putting everyone in cars or a big boat and flying them to the island, decides to rip up the Golden Gate Bridge and use it.
Which is pretty cool, but not only would something smaller be better tactically, the coolness is undercut by the obvious soundstage set they use for shots on the bridge. And undercut even worse when they arrive at the island. Look at that shot of the flying bridge; it’s happening in daylight. The sun is setting, but it’s bright out.
The bridge lands at Alcatraz as the last rays of the sun illuminate Magneto. And then he turns around and strides off the end of the bridge, and we’ve hit Ed Wood territory. It’s not just night, it’s instant full dark, with lots of the abandoned cars on the bridge having suddenly turned their headlights on and searchlights waving around on the island, where seconds ago there were no lights on. I’m not one to quibble at small continuity errors, like when the level in someone’s drink changes between cuts, but this is just crazy awful.
Magneto sends in his army of gang kids first, who get chopped up by the Army’s “cure weapons.” And once again, for someone whose chief motivation seems to be the good of all mutantkind, he seems awfully happy to have those kids lose their powers. But I guess that’s why he’s a villain.
Magneto can’t affect their plastic weapons, so he calls on someone called “Arclight.” Oh, it’s the butch chick…
I find this character disturbing. Not just the angry androgynousness, but the way she lurks scowling in the background and keeps getting close-ups as if we’re supposed to find her interesting when she never does anything. And even here, her power is supposed to be shockwaves produced when she claps her hands, but there’s barely a sound effect. She just claps with this dainty little grunt and stuff falls apart. It feels like I’m watching a rough cut that hasn’t had the effects finalized yet. And I’m really unhappy that the filmmakers have somehow found a way to make a woman in fishnet completely non-erotic.
Which is when the X-Men arrive and Beast gets to say his comic-book catchphrase, “Oh my stars and garters,” because that’s what this movie has been missing–the goofy Beast from the mid-70’s Avengers comics. The X-Men land their invisible jet and make their showy entrances, and I guess I’m supposed to be impressed when the six of them line up in front of about 100 enemy mutants and Wolverine says, “Hold this line!” but seriously, the only thing that can make it more ridiculous is when Kitty then nods stoically–Kitty Pryde, whose only superpower is to become immaterial, so stuff passes through her.
Seriously, at this point, it’s so bad that I’m starting to wonder if, like Frank Miller’s DK2, Ratner’s really just making fun of me by making something so awful.
And now the fight starts, and even though they try to make it impressive, giving Beast lots of wire-stunts, it becomes apparent that “Hold this line!” means “Beat up two guys while a dozen run past you.” But it doesn’t matter, because they’re all extras and will never accomplish anything. Juggernaut runs forward to grab the boy inside, and Kitty volunteers to stop him, because she’s doing so well at holding the line.
And actually, with the exception of Vinnie Jones’s silly line, “I’m the Juggernaut, bitch!” this is a pretty good little action scene, with Kitty being totally outmuscled, but managing to out-think her opponent.
Wolverine and Beast get their obligatory moment of bonding through violence (although Kelsey Grammer ends up totally slipping into Frasier Crane mode for this scene), and meanwhile, the gang has managed to grab Warren Worthington II and throw him off the roof, which is when Angel swoops in to save his dad and then fly away. My God, it’s like a whole movie full of cameos. There are so many characters and arcs that are never developed, it’s like they wrote the screenplay on Twitter.
Magneto has finally had enough, so he decides to end things by flinging cars off the bridge at the building, while Pyro sets them on fire in mid-air. And once again, it’s something that looks impressive but doesn’t really seem to accomplish anything. Everyone takes cover and the cars don’t do any really effective damage.
But they do make the courtyard look like the Danger Room simulation from the beginning of the film, which is the whole point. Wolverine comes up with a plan that will require teamwork from everybody: first, Storm provides fog cover, while Bobby and Pyro finally get their fire/ice duel.
And fire, of course, totally beats ice, at least until Bobby conveniently levels up and turns to ice, smothering Pyro’s flames and head-butting him into unconsciousness.
So, stupid, but points for the comic book coolness, I guess. Wolverine and Colossus repeat their fastball special, but Magneto, of course, stops Wolverine cold. Which is when Beast jumps him from behind and stabs him with a broken clip of cure needles.
Which is clever and a nice touch of irony for such a raging bigot, except for one thing: Jean. Not only is she telepathic, so she could have anticipated the plan, but she was standing far enough behind Magneto that she could have seen and stopped the Beast.
But Jean is so powerful that she’s a storybreaker, which is why they’ve had the most powerful character in the film stand around doing nothing for twenty minutes now; she’s had to wait until it’s her plot’s turn. Which is another symptom of the incredible hurry they put the movie together under, I guess. Integrating the two plotlines would have taken more thought, therefore more time, and made everything more complex. But you can feel the by-the-numbers artificiality of everything when people like Jean and Pyro are standing around, idly waiting their turns for their plots to resolve.
Wolverine tells her it’s all over, but at just that moment, reinforcements arrive and fire a salvo of cure needles at her. Which causes her to snap and begin vaporizing everyone and everything on the island, while her hair blows wild, backlit by flames to make a vaguely Phoenix-like corona.
Dozens of soldiers and mutant extras die, including the gang kids who come running out of the building, but the featured players manage to escape, including Magneto. At least Ian McKellen has the good sense to look embarrassed when he delivers the line, “What have I done?”
Wolverine moves toward Jean, regenerating as she boils off chunks of his skin, until he’s standing face-to-face with her. And she must really want to die, because we know from previous experience (Nightcrawler’s teleporting in X2, Cyclops’s eyebeams in this film) that she can turn off other mutants’ powers when she wants to. But she lets Wolverine live until he kills her. And she gives the same sort of creepy smile that Xavier did when he died. Seriously, telepaths are screwed, y’all.
And in the middle of all this devastation, not only is Wolverine perfectly clean (I guess the dirt just burned right off), but his hair is still perfectly styled. I guess that regenerates, too.
Back at the X-Mansion after it’s all over, Kitty stares at the graves of Jean, Scott, and Xavier, hoping the writers don’t fuck her character up before killing her off. Bobby finds Rogue in his room; she has taken the cure and lost her powers. She holds his hand and looks at him like a girl desperate to lose her virginity. And Wolverine watches Beast accept his promotion to U.N. Ambassador on TV. Hugh Jackman says, “Way to go, furball,” and walks off to fetch his final paycheck and we’re done.
Oh hell no. Because even though this is “The Last Stand, we have to set up the sequel, just in case. So we see a powerless Magneto point at a piece of metal and make it tremble ever so slightly, and then after the credits, we see Xavier’s friend, Dr. Moira MacTaggart, tending to a patient in a coma, when he wakes up and says, in Xavier’s voice, “Hello, Moira.”
Yeah, she’s as scared of another sequel as we are, I think. Fortunately (or not), Fox decided to go in the other direction and do prequels, because that worked so well for Star Wars.
Next week, if I can snag the DVD–X-Men Origins: Wolverine.