X-Men: The Last Stand (Two-Disc Special Edition) Review
It is time for the Brotherhood of Mutants to bring their war to humankind. There have, of course, been times like this before but never when the line between humans and mutants has been drawn so clearly, with so much pressure on one to conform to the limitations of the other. To his disgust, Magneto learns that the government has access to a cure for mutants - with some irony, this cure has been harvested from a mutant held in a government location under high security - and that mutants are being strongly urged to be vaccinated with it, to leave them powerless, ordinary even. Believing this to be an act of war on his species, Magneto brings together a considerable army of mutants, many of whom have branded themselves in the manner of rebels, to conclude his war and to kill the mutant whose very existence threatens that of all mutantkind. But powerful as he is, his army is missing a force that would overwhelm humanity, leaving him with thoughts of Alkali Lake and his recalling an afternoon many years before spent at the home of the young Jean Grey...
By all accounts - notably Bryan Singer leaving the X-Men series of films to devote himself to Superman - this was to be the last core film in the X-Men series. Given the success of the venture and how easily Hugh Jackman assumes the role of Wolverine, it’s likely that there will be several spin-offs in the future that deal with specific characters rather than the X-Men but, for now, we can assume that this series has come to an end. Given that fact and the publicity that surrounded it, the question must be whether X3 - The Last Stand not only works as a feature in its own right but whether it brings the series to a fitting end, particularly in following X2 - X-Men United, which, like Spiderman 2, had an appeal outside of typical comic-book fans.
Of course, given that it’s now Brett Ratner in the director’s chair and not Bryan Singer, one comes to X3 - The Last Stand with a certain amount of concern. Rush Hour, Red Dragon and a lot of music videos, many of them made for Def Jam, there’s not a great deal to get very excited about. Least of all that name, which, no matter that he might deliver something remarkable in his future, doesn't ring with the sound of greatness. At best Ratner is anonymous. At his worst he’s Michael Bay on a lower budget and his saving grace on X3 - The Last Stand is that Singer and Marvel must have instructed him, "Don’t fuck with the story!"
Actually, Singer and Marvel may have told him no such thing - although I’d wager that both kept a very close eye on proceedings - but with the two earlier films having established a strong storyline, all Ratner had to do was show up, roll cameras and ensure that boom mikes, extras and his own fingers didn't stray into shot. Indeed, there’s much of X3 - The Last Stand that’s little more than a hangover from X2 - X-Men United. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) remains at the bottom of Alkali Lake, mourned by both Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Cyclops (James Marsden), who continue to bicker about Grey even in her absence. Business continues as usual at Professor Charles Xavier’s School For Gifted Youngsters, being not only a safe place for mutants but also a cover for the activities of the X-Men. Business of a different kind also goes unchanged in Magneto’s (Ian McKellan) rather more anarchic Brotherhood of Mutants. The plot of the film is driven by Magneto's knowledge of Leech (Cameron Bright), a mutant who has the power to cure others. As the film opens, Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) has been caught attempting to kidnap the child but soon, via news brought by Beast (Kelsey Grammer) who is highly placed within the government, the X-Men set out to protect the child. However, even they soon question what it means to be a mutant and whether accepting a cure, which would undoubtedly change who and what they are, might make their lives easier.
The problem with X3 - The Last Stand is that it doesn't really develop any of the characters. Indeed, what characterisation there is in the film should be obvious to anyone with even a little knowledge of the two films that preceded it. Rogue (Anna Paquin) is an obvious choice for being a mutant who clearly wants out - X3 - The Last Stand is now the third film where she's desperately wanted to hug someone and be hugged but is terrified of killing them - and so leaves the X-mansion halfway through. There's clearly the flicker of temptation in the eyes of many of the X-men but, just as clearly, the Brotherhood Of Mutants want nothing to do with being cured. When one of their number falls after being cured, Magneto callously walks away from them, saying, "You are no longer one of us!" And so X3 - The Last Stand pitches itself, as in the manner of the first film, towards an epic battle between the X-Men and the Brotherhood Of Mutants. In the manner of sequels, this retreads the same ground as X-Men but adds in several hundred new mutants including Phat, Callisto, Kitty Pryde, Colossus, Jubilee, Flea, Arclight and a chap who does a porcupine thing.
Of course, the masterstroke in the film is to bring back Jean Grey, now tainted by Dark Phoenix, who threatens both the X-Men and the Brotherhood Of Mutants with her inability to control her actions. At first, X3 - The Last Stand does appear to do much backtracking with regards to the story of Jean Grey and the presence of the Dark Phoenix within her. I can't have been the only one to think her a bit powerless in the two earlier films but what this film does well is to demonstrate the chaos that results from such power. Indeed, Rogue and Jean Grey/Dark Phoenix are somewhat mirrored in this film, each one unable to control their power, with each one wanting nothing more than to be saved from themselves.
But in being impressed by that, you then have Vinnie Jones as the Juggernaut saying, "I'm the Juggernaut, bitch!", something that was inspired by a Youtube video in which an episode of the X-Men cartoon series gets a new voiceover. Although, why they chose that and not, "Excuse me...I'm the Juggernaut! You can't harm me, are you a fuckin' ass? You must not know who the I am, I'm the Juggernaut, bitch! I'm gonna hit you with yo' own pimp!" Perhaps it was the age-rating that concerned them. And that is perhaps the problem with X3 - The Last Stand. Despite there being moments that are on a par with X2 - X-Men United, it falls far short of it, somewhat close to being on a par with the first film but showing none of the ambition that Bryan Singer made evident. And in the end that comes down to Brett Ratner and writers Zak Penn and Simon Kinberg, who seem to have preferred a more light-hearted take on the material, which, in those times they break away from Singer's worldview, really doesn't work. Unfortunately, what Ratner doesn't seem to have realised is that this isn't Rush Hour and that Internet gags that might have worked when spoken by Jackie Chan are ill-suited to X-Men.
Anamorphically presented in a slightly-wider-than-normal aspect ratio of 2.40:1, this looks like a typically sterling transfer from Fox with all of the detail, colour and sharp contrast that you ought to expect from such a recent film. However, the film does have rather a flat look about it - it’s a much less impressive-looking film than X2, for example - which means that it may not show off a big widescreen television or projector as well as other releases. However, from a technical standpoint, there’s really very little to fault it on other than some noise in the explosive final scenes at Alcatraz but with much smoke, fog and light, the DVD is probably being tested by all the things that a digital transfer typically struggles with.
With a choice of DD5.1 EX and DTS ES 5.1, Fox have produced a great-sounding release of the film with the corner speakers being used to give the film presence and to draw the action around the viewer. Best heard in some of the film’s quieter moments - the scene in which Dark Phoenix/Jean Grey is urged to join the Brotherhood of Mutants by Magneto has many silences but also some impressive audio effects - there are also many moments when even a decent system will feel stressed under the action. The resurrection of Jean Grey and the film’s finale are room-shaking in their volume but sound marvellous with an impressive set-up. Of course, there is a slight difference between the two tracks with the DTS one just sounding that little bit better but both are great and anyone without a DTS decoder shouldn't feel they're missing out on very much.
As short a film as it is - X3 - The Last Stand draws up just short of 1hr40m - it also comes on a DVD set that has a very complete set of extras. Accompanying the film are two commentaries, both of which are also subtitled. The first is by director Brett Ratner and writers Zak Penn and Simon Kinberg whilst the second features producers Lauren Shuler Donner, Ralph Winter and Avi Arad. The first is a jokey but technical affair that talks about the use of CG effects, the shooting locations, availability of actors and, what with it featuring three guys, Famke Janssen's cleavage whilst the second is more dry but has Avi Arad talking much more about the X-Men as a Marvel property and much more on the reaction of the press and audiences to the film. Also included on this disc is a set of Deleted Scenes (9m56s) with optional commentary by the director and writers as well as a First Look (1m14s) at The Simpsons Movie that features an unfinished scene from the film.
The three main features on the second disc are documentaries that chart the film's production, beginning with Brett Ratner’s Production Diary (41m20s), which is followed by X-Men: Evolution Of A Trilogy (43m08s) and the comparatively shorter X-Men: The Excitement Continues (20m25s). The first of these is a relatively long but inconsistent feature that jumps between various locations, scenes and interviews without ever really bringing it all together in any kind of structure other than to have Brett Ratner's thoughts on how things are going. The second of these is much better as it mixes archive footage, interviews and action from all three films to present a background to the X-Men films. Each film is given about a third of the running time and although the feature doesn't delve into any of them in great detail, this serves to bring them together as one. The final feature repeats much of what is in Brett Ratner’s Production Diary but without footage of the director shouting in his particularly bratty way. However, what we do get are behind-the-scenes footage, interviews with the cast and crew and some explanation of the X-series with Stan Lee.
The second disc then continues with a couple of Featurettes, beginning with an Interactive Gallery that reveals the history, powers and some images of each of the X-Men and Brotherhood of Mutants. This is followed by an Anatomy Of A Scene: The Golden Gate Bridge (12m04s), a feature that goes into the production of one scene from X3 - The Last Stand and presents storyboards, special effects footage and interviews to describe how it came together. With a Play All option on both, Previz Animatics (x20, 24m41s) and Vignettes (x7, 25m58s) present the bad and the good in this set. The former are examples of scenes from X3 - The Last Stand planned using rudimentary CG imagery whilst the Vignettes are a mix of the interesting and the very dull. The worst of these short Vignettes are in seeing Brett Ratner say, "This is not just a superhero movie. This is not just a spectacle. This is a movie that's about something!" whereas they're at their best in seeing Executive Producer Kevin Feige describe the various in-jokes in the three films and how the first film in the series revealed certain plot lines of its sequels. Finally, there are four Blogs (14m15s) that may have originally been posted on http://www.thedangerroom.net/, Character Stills, Art Galleries and Trailers (1m32s, 2m20s and 6m54s).
So Brett Ratner didn't fuck it up but I doubt if he did the X-Men series any favours either. As a safe pair of hands behind the camera, he did exactly what was asked of him, being the making of an action blockbuster with well-established characters and with enough nods to Singer's pair of films but this does feel something of a disappointment after the grand superhero action of X2 - X-Men United. Put it down to Ratner's style and his own view of events in the X-universe but as a way for the X-films to go out, Fox could have hoped for better.