A to Z Challenge – X is for X-Men: The Last Stand

x-men3I’m a nerd. Sure, I’ll enjoy a good thinking movie every now and then, one of those independent art-house releases that most critics seem to fawn over endlessly while eschewing the normal Hollywood dreck, but honestly, it’s the ones that combine big, beautiful spectacle with good storytelling that earn my unending love. Give me swords, siege towers, science fiction, fantasy, mutants, pirates, aliens, epic battles, and a good plot with memorable characters, and I’m a fan for life.

I’ve been an X-men fan ever since the ’90s cartoon got me up on Saturday mornings, and I’m a huge fan of the first two movies. My issues with movie number three, X-Men: The Last Stand, have been well-documented, both in this column and other places. Between a regime change, a rushed schedule, and rampant rumors of what was really going on behind the scenes, it’s no surprise that most fans of X-Men and X2 were more than a little nervous.

From the moment they released the trailers, my firmest feeling was that X-Men: The Last Stand would have some great actions pieces but that the story in between wouldn’t nearly be on the same level as X2 by any stretch of the imagination.

Sometimes it really sucks to be right.

It’s not that the movie’s completely bad. The beginning prologues, where Professor X and Magneto first meet a pre-teen Jean Grey, and a young Angel tries to shave off his wings, are solid and emotional, and they give you hope. The action pieces, as expected, are fantastic, from the Danger Room sequence to the climactic (and much-discussed) moving of the Golden Gate Bridge. And it’s about time they showed Iceman with a full body of ice.

Unfortunately, the rest of the movie has all the depth of a sidewalk puddle that’s half dried up. Compared especially to X2, it’s a giant leap backward.

The story has so much potential. The humans have developed a “cure” for mutants, which is understandably controversial. Some are lining up around the block to take it, while other are violently protesting its existence. It’s a recipe for some outstanding conflict.

The problem is that it’s never developed beyond the most perfunctory points needed to move the characters from A to B to C. It feels like it was just dashed off to provide a framework for the special effects, and it probably has something to do with the truncated shooting schedule that had them start filming last August.

We get the expected slew of new mutants, but Brett Ratner doesn’t have nearly the ability to juggle the large cast. Most of the new mutants are mentioned by name only in the credits, and it would be a sharp-eyed fan indeed who could find them in the actual film.

Only Beast and Kitty Pryde are given any sort of development. Angel’s barely in three scenes, and seems to be operating in his own plot that only tangentially connects to the main story with the X-Men. Other than that, the newbies are one-note characters who scarcely get screen time.

That might not be so bad in and of itself, but the characters we’ve come to know and love have been replaced by pod people. Few things are more jarring than somebody acting out of character, but it happens more than once here.

Professor X, ever a patient teacher, suddenly snaps that he doesn’t owe anybody an explanation for his actions, sounding more like a petulant teenager than a pacifist teacher. For the first ten minutes or so, Wolverine sounds like he was forced to read somebody else’s lines. Cyclops has gone emo, and he’s hardly in the movie, which is a shame because this time around he could’ve had a decent part. And Storm is practically given free reign of the X-Men. It doesn’t feel like they’re doing a sequel. It feels like they are deliberately killing off the franchise.

Five major characters die, either literally or figuratively (in that they lose their powers), not truly by necessity but just to up the body count. I’m all for not keeping characters safe, but unnecessary death is a sign of lazy writing. “Ugh, this story just isn’t interesting enough. What should we do?” “I know! Let’s kill off somebody!” It doesn’t work, and it doesn’t help.

What’s even worse, though, is when they don’t even have the stones to kill off major characters and leave them dead. (If you stayed, or do stay, to watch the after-credits scene, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.) If you’re going to go so far as to kill major characters, kill them and leave them in the ground. Don’t build in an escape clause “just in case.” If they’re that important to the story, they shouldn’t have been killed in the first place.

Admittedly, I’m speaking as both a critic and a fangirl, and I hate seeing the characters I grew up with getting treated this way. The movie is by no means as bad as expected, but it’s not nearly as good as it could’ve been. Casual moviegoers who liked the first two movies probably won’t be as bothered by it, but X-fans will find it hard to make excuses for everything that goes wrong.

From 2003 up until 2007, I was lucky enough to have “movie reviewer” as my job description. As such, I’ve built up a *lot* of reviews for just about every movie that came out during those years, as well as reviews of classic movies. This is one of the reviews I originally wrote during that time.