Written by David Holland
I’m a pretty forgiving moviegoer. Your dialogue is poorly written? That’s okay. Plotholes? No problem. Time travel paradoxes? Whatever. I would rather enjoy a movie, so I give the writers, directors, and actors lots of leeway. I was even more forgiving when I was younger – I’m older now, more mature, and have higher expectations – but I vividly remember walking out of the theater having just seen “X-Men: The Last Man” as a high schooler thinking:
“Was that movie… bad?“
(That’s right, this movie doesn’t even deserve “X” puns)
I think “Last Stand” is deservedly mocked for being the movie that derailed the X-Men franchise. And this is not just a “the nerdy fans didn’t like it” thing. The franchise actually undid the events of this movie through “Days of Future Past”. Still, there are a few things worth highlighting in this installment. In the X2 recap, I highlighted the “coming out” scene with Ice Man and his family, and noted that X-Men has long served as an allegory for people in the LGBT community. In this film we get a very poignant, very painful reminder of that – young Angel discovered by his mutant-phobic father filing down his wings. And seeing mutants struggle with the idea of a “cure” is genuinely moving – I think many of us have known someone who, at some point in their life, would have happily accepted a “cure” to a part of their personality with which they were unhappy. Rogue, naturally, is intrigued by the prospect of actually touching another person without… you know… killing them. Mystique, on the other hand, must deal with being abandoned by the Brotherhood upon losing her powers. The additions of Kelsey Grammar as Beast and Elliot Page as Kitty Pryde are both strong. The Danger Room scene towards the beginning of the movie and the fight on Alcatraz at the lab creating the cure were both large-scale battles the likes of which had not really been done in comic book movies before. I will even go out on a limb and say they were predecessors to the “Endgame” climax.
Where to begin. First, let me be honest: I have not read the “Dark Phoenix Saga“, the iconic X-Men storyline on which this film is partially based. And maybe that “partially” thing is part of the problem, because there’s the Phoenix storyline and the “cure” storyline. Rather than focus their energy on the Dark Phoenix, which could certainly be more than enough for its own film, director Brett Ratner tells us two stories without giving Phoenix the attention it deserves. The film was plagued by scheduling difficulties – James Marsden went to be in “Superman Returns” (along with director of the first two films, Bryan Singer) which dramatically reduced Cyclops’ role. Rebecca Romijn’s schedule permitted only a little bit of time for filming, which meant a small role for Mystique too. Then Phoenix killed Professor X, taking Patrick Stewart out of the rest of the movie. Let me be clear: I am all for killing characters. I am on the record saying that death is stories is important and should be treated carefully and meaningfully. We should know that there is risk in the universe and that death is permanent.
The problem is that Cyclops’ death wasn’t meaningful – it was rushed so that Marsden could film something else. At the end of the day, this film could not settle on a director, had to quickly write out two of its stars, and fumbled parts of its own story – never clearly telling us what Phoenix was or how it and Jean were related, and relegating Phoenix to the back seat for the sake of the “cure” story.
Oh and this director is also apparently a terrible person.
Usually when I talk about this movie it is in the context of griping. On rewatch, it is more fun than I remembered, but still far and away the weakest film in the franchise. It’s hard to argue with that assessment when, as I said before, it had to be retconned by future installments.