Should I Watch..? 'X-Men: The Last Stand'
What's the big deal?
X-Men: The Last Stand is an action superhero film released in 2006 and is the third film in the X-Men series. Based on the Marvel comic characters of the same name created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the film follows the X-Men as a supposed 'cure' for mutants is discovered while Magneto finds a powerful new ally that could tip the forthcoming war between mankind and mutants in his favour. The film stars Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Hugh Jackman, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, James Marsden, Kelsey Grammer and Rebecca Romijn and the film was directed by series newcomer Brett Ratner, replacing Bryan Singer. At the time the most expensive film ever made, the film received a mixed reception from critics who bemoaned the film's lack of emotional depth compared to the first two films. However, the film was still a hit with audiences with global takings in excess of $459 million and despite being hailed at the time as being the final film in the series, it would be followed by a prequel film X-Men Origins: Wolverine in 2009.
What's it about?
Based on Alcatraz, Worthington Labs announce that they have developed a powerful 'cure' that suppresses the genes that results in the various mutations seen around the world. Derived from a young mutant that inherently suppresses mutant powers, Worthington (whose own son is also a mutant) offers the 'cure' to all mutants but while some are interested, the villainous Magneto believes that humans will force the 'cure' on mutant-kind. He therefore decides to reform the Brotherhood of Mutants and prepares them for a war with humanity.
Meanwhile, Charles Xavier's School For The Gifted is still mourning the loss of Jean Grey. Her fiance, Scott Summers, heads out to her final resting place at Alkali Lake but is stunned to find Jean appearing to him in a vision. But this is not the Jean he knows and with Scott now in mortal danger, Professor X senses something very wrong. He summons Storm and Wolverine to the Mansion in order to investigate the appearance of possibly the most powerful mutant the world has ever seen, known as Phoenix...
Logan / Wolverine
Eric Lehnsherr / Magneto
Ororo Munroe / Storm
Jean Grey / Phoenix
Marie / Rogue
Hank McCoy / Beast
Scott Summers / Cyclops
Raven Darkhölme / Mystique
Bobby Drake / Iceman
John Allerdyce / Pyro
Cain Marko / Juggernaut
Charles Xavier / Professor X
Kitty Pryde / Shadowcat
Warren Worthington III / Angel
Simon Kinberg & Zak Penn*
Release Date (UK)
25th May, 2006
Action, Sci-Fi, Superhero
What's to like?
Despite coming two years before the official start of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) with Iron Man, X-Men: The Last Stand disproves the theory that all superhero films before 2008 were hopeless. The film is loaded with characters and subplots to satisfy the most rabid of comic readers as well as plenty of action sequences that are imaginative and different thanks to the sheer volume of powers on display. The cast are comfortable in their roles now with Jackman, Berry, Stewart, McKellen and Janssen feeling less like actors and more like old friends you haven't seen for a while. And thanks to high production values, costumes and effects are also first class - this film really feels like a living comic book.
The story is a little muddled, given that it merges two popular X-Men story-lines in one film but having said that, the narrative still feels strong and is handled well. I liked the concept of a 'cure' for mutant powers and whether this is a good or bad thing. For the most part, the film follows tried and tested tropes but The Last Stand throws a spanner in the works halfway through that casual fans might not be expecting. Personally, I wasn't that happy about it but I understand how these things work - superheroes never stay dead for long, do they?
- Singer left the series in order to direct another superhero film, Superman Returns. However, he later regretted the decision. At one point, Matthew Vaughn was hired to direct but left the project due to personal and professional reasons. However, Vinnie Jones being cast as Juggernaut was largely due to his long-time relationship with Vaughn.
- Berry initially refused to return as Storm for this film after the lack of character development over the two previous films as well as a strained relationship with Bryan Singer. As a way of enticing her back, the script was changed to allow Storm to become the new leader of the X-Men as well as the change of director. Another factor was that Berry had suffered a catastrophic bomb in the shape of Catwoman.
- The character of Collosus was originally planned to have a much larger role in the film including fights with both Juggernaut and Magneto. However, his role was almost entirely cut and he only pops up in the background in one scene. Instead of having CG animating him, a reflective body-suit was created for the actor (Daniel Cudmore) which was much cheaper.
What's not to like?
Quite why the decision was made to combine two X-Men stories into one film, I'm unsure because the film never really explores the issues presented in a smart and intelligent way that we saw in both X-Men and X-Men 2. This isn't too much of a shock as Ratner is more of an action director than anything else. And while the film's action scenes match anything seen in the first two films, the lack of character progression and actual story telling is disappointing. To be honest, this is the film's biggest problem - being the problematic "third album" in a series. Compared to the first two films, The Last Stand is noticeably not as good but it is far from the lowest the series would fall. Yet it's this film that seems to attract the most criticism and personally, I don't believe all of it is warranted.
It does make mistakes from the casting of Jones as the unstoppable Juggernaut to the inconsistent narrative that switches from one story to another. It tries to match the seriousness and depth of the earlier films but ultimately, it just wants to have a massive battle with almost every mutant you've ever seen and possibly some you haven't seen before. And it feels like a weak pay-off from a series that had promised so much. I kinda feel sorry for this film - it isn't a total dud and it certainly doesn't deserve to be the recipient of so much hate. It just lacks a little of the magic of the first two films and suffers as a result.
Should I watch it?
Like so many third films in a trilogy, X-Men: The Last Stand suffers in comparison to what had gone before it - and also isn't the final film in the series. It has decent action, decent production values and a wealth of characters for fans to keep their eyes open for. But it is a step back for the pioneering first two films which is a shame. The film's legacy is not in its quality but in convincing Marvel that big-budget superhero films could work and be profitable. Would the MCU have appeared were it not for films like this?
Great For: casual X-Men fans, action junkies, people who have seen the first two films
Not So Great For: hardcore X-Men fans, overly serious geeks, convention attendees, cos-players, considered opinions
What else should I watch?
Of course, people coming across this film for the first time will already be familiar with both X-Men and X-Men 2, two of the finest pre-MCU films in history along with Spider-Man 2. But the series would really suffer after this film's somewhat apocalyptic climax, forcing producers into attempting to make prequels. The first of these, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, was a disaster as it never really told a decent story and worse still, it completely ruined what should have been the first blockbusting appearance of Deadpool on screen. No wonder the actor saddled with the role, Ryan Reynolds, took his time to rescue the character and successfully revived him in his own Deadpool movie.
The X-Men themselves wouldn't return until 2011 with X-Men: First Class which introduced a new set of actors cast as familiar characters as well as serving as the start of a new continuity. Being far more entertaining than it had any right to be, the film served up the ultimate X-Men movie with Days Of Future Past which combined both old and new cast in a time-travelling epic that saw Wolverine going back in time to help save the X-Men from giant murderous robots. This new cast continues to deliver X-Men movies and look as though they might for some time. Unfortunately for Jackman, his tenure as Wolverine ended in 2017 with the highly acclaimed Logan.
Questions & Answers
© 2019 Benjamin Cox