Wolverine takes it personally when hit below the belt with a sucker punch. So should you.
X-Men: The Last Stand couldn’t be any more disappointingly impersonal if it tried. Character-driven zip? Captivating action? Snappy comments? Epic scope? All gone, in favor of a ram-and-jam plot, clunky exposition, “shocking” kill-offs that aren’t at all surprising, a loud, but limp, finale and a sequel-baiting coda that makes you wonder why they even bothered with this particular tale at all.
As bad as it is, everyone will see it anyway, and Fox knew that. It’s why, instead of pushing the date back and waiting for Bryan Singer (director of the first two films) to finish Superman Returns, the studio pressed on toward a firm 2006 release date with Brett Ratner (Rush Hour).
To borrow one of the movie’s phrases, he’s a sack of meat that just sat behind the camera. Oh, he might have yelled “Action!” but he seemingly paid attention to none of it. It’s a vending-machine movie all the way, with none of the mood, charm or style that has preceded it. If you thought the poster-art campaign looked like a fashion ad, well, you’ll find more heft in a Hilfiger spread.
Oh, but Cyclops (James Marsden) has the sort of prickly stubble that only comes with deep grief. After all, it was his lady Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) who gave her life to save the X-Men the last time around. Desperate for answers, he returns to the desolate Alkali Lake, where she perished.
Not so fast. Her telepathic energy not only created a protective cocoon around her, it changed her ’do and awoke her angry subconscious named Phoenix. X-Men honcho Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) previously walled off this destructive dual personality through therapy in childhood.
Now, when Jean turns on people, she goes Carrie on them and they disintegrate, as does Janssen’s briefly inspired, conflicted characterization. (Janssen is at the center of the film’s only resonant moment, but her acting has nothing to do with it.) Her rage would seem to kill the last characters you’d expect, until you hear the first words from their mouths in this movie.
Jean becomes a wild card, then, for bad-guy Magneto (Ian McKellen), again rounding up mutant henchmen (most Gothed out with tattoos to symbolize total badness) for war against the humans.
This time, the government has a “cure” for genetic mutation that causes superpowers and has, unbeknownst to mutant ambassador Hank “Beast” McCoy (Kelsey Grammer), weaponized it. Tertiary X-Men struggle feebly with whether to take the cure. Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine struggles with feelings for runaway Jean as he tracks her to a forest that looks exactly like the one in “Elektra.” As Storm, Halle Berry struggles to produce any emotional lightning as an ersatz leader.
For a movie that struggles with all of its returning characters, it introduces a fatal number of new ones. Grammer looks silly in that silky fur, like a blue-tinted, barrel-chested Worf from Star Trek with more brutality and less personality. Named Angel because, well, he flies, Ben Foster takes to the skies while John Powell’s idiotic music blares behind him. (All that restraint on United 93 must have gotten to Powell, who loads it on thick here.)
Kitty Pryde can run through walls, so she’d have no trouble barreling through the slack-jawed gapes actress Ellen Page gives her. Worst of all, Vinnie Jones’ Juggernaut looks like a ’roided out Man At Arms from He-Man with a helmet that even a grade-school play director might find fake.
The movie distracts with fanboy references (the Danger Room, which produces simulated chaos that’s more interesting than actual chaos on Alcatraz later on) and hollow effects. Cars that crumple like paper at Magneto’s waved hand and an airborne Golden Gate Bridge impress only at a level of zeroes and ones — a travesty by comparison with the first films’ blend of feeling and excitement.
Sure, it looks cool to see the shining, youthful skin on the clean effect of a digitally de-aged Xavier and Magneto. But while watching it, you can hear effects technicians wondering if the technique would hold up for the duration of an inevitable Magneto prequel. The only cure for the mutation in this franchise is to wait about 20 years (a la Returns) and try it again later.