Due to the rules of cinema lore, the final part of a trilogy always fails to stick the landing.
Not to say every third parter is atrocious, no, far from it, but in the act of tying up loose ends and bringing things to a satisfying conclusion you still have to keep things fresh and that’s hard to do.
So how did X-Men director Bryan Singer manage to top his mutant opus that was the superlative X-Men 2? Simple: he fucked off and made Superman Returns instead.
So while Singer was off making the most middle of the road Superman movie in existence, 20th Century Fox found his replacement in one Brett Ratner, director of the Rush Hour movies and other slightly bland director-for-hire gigs who threw himself into the fray and somehow turned out a film only 99 minutes long…
Now, how exactly he managed to turn in the third part of a trilogy that has dozens of plot threads that’s a minute SHORTER than the original movie, I’ll never know, but a surprisingly short run time is only the first of X-M:TLS problems.
Jean Grey’s watery demise at the end of X2 has left a hole in the heart of the X-Men and while the group is trying to move on, team leader Cyclops has all but given up (you can tell because he hasn’t shaved). Storm and Wolverine are trying to train the young up-and-comers but when an alleged cure for the mutant X-gene is announced, homo-superior terrorist Magneto resurfaces out of hiding with an all-new brotherhood. To make matters worse, Jean Grey ressurects as The Phoenix, boasts an all powerful telekinetic force and promptly switches sides after desimating her old friends. So all forces are aimed at Alcatraz Island, where the cure is based, where a massive final battle will take place that will determine things and stuff and blah, blah, blah…
So first, before I put the boot in, let’s embrace the good, because despite it’s blatant underachieving in the length department, Ratner pulls a bit of a blinder in the action department, as The Last Stand boasts some of the consistently best set pieces of the whole trilogy. Be it a frenzied brawl at the Grey family home or Magneto lifting the Golden Gate Bridge single handedly, Ratner at least maintains a proper epic scale. The other thing Ratner excels in is the sheer amount of shameless fanboy pandering – although this may not actually be an entirely good thing. Tons of references and characters are hurled at the screen regardless of whether they stick or not, Sentinels, fastball specials, the danger room, Angel, Beast, Juggernaut… a good 40 years of comic book references are dumped everywhere with all the restraint and care of a 6 year old cocaine addict throwing rice at a wedding. Kelsey Grammer’s Beast is a joy, Ben Foster’s Angel is only there to make a cool shot for the trailers, Vinnie Jones’ Juggernaut… is just odd, but the vast wall of shout outs eventually take way too much focus off the main plot.
And here we reach the main problem of The Last Stand, it’s utter inability to do anything with it’s main antagonist, Jean Grey, who spends most of the film glaring at people in a snazzy red jacket. Despite controversially whittling down some of the main cast early on in the film, her character is bafflingly wasted until the end, which would be bad enough but the Dark Phoenix storyline is THE X-Men arc above all others and such an astonishing waste is frankly unforgivable.
The cast all turn up and do the jobs they’re contractual obligated to, Hugh Jackman snarls, Halle Berry gets nicer hair and a new recruited Ellen Page finally gets to bring Kitty Pryde to the screen but this feels way too much like a sprint to the finish line rather than the intelligent farewell we were hoping for.
An uncanny failure.