Monday, April 4, 2016

X-Men 3: The Last Stand (2006) (Movie Review)

      With a title like “The Last Stand”, it can only mean that a series has reached its end, and I was really worried that I’d never see another X-Men film again after this. Thankfully, the series was far from over, the cast wasn’t going to hang up their costumes, and there was still a lot more to come. However, “The Last Stand” is still a valid title as it’s the finally of what is now known as the original X-Men trilogy. Future films will still keep in the continuity of the series, but it would no longer be in linear order. Expectations were high after “X2: X-Men United”, but when “X3” finally premiered, it was placed squarely in the mixed reception crowd. Some thought it was a great sequel that ended the series on a high note, while just as many people hated it and thought it ruined the series. Personally, you can put me among the fans of this film because I loved it. Oh, it has problems to be sure, and a lot of the criticism is perfectly justified, but I think the positives far out way the negatives, and overall I think this is an excellent entry in the series. In fact, I know I’m in the complete minority about this, but I actually like “X-Men 3” a lot more then it’s predecessor “X2: X-Men United”. I’m not saying it’s a better film, just one that I’d rather watch. 

       After the events of “X2-X-Men United” a new area of co-existence begun between humans and mutants, but the death of Jean Grey has left a real sting on the X-Men, and things just haven’t been the same. Their failing to work as a team, our hero’s arnt getting along with one another, and personal conflicts are arising. Outside the X-Men mansion, public opinion has changed in view of the mutants. Once they were blindly hated by society, but now their being viewed as tragic victims that need saving ... whether they want it or not. Thus a mutant “cure” comes into creation, which will suppress all mutations permanently. These revelations cause a rift between mutant factions as some want the cure, and others see it as the beginning of mass genocide. Magneto soon takes advantage of the situation and expands his once small brother hood into a massive army of enraged mutants hell bent on striking hard at the humans before they can be cured. As if things weren’t complicated enough, Jean Grey has returned from the dead ... but it’s not the hero our team remembers. A dual personality called The Phoenix has taken over her mind, and is ready to unleash the Armageddon on everyone. After several tragic losses, it’s up to Wolverine and Storm to become the new leaders, bring the X-Men back together as a team, rescue Jean from herself, and make a daring final stand against Magneto and his massive mutant army.

        Strait to the point, this was the first X-Men movie that felt BIG! I loved how subdued the first film was, but this is film three, and I just felt that bigger stuff needed to go down by this point. The story felt larger, the stakes were higher, the action was far more of spectacle then ever before and it just felt like the X-Men movie I always wanted. Also, this was one of the first superhero movies that I felt actually took chances, it didn’t play things safe. I felt that “X2: X-Men United” did a good job setting up some high stakes, but never followed through on them. In “X3” the situation felt more real, characters are actually dying, lines are being drawn in the sand, people are choosing sides, and our mutant characters are finally unleashing their full powers. We see Magneto throwing cars and trucks, we see the full X-Men team out on the battle field working together, combining their powers, battling other supper powered villains, and even exchanging witty banter in the process. I love that, it’s like our first real taste of what “The Avengers” would deliver in their movie years later. There’s a scene where Professor X has a confrontation with the Phoenix, and it’s honestly one of the most unforgettable action scenes I’ve ever experienced in a superhero film. The scene where Magneto lifts the Golden Gate Bride ... holly cow, was that not a sheer spectacle or what? Now day’s it’s an all too common cliché to have famous land marks destroyed during big action scenes, but this was one of the first that really felt larger than life to experience in the theater. The musical score composed by John Powel is also fantastic, as it features some of the best music themes of the whole series. His dark Phoenix theme for example gives me chills and might just be one of my favorite individual tracks I’ve ever heard in an action movie. 

       Magneto really gets to shine in this film as the main villain, and he owns every scene he’s in. Seeing him rally an army of mutants is just classic X-Men come to life right out of the comics or the TV show.
There’s also a really cool group shot of the Brother Hood of Evil mutants taking the Golden Gate Bridge. I felt “X2: X-Men United” had Magneto do some darker things that felt a pinch out of character, but this time they get it right. He’s still dark and ruthless, but the film highlights his humanity, and shows that there’s nothing but sadness and regret that comes from some of the actions he takes. The addition of the Phoenix is also very welcome, and Famke Janssen’s performance is terrific. Seeing her go from such a genuinely likable hero, to this terrifying force of destruction is no small feat, and she just owns it.
Even though it’s not a proper re-telling of the classic “Dark Phoenix Saga” from the comics, I couldn’t imagine the film being as good without her character present. Other noteworthy villains include a fast moving mutant called Callisto, the return of the fire shooting Pyro who abandoned the X-Men in the last film, and of course the arrival of the indestructible, super strong Juggernaut. He’s been a fan favorite character for years, and even though he was nothing like his comic book counterpart, it was awesome to finally see him in a film. I really liked that he had a sense of hummer too, it was great.

     I also like seeing Wolverine take on the role of team leader. Yes I know he wasn’t a leader in either the comics of the TV shows, but he’s the most iconic and popular of all the X-Men and sense film #1 he’s been the main character, so it just feels right to me. I love how he’s the one to give the motivational team speech of standing together as X-Men, it’s great to see him give orders while out on the battle filed. And it’s refreshing that he’s no longer trying to rediscover his past.
This time Wolverines story arch is all about what he does in the present, how does he deal with the return of Jean Grey, and how he learns to work with the team as a leader. Halle Berry also shines in her roles as Strom, more than she ever has in any of the other films. Not only is she involved in more action, but her character is given a lot of attention as she too takes on a role of leadership. All the other classic X-Men are back and still very good in their respected roles, it’s great to see more of Iceman, and while the strong metal skinned Colossus doesn’t do much, his presence is felt.

     Shadowcat, who’s a young female mutant that can walk through walls, was briefly scene if the first two films, but now she finally has a starring role. She’s played in this film by the talented young Ellen Page, who’s great in the role and would later go on to become quite the popular young actress after this film starring in movies like “Juno” and “Inception”. I really love the addition of the character Beast, who’s played brilliantly by Kelsey Grammer. I was never a fan of the character, but after this movie he instantly became one of my favorite X-Men from the films. I love how despite his appearance, he’s this soft spoken, intelligent and sophisticated character, but when the action goes down he’ll still lash out and act like a wild animal, it’s great. Then there’s the mutant called Angle, who really has no purpose in the film at all. He seems like an interesting character at first, and I love this scene when the suits try to cure his mutation, only for him to break out and keep his wings, but after that he dose absolutely nothing in the film, so what’s the point? 

      Now let’s talk about the biggest issue people have with this movie, and that’s all the character deaths, or in the case of Mystique getting their powers taken away far too early in the film. Well, this is something I have mixed feeling about. On the one hand, it’s a very big risk, but it makes things harder to predict, and the action is all the more exciting when I don’t know if the characters will make it out alive. However, the only death that felt justified was the death of Professor X. It was a real shock that I didn’t see coming, and it gave our hero’s a really dramatic loss to recover from. I really love how effective the aftermath of his death was. The image of the professor’s empty wheel chair in his office, mixed with a beautiful remembrance speech provided by Storm is a moment that always stood out in the back of my mind. Unfortunately, nobody else’s death was handled as well, most especially Cyclopes. Now I’ve never liked Cyclopes, and it really doesn’t matter to me if he dies, but even he deserved a better send off then what he got. He was still a main team member, and our hero’s never once morn his death or even take a moment to really acknowledge it. This really isn’t fair to fans of the character to just kill him, off screen mind you, and our hero’s just don’t seem to care, at least not as much as they should be.

      This leads me to my first real problem I have with this movie ... the passing is way too rushed. The movie just jumps from one scene to the next without letting anything sink in. Half the time the film feels like it’s on fast forward as it’s just rushing to get to the next scene. This is a sequel that has some big concepts, and raises some big questions, but it never gives the characters time reflect or ponder anything. There’s a pivotal scene in which Wolverine gets into a heated argument with Professor X regarding the moral or ethical course of action that needs to be taken with the return of Jean Grey as the Phoenix, which just wasn’t handled very well. The scene brings up some good points from both sides of the argument, but it’s so short that neither the characters nor the audience get the chance to really think or reflect on any of the issues being raised. Even when the movie takes time to breathe it still feels rushed. There’s a moment when Iceman goes skating with Shadowcat, which could have been a nice quiet moment with our hero’s using their powers for means other than fighting, but it only lasts for a couple seconds. This is a problem that lasts all the way through to the end, and while it ways the movie down, it still doesn’t ruin the overall experience.

      At the end, Magneto’s army attacks Alcatraz in an effort to destroy the cure, but the X-Men arrive to be the last line of defense. This climax is outstanding, and arguably one of my favorite final battles I’ve ever seen in a comic book adapted film. First of all, I love the build up to this fight. There’s a great little scene where all the X-Men are onboard the X-Jet, and on route to this massive battle. With no dialogue you can see how nervous and how concerned every team member is to be heading off to a war that they may not return from, and it’s just a great little scene. Then of course the best moment of all is when the team finally arrives, they all land on the battle field one at a time, and they stand together in one strait line against Magneto’s army. It’s one of my top 3 favorite moments in the whole series, and it give me chills every time I see it. Of course the battle itself is awesome, we have Juggernaut chasing Shadow cat throughout the complex, Beast is leaping around beating up bad guys, Iceman’s cold powers colliding with the fiery powers of Pyro, Magneto’s launching flaming cars, Dark Phoenix unleashes all her powers, and it’s just one big feast for the eyes.

       Of course the ending itself isn’t as great. After building up one hell of an epic confrontation between Wolverine and Phoenix ... he just pulls out the claws and kills her, which I have very mixed feelings about. I really think this could have led to a more powerful ending if Wolverine reached out to her and helped her take control of her dominate side. Plus it just feels wasteful to bring Jean back only to kill her again. However, this scene dose set-up some important plot threads in future films, which make this death justifiable. The epilog is terrible, way too rushed, and the characters don’t really reflect on the experience. There’s an after credit scene where a previously established human character named Dr. Moira MacTaggert checks on a comatose patient who greats her with Professor X’s voice. Future films would confirm that Professor X is in fact alive, but they don’t explain what this after credit scene means, or how Professor X’s mind got in this man’s body. 

       Before I get to my final verdict on the film, I quickly wanted to address some of the films deleted and altered scenes. Honestly, I don’t think any other movie is in more desperate need of an extended cut or alternate cut then this film. Holly cow, there are so many deleted scenes, and alternate takes that really should have been in this movie. In fact they would have fixed a lot of noticeable problems. For example, at the end of the original cut of the movie, Rouge takes the cure and no longer has her powers, but in the deleted ending she refused to take it and accepted herself for who she was. Why would they change that, it makes Rouge feel so pointless just curing herself like that, and the original scene would have made up for her lack of involvement in the film. There’s deleted scene where Magneto tries to get Phoenix to kill every human during the final battle but she refuses, and this really needed to be in the film to establish why Magneto wasn’t using her. There are even some cool action scenes like Storm creating a massive wave during the final battle that would have been so cool to see but was needlessly cut from the film. Future X-Men movies like “The Wolverine” and “X-Men Days of Future Past” all had extended cut’s, which was great, in fact they improved on their respected films. So why doesn’t this film have one, especially when it needs one even more then the previously mentioned films?

       When all is said and done, the film is undeniably flawed, probably could have been stronger, and the criticisms against the film are perfectly valid ... but I still like this movie a lot. I love how epic the action gets, I love how big the story gets, and I think there are just enough strong character moments to balance out all the spectacles. Heck, the future films of the series will actually make up for some of the films faults, so I have no problem looking back and enjoying this film for what it is. I honestly think the films reputation is a little unfair, because for all the films problems, it still has a lot of really great things to offer that just aren’t given enough credit. It’s not the best of the series by any means, but it’s definitely not the worst, it falls somewhere in the middle for me. The real “worst” of what the series has to offer will come next time when I review “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”.

                                         I give “X-Men 3: The Last Stand” 4 stars out of 5

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