X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

Stripped of original X-Men director Bryan Singer, and touting itself as the final instalment in the X-Men franchise, it seems the feeling was that there were no holds barred for X-Men 3. To give the movie its due, it really doesn’t hold back; major characters get slaughtered left, right and centre (though obviously not Wolverine, since that’d scupper their plans for a Wolvie spin-off) and, perhaps even more shocking than that, a couple of major characters get their mutant powers revoked. Make no mistake, X-Men: The Last Stand means business.

The main plot thread is that, using DNA from the mutant child Leech, scientists have managed to engineer a “cure” – a way to suppress the expression of the mutant gene, permanently. For some mutants, this is a dream come true; for humans, it’s a way to reintegrate the mutant community back into normal society; and for some mutants, it’s an incredible insult to their entire existence. To create a cure is to deem mutation a disease, and that doesn’t sit well with some mutants – namely, Magneto. To him, mutants are superior to humans, the next stage in evolution, and it’s easy to see his point. Convinced that humans will use the “cure” as a weapon – and he’s right – he rallies the troops, mounting an army of rebellious or criminal mutants, and sets out to find Leech and take control of the cure.

Meanwhile, something strange is going on over at Professor Xavier’s. A mourning Cyclops, having been blowing off training for moping around on a riverside, has disappeared, but more bizarrely than that, Jean Grey has reappeared. It turns out that Jean is a lot more powerful than previously suspected; a Class 5 mutant, with Professor X’s help she’d set up mental blocks to “cage the beast” of her remarkable power, but now all hell’s broken loose and she’s off on a mad split-personality killing spree. More powerful even than Magneto, with the ability to do pretty much whatever she feels like, he’s eager to recruit her into his “Brotherhood”, and with their leaders gone, the X-Men are divided and disheartened.

While all that’s going on, the son of the scientist who created the cure is hanging around in the background – the movie posters suggested Angel was perhaps to have played a bigger part in all this, and the beginning scenes also pointed to him becoming a major character, but possibly many of his scenes hit the cutting room floor, because he doesn’t really do a lot other than turn up and, somehow, magically, without making any effort at all, manage to shake Storm out of her emo-funk and kick-start the action. It’s a pity he was so sidelined, because Angel has to be one of the most visually impressive X-Men.

There’s also a subplot involving a possible budding romance between Shadowcat and Iceman, resulting in plenty of unattractive pouting from Rogue (seriously, Bobby? Kitty is so much more fun), but it’s so teenage it’s not worth worrying about. The insane amount of things going on at the same time, coupled with the huge amount of characters – suspiciously, no Nightcrawler, but pretty much everyone else is back, plus an enormous pile of cameo-mutants to please the geeks – means that somehow, it feels like nothing important is happening. It’s difficult or impossible to become emotionally invested in any characters or relationships, particularly because the yawn-worthy Storm is given such a pivotal role, and before the film finally hits its big battle scene, it’s begun to drag in a major way.

The battle scene is fun, though. Usually, big battle scenes in movies are in danger of losing their impact because everyone looks the same and everyone fights in pretty much the same way – this isn’t the case with X-Men. Although it’s hard to see what possible use Shadowcat could be on the frontline, and although there’s nothing Pyro can do that can’t be achieved just as easily, and with a lot less whining, with a box of matches, there’s enough variety to keep things interesting. Until Jean Grey starts floating around blowing things up, which unfortunately just looks rather comical. Many of the special effects are somewhat sub-par, underwhelmingly fake-looking, and so much of it is pointless. (Magneto’s ego-fuelled showing off in front of Jean is particularly daft.)

Unfortunately, the battle is rather too little, too late. As in the case of the first two X-Men movies, there’s a tendency for wink-wink-nudge-nudge social commentary, and overly sanctimonious speeches get in the way of something more interesting happening. The dialogue is also occasionally painfully self-aware; the mutant power-related puns are painful to listen to, with “not everyone heals as fast as you, Logan” to Wolvie re: emotional fallout, and “You, of all people, know how fast the weather can change” to Storm about the political climate being the most dreadful candidates.

As a brainless popcorn movie, X-Men: The Last Stand will no doubt do itself proud; despite the frustrating lack of fan-favourites like Gambit, the comic book nerds should be reasonably happy. Although the ambiguous ending potentially hints at an opening for a sequel, with so many major players on both sides being either dead or de-powered, and with the increasing tiredness of the franchise, let’s hope this really is the last stand.

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