With the release of The Wolverine imminent (more Hugh? Yes please), I’m going to say something so unbelievably controversial it will probably cause utter outage: I actually like X-Men: The Last Stand. I think it’s a film that doesn’t deserve as much criticism as it receives, and it’s certainly not the worst X-Men film (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, anyone?).
The Last Stand is the third film in the mutant superhero franchise and follows two films that were really quite great and featured a talented ensemble cast of Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Halle Berry and, of course, Hugh Jacked-man. X3 is considered by many to be the Batman & Robin of the X-Men films; the point where the films lost all credibility. It’s bashed for its portrayal of certain characters and heavily condemned for its supposed bloated cast. The way some people go on about it makes it sound like an STI. And I think this is unfair. Prepare for a rant:
Its apparent faults are considered to be due to the director, which like the Sugababes line-up, was ever changing. Bryan Singer, who wrote and directed X1 and X2, did not return after the studio, 20th Century Fox, would not delay the release in order for him to make Superman Returns. Matthew Vaughn (who would go on to direct X-Men: First Class) was brought in and got fairly far into pre-production before leaving again due to time constraints. It was then that Brett Ratner (of Rush Hour and Red Dragon fame) was drafted in to fulfil directing duties. Many feel that if Singer had stayed on for the third round, X3 would have been better and more on par with the first two instalments. However, it should be noted that he left to make Superman Returns which is definitely not brilliant (X3 currently has a higher IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes audience rating); so who is to say that Singer wouldn’t have messed up X3 as well?
One of the main criticisms directed at X3 is its portrayal of the popular Jean Grey/Phoenix character. Jean heroically offed herself in X2 to save her teammates only to be resurrected as The Phoenix in X3. It should be highlighted that I’m far from the authority on comic book lore, but many comic fans felt the character was misrepresented in terms of her powers and role as an antagonist. In the comic universe, the Phoenix is very much a god like character with more or less unlimited powers, such that she can destroy solar systems and resurrect herself. However, these powers were dumbed down for the film (to the point where she is vulnerable to some well placed adamantium claws). It is common practice for the more far fetched elements in comic books to be toned down for films (it certainly happened in the first two X-Men films) and whereas The Dark Knight Trilogy is applauded for grounding superheroes with realism, X3 is reprimanded because of it. Is that not wrong? Similarly, the first two X-Men films certainly reduced some characters’ abilities, and characters like Rogue and Storm were not exhibited to their full potential.
The Phoenix instantly became an antagonist in X3, unlike her gradual fall from grace depicted in a multi-comic story arc. Surely this can be pinned down to the need of a new threat for the protagonists and avoiding retreading the old ground of the first two films. This is a choice that surely doesn’t warrant as much hatred as it does. I concede, more time could definitely have been dedicated to exploring the character further. However, the bad choices are easily outweighed by some truly stand-out scenes involving the Phoenix’s powers, which are emotional and epic.
I’ll admit, the film does make the unforgivable decision of casting Vinnie Jones. Who okayed this?! Vinnie’s special mutant power is not being able to convincingly deliver a single line. Conversely, there’s some inspired casting with Kelsey Grammer as Beast which definitely overcomes the previously aforementioned casting flaw.
The film is also often chastised for its continuing focus on Wolverine as the main character and almost sole hero of the group. Many feel that Singer placed Wolverine on a pedestal in X1, making all the sacrifices and saving the day, and whose story is more important than the supporting characters. That this continued in X3 is the fault of the previous two films as surely changing the main character anchor point would have been jarring for the audience (and Hugh’s huge fan base).
Similarly, the fact that two main characters are offed in the film (one early on, one mid way through) draws nothing but contempt from some comic fans. It must be highlighted that one actor left because Singer wanted him in Superman Returns and was not available for filming, and if you stick around after the credits, you will see the other character’s fate is not as final as suggested by a certain vaporisation scene. These deviations from the comic books were added in at the insistence of producers who wanted to increase the sense of danger posed by The Phoenix, and it certainly works. If two main characters can go, anyone can. Again, changes from the source are applauded in some other comic adaptations, but not this one.
Two main plots are the focus of the film: a mutant cure and The Phoenix Saga; undoubtedly the film deserved more time dedicated to both of these stories. Whether or not only one should have been selected is open for debate, but would only having one capture both the political undertones and main emotional core?
A major gripe is also its overly stuffed cast, which reduces some major comic book players to nothing but cameos and never really explores characters in great depth. A fault maybe, but this is the Marvel Universe, and exploring all characters in depth would be nigh on impossible. Certain characters are introduced only as a nod to fans rather than fully fleshed out characters. Regardless, fans were ecstatic when Singer was announced as director of the new X-Men film, Days Of Future Past, but enthusiasm has waned somewhat as more and more characters have been introduced; to the point where it now dwarves the X3 cast list and threatens to reduce the main characters to fleeting appearances on screen. We’ll see next year if the fears come true.
In the meantime, is X3 perfect? No. Is it an irritating genital disorder? No. So maybe it needs some slack.