What X-Men: The Last Stand got wrong - and right

Feature Rob Leane 6 Mar 2014 - 06:45

Rob takes a look back at Brett Ratner's X-Men 3, to see if it's better than it's generally given credit for...

Any regular visitors to the growing universes of superhero films will know that X-Men: The Last Stand is one of the least-loved instalments since the genre came back with a bang in 2000.

It is seen by many as a hugely disappointing end to what could have been a near-perfect movie trilogy after all the expert world-building by Bryan Singer in the first two instalments.

Rotten Tomatoes’ consensus on the film is that new director Brett Ratner had ‘replaced the heart and emotion (and character development) of the previous X-Men films with more action and explosions’, averaging the scores of its ‘Top Critics’ at a measly 41%.

However, it cannot be said that it was in any way ‘the last stand’ for mutancy at the movies. In fact, the film not only topped its predecessors at the box office, it also allowed Fox to cash in on the holy grail of the comic book movie world – successful spin-offs.

Whereas previous side-character-taking-centre-stage stories Catwoman and Elektra had both failed to break the $100 million mark at the box office, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and The Wolverine both did, as did First Class, a completely re-cast prequel. Evidently, cinemagoers weren’t put off by The Last Stand (which remains the most successful X-Men film at the box office) even if the online fandom had tried their best to erase it from their memories.

Now, with the prodigal director returned, X-Men: Days of Future Past is one of the most highly-anticipated superhero films in recent memory, which is saying something when you think of all the super-powered box office behemoths we’ve seen since he last took the chair.

All of this has led this writer to a dangerous question: was X-Men: The Last Stand really that bad? Having sent myself back into my younger body to see the film again, I’m back to share the good (and the bad) that I found…

Attempts at a message

If there’s one thing that this film most definitely did right, it was its core story. With hindsight, the idea of putting a mutant ‘cure’ at the centre of its narrative was exactly the right thing to do.

Looking at the context of Singer’s famous ‘coming out’ scene in the original X-Men movie, and William Stryker’s hateful tirade against all things mutated in X-2, seeing the eradication of mutant-kind at the forefront of the public realm is the logical path for concluding the trilogy.

Singer had been developing the idea of humans hating mutants since the off, and with The Last Stand we finally got to see what an all-out public confrontation between the two would look like. Surely if Singer had been in control, we would have seen a similar plot unfold.

At points, this central device of a cure to mutation provides some big emotional moments. On this re-watch, I found that seeing Rogue finally removing her inconvenient power really felt like a cathartic pay-off after two films of set-up. The de-powering of Mystique also gave me a surprising amount of ‘feels’ for a baddie send-off. I might be adding on extra layers of personal attachment though, now that I know her backstory from First Class.

By about two thirds of the way through the movie, I was really beginning to think The Last Stand was much better than I had previously thought. It was on its way to a glowing write up thanks to big emotional moments and a strong ‘being different is OK’ message.

However, the film’s issues really start to show in the final act and this strong message begins to fall by the wayside. After an attention-grabbing introduction, Angel gets hugely under-used. It really stood out on a re-watch that Angel’s inclusion really does only serve the purpose of a blatant indicator of the three stage narrative of the film. At the start he thinks being a mutant is wrong, in the middle he realises humanity isn’t that great either, at the end he pops up to save his dad as a microcosm for the new-found peace between mutants and humans. This character is given nothing else to do other than make the plot extra clear, in case you hadn’t noticed the plot already.

Also falling flat is the de-powering of Magneto, despite some juicy build-up for McKellen where he reminds you of his concentration camp origins. By the point he gets ‘cured’ though, we have seen a shed-load of de-powerings, a myriad of explosions and the action isn’t even over. Magneto’s ‘what have I done?’ moment is rushed passed rapidly to make way for more cool shots of the destruction going on.

The film also attempts another message in the ‘we work as a team’ bookends, which seem really tacked-on under close analysis. Storm mentions it at the beginning and then ignores her own idea by letting Wolverine run off and work it all out on his own. In the climactic battle she then decides that Wolverine probably had the best idea anyway. In a film where fitting in one message was troublesome, the reason for (sloppily) adding another one in is harder to locate than Magneto’s forest hide-out.

Treatment of characters and canon

Over a cheap lager recently, a friend of mine claimed that Professor X behaved like a ‘complete dick’ in X-Men: The Last Stand. I didn’t know what he meant at the time, but upon re-watching his wise words rang true.

Aside from the ethics class and a brief heartfelt conversation with Storm, Xavier’s behaviour is quite atrocious in this movie. Gone is the beloved teacher and mentor, instead we have a man limiting people’s powers, continuously shouting at Wolverine and sending two of his best friends into danger. He sends them to recover Jean from Alkali Lake without warning them of her power at all. She can turn people to dust Charles, you might want to mention that.

It isn’t just the Professor who suffers from the sloppy writing either. New characters are introduced then left alone with little or no character development. Upon closer inspection, certain mutants were seemingly included only to provide a later gag (Multiple Man), cool action moment (Colossus) or emotional denouement (Angel). As a kid on first watching, I thought these new characters were all pretty cool. Now though, their involvement and treatment stands out as a symptom of poor writing.

Perhaps worst of all, iconic X-Man Cyclops is killed off abruptly in a moment which provides little emotional effect. Although killing a supporting character like Agent Coulson in Avengers Assemble provided a huge motivation for that film’s central team, Cyclops’ death has about as much impact as if the all-powerful Phoenix had just killed some random bloke. She regrets it briefly, but it does nothing to turn her back to the light and very little to motivate the X-Men who don’t do much until more people are in danger.

New members of Magneto’s brotherhood are treated just as badly. Will there be any redemption for these cool new characters? Will we see any juicy moments of personal revelation to set up for a sequel? No, they all die. Again, these characters are introduced just to have a cool power moment later in the day, and then promptly written out.

However, after hunting desperately for positives like Wolverine fighting his way to Jean through a forest of underdeveloped evil-doers, I can report that it isn’t that bad for all the characters in The Last Stand. A few central players have some genuinely emotional moments. After two films of growing affection, Wolverine being forced to kill Jean stands out as a really heart-wrenching moment.

Although contradictory to continuity (which saw him as fully human-looking in an X-2 background shot), the moment where fully-blue Beast sees his human hand is also emotionally resonant. Additionally, despite his questionable behaviour, Professor X’s death is one of the better moments in the film as his pupils and old friends’ reactions add some much needed heart to a mainly-cold film.

For every successful moment though, there are several severely stupid ones. Fans of the wider X-Men canon must have been thrilled to hear that the beloved Phoenix saga was coming to the screen. Then they must have been highly disappointed to see it sacrifice centre stage to the cure arc and to see Jean relegated to killing her lover off-screen and standing in the background looking grumpy for huge chunks of the movie.

Although the film plucked a story idea and a whole host of characters from the canon of the comics, the treatment of this arc, established protagonists and new blood are some of the worst things about this film.

The film as a whole

Finally, I was drawn to thinking about the film itself as a whole. As already discussed, it has lots that we should enjoy: a strong ‘being different is OK’ moral, a ‘mutants versus the government’ plot which ties in well with the other films and a few decent emotional moments.

That isn’t all we can enjoy either – the effects in the film are generally stunning. Jean’s powers in particular are rather well served, building from her childhood display of potential into a visually brilliant destroying of the Professor and a stunning display of destruction as her sheer rage and anger brings about the film’s conclusion.

The action moments for bit-part characters play out well too including the de-powering of an adhesive mutant mid wall-climb, the man whose limbs grow back, Arclight’s shockwaves and the porcupine guy’s grizzly use for his power. Many moments effectively mix humour, live-action stunts and CGI very well, creating a great visual landscape for the film. Some big characters are served well by the CGI elements of the film too including the jaw-dropping Golden Gate Bridge sequence for Magneto and the opening Sentinel simulation scene for the core cast.

However, even as a massive production by an experienced studio that helped Singer build the first two films, there is still some highly irritating filmmaking and continuity niggles which an already-struggling film could have done without. These include Wolverine’s claws looking faker than before despite looking fine in the previous films and the annoying-on-repeated-viewings instantaneous night-time which occurs as we reach the final battle. Things get even worse in said battle when Wolverine is accidentally flip-turned-upside-down in a spot of poor editing and lights are on in empty cars for no reason other than to get a better shot. These are tiny points yes, and the kind of thing I normally don’t write about, but in the case of The Last Stand they seem worth mentioning as one more issue to add to the growing pile.

These filmmaking niggles are symptomatic of the wider issues surrounding this film - it was a great idea with a shoddy execution. Although there is plenty to like on a re-watch namely some excellent action, a few strong character moments, a movie with a moral and some decent special effects, please don’t expect to find your new favourite film if you decide to re-watch this in preparation for Days of Future Past.

The film’s strong points are overshadowed by a horde of problems which it’s hard not to notice. It might not be the worst film ever, or as bad as we all remember, but it’s still quite bad. Continuity errors are the least of our worries in a film where central characters are killed off without consequences, writing makes a beloved leader a ‘complete dick’, new characters get no development at all and a fan-favourite comic book antagonist gets reduced to standing around and frowning. Suffice to say, Bryan Singer’s return is even more eagerly anticipated by me after this spot of analysis.

In answer to my own question though, no, The Last Stand is not quite as bad as I remembered, but it does still suffer from some sizable flaws. One can only assume it’s the public’s love for all things super-human, the memory of Singer’s superior films , an ace prequel (First Class) and a decent follow-up (The Wolverine) which have provided the healing factor to keep this franchise alive.

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I think that's the biggest problem with The Last Stand. It COULD have been very good. The mind wonders how it would have turned out if Mathew Vaugn had stayed on rather than "rent-a-hack" Brett Ratner coming in....

That's pretty much where I'm at as well. The biggest issue with Last Stand is that it wasn't that bad...it was just so poorly handled.

The same basic storyline with a better writer, better editor and better director would have been just as good as X-Men and X2. It's like you can see the better movie if you squint, but there's this shitty fog of mediocrity blocking your view.

At least Wolverine Origins was just terrible, all the way through it was just bad and easily skipped in rewatching the series as a whole. X-Men Last Stand I WANT to watch...but every time I do it makes me sad for what it would have been with a competent production team.

(Although, just to mention it; Matthew Vaughn directed First Class, which was the recent prequel. Bryan Singer was the director who left after directing the first two. )

In terms of what happens in The Last Stand, it could have been amazing. OK, so Vaughn made some dubious choices (Vinnie Jones?) and there are huge problems in story (what exactly is the point of Angel?) but the film could have survived that if the direction had been up to the task.

The deaths, for example, are all pretty bold choices. The problem is that there's no weight to the proceedings whatsoever - it just doesn't seem to matter. And that's purely the responsibility of Ratner.

Cool article.

I'm surprised you didn't include a paragraph to rip on the dialogue which is fairly miserable. "Sometimes when you cage the beast, the beast gets angry!" etc. Not to mention every single thing about Juggernaut, from writing to casting to costume design.
Still, I have never read the comics so the dark pheonix thing doesn't bother me as much as it does others. In fact, I've watched these 3 films so many times I really rather enjoy its blockheaded brand of blockbuster charm

I believe there has yet to be a great X-Men movie. I actually think all 4 movies we've had so far have all been decent, but nothing really special - I honestly find it hard to even rank them, because they are all on about the same level for me.

No praise for "I'm the Juggernaut, bitch!"?

Near Shakespearean writing.

I mostly agree with this assessment - two main storylines was one main storyline too many - though the argument that "New characters are introduced then left alone with little or no character development... certain mutants were seemingly included only to provide a later gag." doesn't really hold up. What did we learn from Magneto's Brotherhood in either of Singer's films? Or the kid with the forked tongue? If you counted the attention given to a certain clawed mutant in both of Singer's movies, you could have retitled either of the films "Wolverine and The X-Men".

Well, at least its better than Origins Wolverine!

Unfortunately, including even 50% of the trite dialogue would have taken up my whole word count! You're right, it is pretty naff at points. Plenty to rival the naff 'what happens to a toad' bit from the original, proof that even Whedon and Singer can mess things up!

The other two films had plenty of problems too. I would like to highlight the killing off of Senator Kelly.

I also think that it is a real shame that the only time we see Sentinels is in the Danger Room simulation in this movie.

TBH the best X-MEN film in my mind is FC, I found the first two films enjoyable but not fantastic, the third a horrible mess of a film and the two Wolverine films incredibly boring (especially the latest) and alas I am not positive for DOFP, I don't want to see the trilogy cast again, I want more focus on the FC cast with more character development! And Singer is hugely overrated!

I'm not even a Cylcops fan, and his death pissed me off.

The problem I have with it is that it takes two of the greatest X-Men stories and merges them together and hopes for the best. However, I give it kudos for killing of main characters. That takes balls for a studio to do. It's just a shame their deaths were rubbish.

To be honest, the deaths weren't that brave. Scott died because James Marsden decided to jump ship and go and make Superman Returns instead. Professor X's death was just to get him out of the way for the final act, and was dubiously undone in the final scene anyway (we'll won't see if this makes sense until in the next Xmen film). Even Jean is quite likely to come back (this is Jean Grey, after all).

One of the worst things Fox seems to do is throw every mutant it can at the screen, and see what sticks. Last stand would have worked a lot better with about half the characters in it. They will throw a character in for the hell of it, even though it then breaks continuity when they want to actually do something with them later on (Looking at you, Emma Frost). I was hoping that Fox were going to take the mutant universe a bit more seriously now, but judging by the utterly ridiculous number of characters coming up in DOFP, looks like they are making the same mistakes again.

Nothing in this film annoyed me more than the treatment of a de-powered Mystique. I hate that she was de-powered in the first place, but afterwards she's just another boring "bitter" woman. Ugh.

Whedon wasn't directly involved in screenplay writing for this film, was he? I know he wrote 'Gifted', the comic book arc that the film is loosely based on, but I don't recall them taking any dialogue from it.

Grando - although I still agree that Ratner is a mostly awful director (and I consider him an absolute twat of an actual person - just read his interviews) I still maintain he's not to blame for most of the films failings.
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Remember, he only came on board as director very late in the process. Vaughn was announced as director in March 2005, but then quit by June 2005 and replaced literally 3 days later by Ratner. Filming started in August 2005 so that gave Ratner less than 2 months before filming started.
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Now outside of the odd change here and there, and with his own influence on the edit, the main script and set pieces would have been in place already as agreed by Vaughn (hence Vaughn's buddy Vinnie Jones playing Juggernaut).
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So although Ratner can be blamed for some of the films faults (pacing, directing the actors), a lot of the problems lay squarely at the feet of Vaughn, the writers and the studio.
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However, as Ratner is a douche most of each day, people prefer to blame him soley for its failings.

I wouldn't say I blame him solely. As you rightly point out there are issues with the film that would have been in place when Vaughn was still on board. However, given how well First Class turned out, it's difficult to say where Vaughn ends and Ratner begins. Maybe one day we will get a warts and all documentary (much like the one on the Alien 3 Blu-Ray) that tells the whole story.

I still maintain that the Cyclops character was mis-handled right from the first film and his treatment never improved.
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And the least said about Dark Pheonix the better. Yikes!

Rob - I still maintain that X-Men have't been done complete justice (First Class coming the closest). Let's just hope that the new film finally rounds it all out.
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Great article btw.

Good point. And something tells me even Vaughn at that point wouldn't have been able to turn that ship around. Like I said, he was announced as director in March that year for filming to start in June!!!! Also as far as I can find, although he may have influenced the script, he mostly was only responsible for the casting of Kelsey Grammer (yay!) and Vinnie Jones (waddafuq?).
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So actually I redact my previous post and say the blame rests on the producers and studio (with the writers not helping things).

... not by much, but yeah

I don't think it is. Origins Wolverine is far less of a mess than X-men Last Stand is. XMLS is easily my least favorite X-men film.

much discussion of the x-films has resulted in this:

'don't talk to me about Last Stand. Wolverine Origins at least has a decent storyline.'
'Except the bridge scene of awesome.'
'Except the bridge scene.'
'And Magneto's "I've got one tattoo, no bugger's ever inking me again.".'
'We will concede that as a deeply awesome character moment. But that's it.'

"Evidently, cinemagoers weren’t put off by The Last Stand (which remains the most successful X-Men film at the box office) even if the online fandom had tried their best to erase it from their memories."

It marked the beginning of the decline of the franchise which was going from strength to strength. Yearly worldwide boxoffice grosses:
X-Men: 9th ($296m)
X2: 9th ($408m)

X-Men: Last Stand: 7th ($459m)
X-Men Origins: Wolverine: 15th ($373m)
X-Men First Class: 18th ($354m)
The Wolverine: 15th ($415m)

If it hadn't been for Last Stand (and Origins) it could probably still be one of the biggest superhero franchises, instead it is well behind Marvel, DC and Spiderman.

Here's the thing. It wasn't boring. Best will in the world, the first two were a little bit boring. I'm all for world building, but when you spend so much of the film introducing everyone that the main 'plot' of the first film felt like little more than a tacked on final battle (which was reasonably dumb), you end up with a rather boring and unmemorable introduction to the Xmen. X-2 was better, but still rather boring.

And I for one was glad to see the back of Cyclops. His character in most versions of the Xmen is rather boring and self righteous and generally annoying.

The Xmen films, as a whole, have never struck me as being as good as every one says (solid, but not spectacular, with almost as many universe breaking character and plot holes as the terminator franchise by this point), and without a doubt, Last Stand is the one I've enjoyed the most (closely followed by The Wolverine).

Still could have been worse. Imagine if Uwe Boll had replaced Vaughn. And Vinnie Jones was an interesting choice, if have made Juggernaut actually as Juggernaut. Usually Cain Marko is Xavier's older half/step brother, having Jones cast could have had him as the younger,jealous sibling instead and Jones is physically fit enough to be a realistic contrast to Stewart in size for Marko/Juggernaut.
Really Juggernaut should have had a whole film with him as the main villain, or at least some mention in First Class or the upcoming DFP, but Last Stand as it was ruined the character for live action, at no fault of Jones, but the writing and reworked background for the character.

Cheers man, think the new one will blow the bloody doors off the franchise. Fingers crossed.

Search 'joss whedon what happens to a toad' in Google, he mentions it in an AV club interview that comes up! Tho I can't remember where I heard that originally..

The main thing that X-Men 3 got wrong was, basically, The X-Men.

Right:

Sentinel glimpse - The Sentinel head briefly glimpsed in the danger room was spot on.
Beast - he was absolutely perfect!

Wrong:

Phoenix as annorexic human instead of a flamey bird thing.
Professor X as stupid man.
The uncaring and unjustified killing of central characters.
Everything else.

Oh and IMHO, The Wolverine was not a "decent follow-up". It was a very lacklusture follow-up which after its great opening 30 minutes descended into a sub-par 90's martial arts action movie.

Actually, was that ever adapted or referred to in the comics after the film? It's just too hilarious and, well, iconic - for lack of a better term - for no one to have done so.

Apart from that awesome opening scene with Nightcrawler in X2... I think The Last Stand is better than the previous two X-Men films. They all got more wrong than they did right. The only X-Men film worth a re-watch is First Class.
I recently watched The Wolverine after so many people recommended it to me, I watched the extended cut and to be quite honest I was bored throughout.... it's a shame as I like Hugh Jackman as an actor but he has never been given the Wolverine film he deserves.
I have no faith in FOX, and zero excitement for the upcoming Days of Future Past. It is a shame because in the comics I have always preferred the X-Men over the Avengers, but still haven't seen a great X-Men film and I doubt I ever will whilst FOX remain in control.

Of course, Mr. Whedon insists that the line wasn't the problem, it was the delivery. I'm not sure I buy that to be honest..

Either the mutant cure or the phoenix saga would have made great stories on their own. Cramming them together just diminished them both.

I thought from the beginning it was a poor casting choice as well for Cyclops. Cyclops was not a strongly written or acted character so I was like 'meh' when he died. The same goes for Storm (and no I am not a Haley Berry fan) but the two most pivotal characters in the X-men canon that should rival our attention from Wolverine and Jean Grey are just awful falt and without depth.

His more nonchalant idea does sound better but it's hardly among his best zingers ever!

Hey, he said Legolas!.....but what does punch up mean?

Dofp has more characters than the Muppets

And probably the last time, since the new sentinels look like the robots at the end of A.I.

'averaging the scores of its ‘Top Critics’ at a measly 41%.'
I think one of us is doing Rotten Tomatoes wrong because the 'Top Critics' average rating appears to be 5.5/10...

Nice to know I'm not the only one that actually liked Rogue taking the cure. Yes, comic book Rogue would never accept the cure, but the decision was true for this depiction of the character. I liked that it highlighted a moral grey area and attempted to make the issue of a cure more complicated.
I'm sure that in the world of the X-men, there would be some mutations that are not only useless, but a hindrance and a cure would be something to improve the standard of living. Rogue cannot touch anyone - ever - without seriously hurting them. Great for combat but that's gotta suck when it comes to relationships.

It is, but it hurts more, because it was the final part of a quite great trilogy. Origins Wolverine couldn't mess up anything but itself. XMTLS was a disappointing ending for a promising trilogy.

I feel like even a little mea culpa would be nice though, I've never heard him cop to a bad idea but rather rag on everyone else for ruining his work. I'm at risk of coming over anti-Whedon at this point so I'll retreat before it's too late..

I enjoy this film a lot despite the flaws. Yes Angel is hardly in it but he's a bit bland as mutants go; even in the comics. In my opinion there's not much more they could have done with him without taking up valuable screen time from more popular characters.

You forgot to mention the soundtrack, which is amazing!

I have always maintained that The Last Stand is two really rather great films crushed into one mediocre one. The cure and Dark Phoenix stories should have had entire films to themselves, as you simply can't do justice go either of them by attempting to have both in the same movie. Though I agree there were some very well done story moments like Professor X's death, Mystique's depowering and subsequent abandon, and Rogue getting the cure.

Honestly though, I wasn't sorry to see Cyclops go. He's a dick. Always has been. And Ratner completely undermines Xavier dying by bringing him back at the end of the credits. Though I suppose if he hadn't Singer would have a hard job explaining his presence in DOFP.

The only person who could pull off the line "I'm the Juggernaut, bitch!" is Jesse Pinkman.

I think 2 was great, but the franchise went so downhill afterwards

One problem was that despite flagging the ethical concerns with a 'cure' for mutants early on, the film goes on to massively underestimate the ethical complexity of the issue in a way that makes it difficult to take the characters' psychology seriously. That's a problem given how central the issue is to the plot.

The film essentially captures the ethical issue as being the weaponisation of the cure - it holds this out as a far more simple stand-in for the problems of the concept of the cure itself. Whilst the film shows mutants protesting against the cure, and has a sideplot of a character resisting his father's desire to have him take the cure (ending overly conveniently with the father seeing the error of his ways, as though a 'the more you know' sequence was about to start). But ultimately the film concludes, without much serious exploration, that the availability of the cure to those who want it is a 'good thing' - notably we don't see any stories of kids cast out from their community and vilified for refusing to take the cure, nor of adults bitter that their parents 'cured' them before they were too young to choose for themselves, or kids that take the cure unwillingly because they can't see an alternative between that and being rejected by their family and community.

That's not a problem in itself - it's a superhero movie, not a heavy drama. But it's also a superhero series in which the subtext of 'mutant' being a metaphor for 'gay'/minority'/oppressed (and gay in particular) is made overt, especially in X2 with its 'coming out' scenes.

And that makes the film's central plot element rather creepy. Substitute 'cure for mutancy' to 'cure for homosexuality', and the concerns of characters like Storm seem like they should have been taken a lot more seriously - and Rogue's choice at the end seems a lot more like a tragic story of a victim who has been crushed to the point of self-loathing, rather than the liberating freedom of choice that the film casts it as. It wants to present it as the kind of thing that can be addressed through freedom of individual choice, where as long as people give informed consent it's a good thing. But the decision to cast something as a disorder to be cured isn't an individual one - it's a societal matter. You can't decide 'just for yourself' that homosexuality is a disorder - sure, you might have no desire to impact upon anyone else, but by deciding that homosexuality is a disorder, you ARE unavoidably judging what others should do. It's not something where our individual choices can be neatly separated from our cultural/political/public choices.

Even without weaponisation, once you've suceeded in establishing that something a group of people identify with as part of who they are, is also a disease/disorder, you're most of the way to a successful genocide. Even more so when, apparently, enough of those people have been crushed into self-loathing to the extent that even they view themselves as disordered. This isn't a happy ending, by any means.

Now there are certainly more nuanced arguments you could make for why the cure is ethically justifiable. E.g. you might argue that mutancy (and hence homosexuality) isn't a disorder, but being born into a body you don't identify with is - making mutancy more analogous to transgender than homosexuality, where the desire to change gender doesn't imply that the gender itself is disordered. But this again illustrates that it really isn't the kind of issue that you can make work within a light superhero film. Films don't have to always deal with heavy social issues - but the problem here is that the film HAS bitten into a serious social issue. Once you've made that choice, you can't then back away from it and say that it's not the film's role to explore that issue fully - if that was the case, you shouldn't have made it central to the film's plot to begin with.

I don't think it's POSSIBLE to do such an ethically complex issue justice in a light superhero film, and still make that film enjoyable as a superhero film. Rattner bit off too much - he seemed to think he had a socially important, but relatively clear-cut equivalent of Singer's 'coming out' analogy in X2, but what he had was more complex than he seemed to realise. Few directors, if any, could succeed in exploring the distinction between calling mutancy (and homosexuality, following the series' already established metaphors) a disorder, and saying that the disorder is in having a body one doesn't identify with (without thereby implying that there's something wrong with that mutant body in itself), within an action superhero blockbuster. And Rattner's take on the series was a large step more 'action blockbuster' than Singer's more dialogue-heavy, smaller but more nuanced conflicts, making it even harder.

Again, I can see why some would find it absurd to criticise a superhero popcorn flick for failing at social/ethical commentary. But that's just judging the movie on the standards it set for itself when it bit into those ethical/social questions to start with.

I think the lesson to take from it is that whilst ethical/social exploration can give thematic and character depth to an action blockbuster, elevating it beyond a 'mere' popcorn flick ala Singer's two X-men films, it isn't a choice to be made lightly. And it certainly isn't something to be done through tokenism - borrowing a social conflict to make your film stand out, but without any serious attempt to explore or say anything new about those issues. If you're going to bite into weighty social issues in a popcorn flick, you need to realise that you're making a serious commitment, and a promise to the audience that the film is going to step up and be something more than a 'mere' action blockbuster. I.e. if you're going to bite into the social conflict fruit, you need to be prepared to take it all the way. And you need to think hard about whether that's a realistic undertaking for the kind of film you're making

About the 'my gosh, I can't believe they killed Cyclops' thing, how do we know he is actually dead? I mean, they found a lot of floating rocks and his glasses. No body, no kill, if you ask me. Also, 'The Wolverine' is the only post-'Last Stand' movie with 'Days of Future Past' and 'Apocalypse' incoming. I don't expect it but he can still come back with "Hey, guys! How do you mean 'I'm dead'?"

I think that only will happen when Marvel gets the movie rights back in something like 2150. Maybe Cable can tell us more.

Professor X's death was just that film's version of the 'get the massively overpowered guy who can too easily solve the problem out the way' that every film containing the mature 'full control of his powers' Xavier has faced, as well as the entire history of X-Men comics.

In the comics it's less of a problem because, right from the beginning, the X-Men are an exceptionally globe-trotting superhero team, always flying to some destination with Scott acting as field commander, while the parapeligic Xavier can be kept at home base for all the times that his ability to control minds en masse is narratively inconvenient.

In a film context, that's not nearly as satisfying a solution. In a visual medium it's harder to leave a central character behind, or to run parallel plots with characters separated in different locations without the expectation of them meeting up soon. Plus it would feel a lot more contrived in film form for Xavier to routinely stay behind - the lack of disability-friendly transport would jarr with the technology they heroes DO have on-hand.

So aside from First Class (where Xavier's powers are comparatively underdeveloped compared to Mageto's for most of the film, as a reflection of Xavier's comparatively underdeveloped emotional wisdom at the start of the film, and his growth from there) every film with him in it has had to find a reason to remove Xavier from the board before the main conflict starts. X1 has his device sabotaged, in X2 he's drugged, kidnapped and remains drugged until it's no longer narratively problematic to have him around, and in X3 they were concluding the trilogy so they could simply kill him when they got to the 'get Xavier out the way so we actually have a story' stage and also get the benefit of signifying to the audience that no character is 'safe'.

Killing Xavier was a smart move, given that they'd have to get him out the way of the narrative anyway, and that being the final film in a trilogy meant they didn't need to keep characters around for future films (it's entirely reasonable in the final film of a trilogy to operate on the basis that if the studio wants to extend the series later, it will be a new story, a reboot, or that they'll write around it via time travel or similar - particularly given the film's use of older actors, they'd have envisioned the likelihood of having to recast Xavier and Magneto if the trilogy was expanded, simply because the actors are less likely to be fit enough to play large roles in an action film in 10 years time. Regardless, a director shouldn't have to weaken a current film for a potential future one - they need to be free to make the current film they're working on be complete in itself, especially when it's the final film in a trilogy).

But you're right in that it wasn't an inventive or brave move. It was nothing more than the same formula they'd used for the previous 2 films.

I'd like to see Cyclops adapted well for once. In the comics (and, arguably, the 90s cartoon series) he's interesting precisely because he's a character who isn't massively powerful in terms of his abilities, but can take down the rest of the team by himself because he's an exceptionally cunning strategist. The love triangle would have been a lot more interesting if the films' sympathies weren't slanted so entirely towards Logan. An adaptation that brings out the way in which Cyclops is dangerous as hell despite not being particularly powerful, because he's a great strategist, manipulator and cunning fighter, in contrast with characters who are powerful solely due to their mutation, would give him a degree of respect that would balance out his authoritarian side like it does in the comics.

Also worth noting that in the comics he certainly isn't Xavier's yes-man. He does play that role for quite a long time (in which his status as 'the Batman of the team', leading them in the field despite his comparatively weak powers, was heavily emphasised - often they'd hint that his strategic brilliance was itself a mutant power, as part of Sinister's desire to clone him on the belief that his DNA is the most promising source of mutant power for his experiments). But once Xavier's various deceptions come out, Cyclops becomes Xavier's main internal political opponent, and takes over the leadership of the X-Men completely for a long time after they turn on Xavier for a greater-than-usual secret manipulation.

There's at least a couple of interesting character bases there to work with - I'd personally go the 'classic version', with him still Xavier's loyal field commander, but with his comic-book portrayal as being badass simply because he's cunning and trained himself to perfection, despite not having a particularly powerful mutant ability (the comics used to contrast Cyclops with Iceman, who is nigh-invulnerable and one of the most powerful creatures in the Marvel universe in terms of pure mutant abilities, but is a slacker who never comes close to his full potential outside of 'alternate timeline' stories like Age of Apocalypse).

To be honest I enjoyed this one. I don’t see it as wildly
different to its predecessors which are full of stupid moments. Then again as
much as I enjoyed the first two I fail to see why many claim Bryan Singer to be
an amazing director, the X-Men movies are competently directed but hardly earth
shattering & apart from The Usual Suspects what has he done of any real
artist worth?!? His return to familiar X-Men territory says a lot really.

Neither are great, but I can't watch Origins without wondering who let the intern do CGI for Wolverine's claws.

What background? As for vinnie, I mean this is Bullet Tooth Tony we're talking about, but anything short of CGI wouldnt have worked. Or Brock Lesnar.

Except for that kiss. If he's alive, he probably doesn't look it

ere, what you going on about??

It's origins were from an Internet meme, so it wasn't even their writing...

They actually had some good ideas. The idea of a schizo Jean as a "realistic" Phoenix was almost brilliant and not too unlike the original corrupted (and not cosmic) Dark Phoenix of the comics. They really have a strong first act introducing the idea actually, but then Jean disappears into silence until the finale. It really was a terrible waste at that point. The whole movie is a tease of ideas that aren't fully developed. The same script in Vaughn or Singer's hands would have been quite different had they not left the project.

Actually, yosafbridge, Matthew Vaughn was the director attached to The Last Stand after Singer's departure. His official statement was that the international project would require too much time away from his family. Ratner only joined after Vaughn. This is what made Vaughn returning for First Class such a surprise. Vaughn stated after making First Class that he felt the X-Men 3 timetable was too short, although he thinks in hindsight he didn't realize what resources the studio had available to him to make it work. Stardust and Kickass also made him more comfortable with working with special effects teams.

The Prof X thing really stood out to me when i saw this film, to the point where i thought they were going to reveal it wasn't Xavier but another shapeshifter or something. Great article, right on the nose.

That's very true. It hadn't occurred to me how they had conveniently sidelined him in the previous two movies

Agreed. This is what bothered me about Rogue's decision in the end. Considering the way they portrayed mutants in the first two films, it was borderline offensive.

Huh, didn't know that actually. Well, I was mistaken, carry on :)

I just find it insulting, that they not only killed the amazing, self-righteous Mystique, but they made her bitter. Terrible! I'm just praying that since Magneto's powers came back, Mystique's does. And Rogue as well. They should really just start the movie again. Sadly, Anna Paquin won't be in apparently :(

Hmmm. I like this article, and it pretty much sums up my own thoughts. All the ideas and development and follow on from X1 and X2 were there... but its as if the film were made by Juggernaut, not Xavier (ie... handled poorly and clumsily, not with deft and finesse).
My biggest issue however, is that you can see that Singer and Vaughn were involved; the story, development, brief hints at any form of emotion, scary/surprise/shock deaths. However, when Singer left to do Superman, and asked the studio to delay, which they wouldn't, (similar story for James Marsden's departure), and Vaughn couldn't commit, im not surprised the final thing isn't a patch on what was intended.
However, i don't blame Singer for leaving, he'd been quite vocal about his passion for making a Superman film, being asked after what he'd done for the X-Men franchise isn't surprising, and Returns is MASSIVELY underrated in my eyes.
The biggest bullet for this film was studio greed; not wanting to delay the picture in order to get it right and allow the original production team to develop the story properly. If there was EVER a case study for Hollywood greed beating out artistic temprement, X-Men: The Last Stand is it.

One of the largest questions though, where would the franchise be if Singer had made X3 a year later? Would we have had the delay for First Class (one of the best XMen films ever)? Would we have even got there? Would Origins have been a success and sparked a whole new spin of series of those films?
Frankly, im glad it was crap, because the direction that the films have taken since, in my eyes, is MILES better than what might have been if this one, and Origins, had worked.

It got a lot wrong, but some things right. I personally thought Kelsey Grammer as Beast was brilliant casting.

You forgot to mention Vinny Jones's muscle suit as a negative

I've not subjected myself to this movie recently nor do I intend to but one of the scenes which really got under my skin is an early one when Xavier is discussing a rather interesting topic on the use or abuse of power with his students but this is suddenly cut off by Storm having a strop outside. The Storm scene feels so out of place with the previous one its quite jarring.

As was Ellen Page. I thought she was fantastic as Kitty and she is brilliant in every scene she's in.

Agreed - and making Storm the headteacher was also a sop to Halle Berry, who was complaining about her underdeveloped role in the movies...

Thanks for the information. I actually thought the meme originated in the film.

X2 for me still stands as one of the best comic book films around. Perfectly balanced.

Oh yeah, that was awful wasn't it? In fact Vinnie Jones in general was awful in this. Juggernaut was arguably worse even than Phoenix

For me Kelsey Grammer's Beast was the one saving grace of the whole film, although woefully under used

Totally agree about this point. The hurry to make a buck caused the ruin of this film and (very nearly) the whole franchise. Thank God they have managed to pull it back from the brink.

Regarding superman - "Returns is MASSIVELY underrated in my eyes" - yes I agree, it wasn't that bad, not bad at all. Its main problem was that it was 20 years too late as a sequel and it really suffered for that. More to the point though it was still MUCH better than M.O.S. and the Superman in Returns was more Superman-like.

Yes, I'm hoping that a time-travel reset means X3 "never happened" and also explains away the continuity gaffes of XFC

Yeah, I already knew he was involved in developing the script for the first film, but my question was referring to The Last Stand... I could've sworn you said somewhere or other in the article that he was, which was why I asked since I couldn't find any mention of that anywhere, but after rereading your article, I couldn't find it. :/

Singer didn't "leave" so much as he was replaced by Fox, who didn't like the fact that he was making another superhero film for a different studio. Singer was willing to direct the X-Men movie once he was finished with Superman, but Fox didn't want him. Cyclops was killed off for the same reason: Fox didn't like the fact that he was in the Superman movie.

No he left

why

He was a saint compared to the professor in first class

Superman Returns would originally have finished filming before X-Men: The Last Stand started. Singer said to Fox that he was willing and available to direct it; in fact, he wanted to. Fox was angry that Singer went to another studio to direct their superhero movie so they moved up the production to compete with Superman, and found a different director. Maybe "replace" is the wrong word, but it was Fox's choice not to use Singer.

No he left

Sure.

"a decent follow-up (The Wolverine) "
I'm sorry, did I miss a re-boot or Director's cut ?

Dont get me started on first class.

yeah, I though 1 was quite good, if a bit unsatisfying what with being saddled with introducing everyone and then cramming in a quick standard villain plot near the end.... but 2 blew me away when I saw it at the cinema. It was intense stuff! First class has come the nearest after that, everything else has been a little underwhelming (The Wolvie) and outright dreadful (LS and W:X-MO). The Wolverine was okay but something stopped me from caring about it. Something was off, but it wasn't exactly bad.

Rogue was always regretful in the comics and canon; she regrets all the stuff with cody/carol danvers etc tbh. :)

its on par with the dialogue from the other movies

His idea was that the line would be tossed aside casually, taking a pin to the puffed up macho dialogue in most action films. That would have worked better, but I'm not convinced it would have worked.

Had Origins stopped halfway through it would have been the better film. After Wolvie gets his adamantium, things spiral out of control and get really sloppy.

killing Cyclops that way was unforgivable - Cyclop is the x-men

Was thinking the same.

I'd love to see a reboot with Rogue as the central character. She's okay in the films, but is really just a shadow of what she is in the comics. They cut out all of her complicated backstory, and her spunk.
I'd like a reboot that addresses the Ms Marvel arc. I don't know how marketable it would be, but I'd love it.
Also, an origins film about Storm would be awesome, ideally with Lupita Nyong'o playing her, because that would be freaking amazing.

Lol Whedon is a hack imho. And writes terrible, terrible self-aware-writer "Oh, look what I just wrote - isn't it funny/clever!" attempts at scripts. I never liked the way the guy writes scripts, be they for tv or film. I personally think he sucks as a writer. Moments of levity in action type films are good. A constant barrage of comedy is not. Unless a Comedy-Action film is what the studio/fans want. Like Last Action Hero for example. Joss can p and moan about studio interference all he likes - he tried to make a bloody Alien film a comedy! That was a dumbass, douche manoeuvre, no matter which way anybody tries to slice it lol.

Lol nothing wrong with being anti-Whedon. Get thee behind me Whedon! xD LOL

Nice article! I loved The Usual Suspects...but sadly, Singer ain't a perfect film maker...he gave us Superman Returns, let's not forget...leavin the X-Men franchise for the gig too. Granted, SR is Hamlet-esque in terms of its level of genius, when placed next door to the absolute abomination that was Man Of Sh*t-I mean "Steel". The S...we know what it stands for Shytner-I mean Snyder.
..Aaaanyway, yeah...I'm deeply concerned about DOFP...cause frankly, I think the film franchise of The X-Men has been knackered since X2. It was a good film - but having the first two X-Men films be so Wolverine-centric was the recipe for doom. Imho, X2 should have followed Cyclops, Jean Grey, Xavier, Nightcrawler, Beast, - all of these characters way more than Wolverine - or at least the same amount. But personally, I'd have pulled him back a bit to give the others screen time...and for GOD's sake - ROGUE! She's one of the most interesting characters. But she was just pitifully used in the films...X3 especially. But she doesn't get to do much of anything in X2, and she reeeeally should've imho. X3 was a disaster with the 3 deaths you mention, but Rogue's part in it also truly sucked rancid ass. It hardly felt like she was even there. And there was no mention of Juggernaut being magical, as opposed to a mutant. That blew. If they weren't gonna flesh him out, they shouldn't have put him in it. Regarding DOFP I don't think it can rescue the film franchise (at least for me) at this point now. No matter who makes it. I think the only way forward for The X-Men on film is a complete reboot (I hate to use that term lol).

I much prefer Xmen 3 to the others. 1 and 2 were great but I was always left wanting more use of powers and for other characters to step up other than Wolverine.
Storm finally came out of the shadows and showed her leadership. The death of Scott and the Professor had more emotional impact than the previous films. i almost cried on first watch of the professor's death. The professors conduct was more inline with his comic book character he has done some questionable things but they make sense given the threat levels of the mutants involved. And it was finally good to see iceman, colossus and kitty stepping up instead of being the kids everyone had to protect.
The Phoenix was devastatingly powerful. The sheer power levels of most characters made it way more believable as a Marvel movie.
Yes there were a few too many characters which they could of eliminated, like Angel, the dialogue could of been better and I have erased juggernaut from memory but the positives out weigh the negatives. I think this movie was also much better than the Avengers which was slick but lacked any emotional engagement.
I think people over rate Bryan singer. He did a good job on the first two but let's not forget how terrible Superman was. He could of produced a terrible 3rd X men for all we know so lighten up on Ratner. Of all the X men movies I re watch last stand the most.
in future I'd like to see less of wolverine and magneto. Wolverine had his movie which was great, but there is a central core of great characters in the Xmen and more villains besides Magneto.

I thought the movie as a whole was lacking. Juggernaut being six feet tall and being a mutant was one and wolverine stopping the phoenix was another. The fact that yeah wolvie can heal from any wound is one thing but against a being that feeds on stars and can destroy galaxies at a whim and can't stop one dude is wrong

Also,Mystique and Magneto. Basically grew up together. So close...then Mystique loses her powers,and Magneto "well,that's a shame". What a horrible movie.

Halle Berry was horrible in this movie. You could she she obviously demanded more "me" time in this movie.

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