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Marvel Movies Project: X-Men: The Last Stand

X-Men: The Last Stand movie poster

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) saw a major change for the X-Men franchise: Bryan Singer, who directed both X-Men and X2, left the Marvel Universe and went over to DC to do Superman Returns, leaving Brett Ratner to take over. Singer did such a great job on the first two films. I think it’s fair to say his voice was missed here.

The film picks up an unspecified amount of time after X2 left off, with the team still dealing with Jean’s death. Cyclops in particular is pretty much broken after losing his true love. But then … surprise! She’s not really so dead after all: she reappears mysteriously, kills Cyclops quite unceremoniously (he just disappears from the movie so James Marsden could go with Singer and play the nice guy in Superman Returns), and returns to the X-Mansion where she and her immense power become film’s focus.

We see a flashback to the time Professor X and Magneto (played by heavily airbrushed versions of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen) first visited Jean when she was a child, at which time her power amazed even them. Then we learn that Jean has a split personality, caused by the Professor’s attempts to create roadblocks that prevented her from accessing her full powers. This raises some interesting questions about the morality of mind control. More generally, control and the violation of free will are the major themes of the movie. Wolverine, who has strong feelings on the subject thanks to his own past, is appalled by what the Professor did to Jean, but the Professor strongly feels he acted in her best interests. For her part, Jean seems kind of pissed off. So, she disintegrates Professor X with her mind and goes to join Magneto.

The other big development in the film is the creation of a “cure” for mutation. Some of the mutants see this as a good thing, in particular Rogue, who almost immediately goes off to get cured. If you hadn’t seen any of the other X-Men movies, you might look at Rogue’s actions and think she was just doing it because she was jealous of Bobby’s flirtation with Kitty Pryde. In the context of the series as a whole, though, we know that Rogue has always been uncomfortable with her powers. On the other hand, she seemed to be coping better in X2, and that does make this seem like a step back in her character development. Still, it’s hard not to sympathize with her given the extreme nature of her mutation.

But Rogue seems to be in the minority and many other mutants most definitely do not like the idea of being cured. Storm is offended by the very word “cure,” asking “when did we become a disease?” Meanwhile, Magneto is convinced that regular humans will eventually use the cure as a weapon against mutants — and he’s quickly proven right. Magneto’s righthand woman Mystique is among the first victims of the cure as weapon … and he drops her instantly, leaving her lying naked in the road after declaring that she’s no longer “one of us.” Ouch. It’s a sad end for Mystique, who I found to be one of the more interesting characters as I watched the series this time around. I’m not sure whether X-Men: First Class may have altered my perception of her — possibly — but I find her anger at the way the world treats outcasts like her very striking. She’s also extremely competent and smart, and after Magneto abandons her she gets back at him very quickly by giving evidence to the government. Screw you, Magneto.

The cure seems to bring out the worst in everyone, human and mutant alike. Even the X-Men, some of whom have expressed serious reservations about the cure’s very existence, end up using it as a weapon against Magneto. This is at best a morally questionable action. At worst, it’s a huge violation of Magneto’s rights. There’s no way to see it as anything other than massively hypocritical coming from people like Storm, who’s been vocal about her hatred of the cure, and Wolverine, who was so hard on the Professor for his treatment of Jean. And then there’s the end of Jean’s story (presumably), which sees Wolverine kill her to save her from herself after the two re-enact the yellow crayon scene from Buffy. At least she asked him to do it, I guess?

My point is there’s a lot of moral outrage in this movie that doesn’t end up meaning much when characters actually find their philosophies tested. The cure is a complex issue, no doubt, but it just feels as though some characters give up on their principles a little too easily. The whole film feels somewhat garbled, with old characters dying suddenly — at least they stop to mourn Professor Xavier; poor Cyclops’ passing is hardly noticed — or, like Mystique, suffering unsatisfactory endings. New characters like Angel, Colossus, and Kitty show up for a few brief scenes but aren’t well developed. Angel in particular is wasted: a couple of (admittedly very cool) shots of his wings end up being his major contribution to the movie. Kelsey Grammer as Beast is the only one of the new cast members who gets enough screen time to make a strong impression.

All in all, it’s a disappointing ending to this porton of the X-Men series. I leave you with a glimpse at what might have been had Superman Returns never happened (quick answer: we’d all be better off) via Cracked’s article on 6 Famously Terribly Movies That Were Almost Awesome. Interestingly, Bryan Singer has rejoined the world of mutants to direct the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past, and has said he’ll used that film to try to “fix” some of what happened in The Last Stand. It’s an intriguing proposition. Hopefully it’ll work out.