Suppose an antidote was invented that "cured" something significant in your life. Not a disease like cancer or diabetes, but a trait that is part of who you are, for better or worse—like your body type or a personality defect. If you had the opportunity to change the way you were made, would you take it?
That's the intriguing premise that propels X-Men: The Last Stand, the third installment in the highly successful superhero series that began with 2000's X-Men and continued with X2: X-Men United in 2003. A cure has been developed that can genetically suppress the mutant gene, making them as "normal" as any other human being. The U.S. government gets on board through the facilitation of Dr. Hank McCoy, aka Beast (Kelsey Grammer), the Secretary of Mutant Affairs under the President and a former member of the X-Men, led by Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart).
The cure is met with great skepticism and debate, because after all, not all mutants are created equally. Having the power to heal rapidly (like Wolverine, played by Hugh Jackman) or to control the weather (Halle Berry as Storm) can be handy. Shedding blue fur (Beast) or being unable to touch people without harming them (Rogue, played by Anna Paquin), that's another matter. Hence, the reason the government insists that the cure is voluntary to any mutant willing to take it.
Long-time X-Men rival Magneto (Ian McKellen) sees it differently, insisting that the government is planning a form of ethnic cleansing and that mutants are superior to humans—that they should be proud of who they are, not ashamed. He immediately rallies other like-minded mutants to his cause, forming a Brotherhood intent on eradicating the cure … and, perhaps, mankind with it. Thus, the "last stand" of the title refers to the X-Men as the only force preventing an all-out war between humans and mutants.
Woven within this central story is the continuation of plot points from the last two movies, most notably that of Cyclops (James Marsden), who is distraught over the loss of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), his fiancée who seemed to sacrifice her life for the team in the previous movie. Turns out she survived, protected by the incredible strength of her telekinetic powers, which have evolved her into someone or something else entirely. Fans of the comic book will recognize this as a variation on the classic Phoenix storyline, as Jean ends up an unwitting and volatile pawn between good and evil.
If any of this seems a tad confusing, know that The Last Stand is simply another chapter in the X-Men saga, requiring the first two movies to fully appreciate it. And though it's being marketed as the climax of the trilogy, be assured that it can't possibly be the last. A spin-off feature for Wolverine is already in development, but more precisely, by the end of this film, there are even more dangling threads than the last movie left, involving the fate of several key characters. Fans of the film and series are strongly advised to stay through the end credits.
These dramatic developments are both a strength and a weakness. It's daring storytelling to play with the characters' fates as much as the filmmakers do, but it doesn't seem true to the source material or the film series so far. Half of the major characters developed in the last two movies are little more than cameos in this one, and it may well frustrate some who have invested time in following them this far. It's also a long-running joke among fans of the comic series that seemingly anyone can be killed off and brought back in the X-Men, Jean Grey being only the most famous example. But perhaps some of the characters in this movie are "retired" in order to fulfill contracts and bring on fresher (i.e. cheaper) talent? After all, one thing the X-Men universe is not short on is mutants.
This brings up another problem inherent to the X-Men films. The recent Spider-Man movies and Batman Begins easily focus on developing a single character. The Last Stand has to juggle an ensemble of ten while introducing new ones on top of that—and that's just talking about the heroes. For sure, fans will thrill to nods and cameos that acknowledge the rich history of the comic series. Mentioning most of them here would spoil the fun, though Kitty Pryde and Colossus are both welcome (if not small) additions to the cast.
Still, in terms of moviemaking and scripting, someone naturally becomes the focal point of the story, and in this case, that someone is Wolverine. Though he is unquestionably the most beloved of the X-Men characters, his importance is simply overstated in this film. The guy's fairly established as a gruff rebel and a bit of a loner, so he's not the one you would think of to rally the team with a "win one for the Gipper" pep talk.
That responsibility should technically fall to Storm, who has led the team in traditional X-Men mythology and seems to receive the torch from Professor Xavier early in this film. But ultimately, she's more like Professor McGonagall in the Harry Potter series—a headmistress at the school whose authority only seems to go so far. At least Halle Berry's role has been expanded somewhat to give her more to do in terms of drama and action.
In short, the third X-Men movie promises much but falls short in delivery, and that includes its overarching theme. It raises issues without truly taking a stand, ironically. Whether the cure is beneficial or harmful depends on which mutant you talk to. Christian audiences are left with a similarly ambiguous life application. On the one hand, the film is a poignant reminder that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made" by our Creator (Psalm 139: 13-15). However, it can also be viewed as a metaphor for hot topics like stem cell research and gay rights. It might even be seen as a movie about the right to choose, which can lead to ethical discussions both constructive and sticky—again, depending on whom you talk to. Perhaps the ultimate message is how differing perspectives need to learn how to coexist in tolerance rather than battling for superiority.
The movie generates discussion with a lot of grey answers, but that's surely part of the reason for the series' enduring popularity. Anyone who's ever felt persecuted or oppressed for anything can relate to the mutants of the story. Much like Star Trek, it means all things to all people, and you can take from it what you want to.
Most are primarily concerned with whether or not this third chapter is fun, and thankfully it's more or less in step with its predecessors. There's more depth and weight than the first, though it probably lacks the development of the second, running a relatively short 104 minutes. The Last Stand is also a little light on action, saving most of it for a whopper of a finale, but that's the same pace of the other films.
Likewise, the special effects are generally impressive. Some of Magneto's magnetic manipulation looks a bit fake, and his much hyped raising of the Golden Gate Bridge seems like a deceptively routine CGI effect. Far better is the final battle scene, where he catapults flaming cars at his opponents, and the way that Kitty Pryde is able to phase through solid objects with clever results.
Taking the reins from Bryan Singer, director Brett Ratner has met with much skepticism from fans afraid that he would botch the franchise. He actually handles the action well and stays true to the feel of the series, helping make this an enjoyable summer blockbuster that generally lives up to the predecessors. Instead, fans might want to question the gatekeepers (the producers and screenwriters) for tampering with the characters while delivering a story that only lives up to part of its potential. But then again, maybe they're saving it for the inevitable X-Men 4ever.
Talk About ItDiscussion starters
- If you could change one quality about yourself, what would it be? If there were some cure available to change that, would you take it? Or would you fear that such a change would change who you are as a person?
- The Bible says in Psalm 139 that we are fearfully and wonderfully made by God. Can we be born with mistakes? How do we explain things like birth defects, genetically transmitted diseases, and mutations as creations of God?
- Much is made about the right to choose "the cure" for mutants in the film. What other topics today relate to the matter of choice? Do you believe that an individual has the right to choose anything pertaining to himself or herself? Or are there situations where an individual's right to choose is superceded by other factors?
- What does The Last Stand seem to be saying about acceptance and tolerance? How should we view our flaws? How should we respond to the perceived "flaws" of others? How do we respond to people who are different than us—with fear or with acceptance? Can you think of examples, personal or cultural, to which this applies today?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Offensive language is fairly limited in the PG-13 rated X-Men: The Last Stand. The sexual content refers to Mystique's famously skimpy "outerwear" that leaves precious little to the imagination, as well as a scene in which Wolverine and Jean get hot and heavy that stops before it goes too far. The film has plenty of action violence, much of it relating to Wolverine's battles and his ability to quickly recover from severe injuries inflicted on him. Also, Jean looks fairly demonic as the Dark Phoenix, with the ability to disintegrate people into sub-atomic particles. Overall, the content is what you would expect based on the previous two films.
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Copyright © 2006 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
What Other Critics Are Sayingcompiled by Josh Hurst
from Film Forum, 06/01/06
X-Men may be a franchise about the ultimate outsiders, but, for the series' third installment, the biggest outsider of all is new director Brett Ratner. When Bryan Singer—who helmed the first two films—jumped ship to make Superman Returns, Fox inexplicably brought in Ratner as his replacement. Arguably the best running action series around, and its climactic third act is to be masterminded by … a man best known for the Rush Hour movies? Riiiiiight.
Even the most skeptical X-fans must admit, however, that, if nothing else, Ratner sure didn't skimp. His movie has more of just about everything: bigger fight scenes, bigger special effects, higher stakes for our mutant heroes. Heck, it's even got more heroes—joining the team this time around are fan favorites Beast (Kelsey Grammer), Angel (Ben Foster), and even burly bad guy Juggernaut (Vinnie Jones).
That's a lot of new faces to cram into an already crowded franchise, but wait—there's more! There are also major plot developments that fans of the comics will no doubt recognize with glee. Jean (Famke Janssen), for example, turns out to be not quite as dead as the last movie suggested; she returns here in the form of the strange and powerful Phoenix. There's also a controversial new mutant "cure" devised by the government, and, as always, mischief involving Magneto (Ian McKellen) and his band of evil cronies.
But hey, more is better, right? Depends on who you ask.
Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films) is much less positive, noting that "it's hard to see it as anything other than a disappointment. Not only is this effort a big step down from the excellence of the first two films, it largely squanders the dramatic and emotional momentum left by the second film." He continues: "X-Men: The Last Stand isn't awful like Fantastic Four, but it lacks the emotional and intellectual punch of its predecessors."
Adam R. Holz (Plugged In) says it's an entertaining movie with a muddled message: "The message that every person is valuable and deserves acceptance comes through loud and clear (between explosions and dismemberments, that is). What's less clear is whether tolerance means embracing the choices other people make along the way."
Christian Hamaker (Crosswalk) is the film's most enthusiastic proponent: "Fans of the first two X-Men movies, both directed by Bryan Singer, worried when Brett Ratner (the Rush Hour movies, The Family Man) signed on to direct the third film, but Ratner hasn't embarrassed himself. Far from it, he successfully packs more characters into a film with a leaner running time than the first two films in the series—a positive development in an era of blockbuster films with bloated running times but skimpy scripts—while retaining a sense of wonder and fun in the storytelling. It all adds up to enjoyable, escapist entertainment."
Mainstream critics stand divided.from Film Forum, 06/1/06
In this third episode, writes Andrew Coffin (World), "the series sinks into overblown, special-effects-laden silliness. This X-Men … also boosts the sexual content and bad language, making the film less appropriate for the teenage boys to whom it primarily caters."
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