X-Men: The Last Stand » Rocknerd: Not Dead Yet

X-Men: The Last Stand

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I didn’t want to believe that the stepping down of Bryan Singer, the wunderkind director of the first two X-Meninstalments and the post modern crime masterpiece The Usual Suspects, as director for this flick was a bad sign. I didn’t want to believe that the stepping up of Brett Ratner, the director of Rush Hour 1 and 2, and a whole heap of Mariah Carey videos, was a bad sign.

There were, in truth, a multitude of signs I chose to ignore. It’s like owing a shitload of money on your credit card, and trying to put the massive debt out of your mind by throwing away the constant stream of nagging bills unread. That works until the credit provider sends hired goons to your place, but at least you can bask in the illusion up until that fateful day where your patellas cease to be your property.

I did enjoy the first two other films, I really did.

Bubbles by their very nature are obligated to burst. It comes down to physics more than anything else, including the so-called law of diminishing returns, but in this instance, I have a lot of questions as to how and why they (the makers) went the way they did with this flick, and I suspect I’m never going to get the answers I want.

By my very nature, at least the aspects of it that I am privy to, I am neither a sadistic nor a masochistic man. There is something about this film, though, that makes me wish I could strap the director and script writers into dentist chairs or Guantanamo Bay human pyramids and get some truthiness out of them. By Crikey, I want to ask them what they were thinking when they came up with this crap.

I speak as a geek, a nerd, an aficionado of the marginal and the obscure. But I don’t speak as a fan of the various X-Men comics, because I’ve never read them and never will. Why would I. The comics have been going since 1963. That’s a lot of comic books under the bridge, and I’ve never been that much of a fan of bulging muscles barely restrained by spandex or the belaboured intricacies that go into that much fan investment of time and money.

My point is that I don’t see myself as some kind of guardian of the legacy, or as being personally invested like some Comic Book Guy just itching to scream out “Worst Episode Ever.” I am, however, a fan of decent superhero flicks, because, like any decent sci-fi, they’re really about a decent balance between arse-kicking action and the ethical, moral, and emotional questions that parallel our own struggles here on this mundane earth. When they’re good, they’re great, and when they’re awful, they make you want to punch puppies in the face.

The Last Stand (dir: Brett Ratner, 2006) is a stupidly realised flick. It pains me to say this, and I know that my disappointment is colouring my judgement to such an extent that I am ignoring some of the better aspects. But I found this flick deeply unsatisfying and really an insulting way for this franchise to end.

To quote the pseudo-paraplegic wheelchair-bound character Andy from Little Britain, yeah, I know. I know there are going to be spin-offs and various other merchandising opportunities. But that doesn’t change the fact that the makers of this instalment clearly have contempt for the series and its fans, and wanted, for some reason I can’t work out, to both kill off a bunch of the reasons why fans like these stories, and still leave the door open to a host of pointless sequels, all the while telling us that none of it really matters.

For me, the problem with this flick is the serious weakness of the story, and the ordinariness of the plot that elucidates the story all over the pointless place. There really is nothing to care about, the characters that they’ve tried to get us to care about over the last two flicks are given even shorter shrift than they got before, thus increasing the level by which we don’t care.

Do you actually want to know what the flick is about, or would you prefer to have me ramble on, drunken and despondent, over the myriad sadnesses provoked heretofore? I’m sure what you really want is vicious invective and vitriol launched like a stream of capsicum spray from some hateful creature at a perceived enemy. Well, far be it from me to disappoint you, although there has to be some relating of story for this to seem even vaguely credible. You know, as a film review, and not just an angry ramble.

This is a world set slightly in the future where mutation has led to the rise of a group of people who are, to quote the late night commercials for the budget grocery store, NQR, or Not Quite Right. And though they’re not as cheap, these mutants represent more than a source of entertainment for the muggle humans of their world, who continually wonder what’s to be done with these freaks.

Fear reigns, but there is a truce of sorts fuelled by the spirit of co-determination and mutual respect, with some mutants choosing to live in harmony, lead by Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) or at least apart from the rest of the muggles. But other mutants, led by Magneto (Sir Ian McKellen) see themselves as being obligated to lead a pre-emptive strike against the normals to ensure their own survival.

Essentially, there’s a mutant group that views homo sapiens in a condescending but benevolent fashion, and another group that sees them as cattle, and dangerous, toothy cattle at that.

The ultimate conflict is betwixt the ideas and powers of the multicultural and inclusive Professor Xavier and the more aggressive Magneto, master of electro-magnetic radiation and the cutting remark.

The film begins twenty years in the past, where Xavier and Magneto are trying to recruit a powerful young mutant. The greatest thing it shows is that Xavier and Magneto used to be fast friends. They both walk through the gate in the white picket fence to greet a little girl called Jean Grey, crazy and powerful, sitting peacefully in her suburban home. Through the magical use of CGI, Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian have never looked younger. Their faces, overlayed with digital putty, look like plastic doll faces. It’s quite eerie.

It cuts back into the present, which is, we are informed, the Not Too Distant Future, where Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Storm (Halle Berry), Rogue (Anna Paquin) and some other shmendricks are fighting giant robots. Before any serious fans soil themselves over the presence of Sentinels, all this occurs as a training exercise in the Danger Room, which is little more than a holodeck run by the super-duper computer Cerebro.

The normals that rule, such as the president of the United States, who is exceedingly normal, have found a solution to the mutant problem. The existence of a particular mutant, Leech (Cameron Bright) has given them a nullifying weapon to use against mutant kind.

The existence of such a ‘vaccine’ of course raises all sorts of questions that sound like they could be explored in some interesting fashion. Some mutants see it as a major potential threat to their existence, whilst others see it as an opportunity to be normal. Of course this flick leaves plenty of stones unturned in its pursuit of making the allegory as bland as possible, so as not to risk all those precious brain cells of its viewers in the cinema.

The good mutants, like the weaklings that they are, helplessly debate the repercussions of the mutant treatment’s existence, whilst the big, bad Magneto-led mutants decide eradicating the cure’s source is the way to go.

At the same time, a powerful character thought to have died at the end of the 2nd flick, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) has come back. But again, she seems to be Not Quite Right herself. A formerly subverted part of her personality is now dominant, and she is the Phoenix.

She becomes a threat greater than the vaccine itself, because she can, like, wreck anything and anyone. She is little more than a lethal, mindless force of nature wanting to destroy all sorts of shit and kill everyone around her. Because, um, she can.

So many characters get a raw deal. Major ones like Cyclops, Rogue and Professor X are barely there for that long. Which gives us more time to spend with Halle Berry. Which is okay. She gets to actually fight and kill people this time. And give speeches.

Speaking of speeches, they give a leaden, terrible St Crispin’s day speech to Wolverine which made my skin crawl. It’s not the actor’s fault (I hope), but it gave me painful flashbacks to Van Helsing.

One of the few characters that gets more time and more interesting stuff to do is Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), with her ability to become non-corporeal and move through walls and floors. She also gets a strange romantic interlude with Iceman which is so gay that I think I lost a little bit of my heterosexuality just from watching it. She’s a tiny slip of a thing, and I liked the way they incorporated her power into the action.

That’s more than I can say for how they deal with plenty of other characters and their abilities. They introduce Angel (Ben Foster) into the flick, but he’s got virtually nothing to do. Many of the new mutants on display have names, like Juggernaut (Vinnie Jones), Callisto (Dania Ramirez) and Jubilee, but all they really should have been called is Convenient Plot Devices. It’s the nature of these flicks, I guess, though it seems even crappier this time around.

I don’t think this is really that much of a spoiler, but be warned all the same, those of you who wish to stay pure and virginal before watching the flick.

The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, led by Magneto, want to get to the island near San Francisco upon which the infamous prison Alcatraz sits. Instead of hiring a boat, using his magnetic powers to fashion some kind of metal contraption upon which he can float over, like we’ve seem him do before, the screenwriters decide they’re going to have Magneto rip up the Golden Gate Bridge itself in order to get there.

I’d put forth the idea that if he could lift something weighing tens of millions of tonnes like that, comprised mostly of concrete and metal, the rest of the story is rendered somewhat pointless. Sure, it’s meant to look impressive, but what the ding dang? If we follow that logic then he might as well stand on the Oakland shoreline and rip up Alcatraz Island itself and fling it into the sun. Why is that any less ridiculous?

There’s this impression given, from the ads, from the title, and from a host of other crap that they were building up to some serious conflict, like some war between humans and mutant-kind, or the good mutants and the bad ones, but there’s no real sense of why this is such an apocalyptically big deal. I really can’t see what the big deal was. Magneto seems quite miffed at the existence of the cure because it reminds him of the Final Solution from his early days, but there’s no believable reason for why everyone else goes so berserk in such a short period of time, apart from the fact that everyone goes berserk.

After the credits role, there’s a ten second sequence, involving Dr Moira McTaggart, which undoes something that occurs earlier in the film, and you can either see it as a welcome relief, or as a lazy cheat/copout. So, you know, don’t miss it. You have to sit through the names of thousands of techies who worked on the flick, and some really awful music, but, you know, it’s REALLY worth it.

I didn’t like the story. I didn’t like the plot. Some of the action is okay, but look at what it’s in the service of. And the worst issue is, watching this flick made me feel a bit ridiculous. It’s making me doubt my commitment to Sparkle Motion. 5 moments of reflection that lead me to believe that I’m getting a little bit sick of being a nerd out of 10.

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