X-Men: The Last Stand
- Reviewed by: Avril Carruthers
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Current Rating 8.24/10 | 34 Votes
Produced by Lauren Shuler Donner, Ralph Winter, Avi Arad
Cast: Hugh Jackman,
The last of the X-Men trilogy is suitably apocalyptic, with super-powered mutants leaping over, morphing into, throwing, burning, freezing and levitating everything in their path. It’s mainly in the battle for and against a newly discovered ‘cure’ for the mutant gene. The conflict continues between Xavier’s (Patrick Stewart) school of moderates, including Storm (Halle Berry) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) on one side and Magneto’s (Ian McKellen) group of power-driven extremists, which includes Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and Colossus (Daniel Cudmore) on the other. Some mutants are irresistibly drawn by the possibility of normality, like Rogue (Anna Paquin), whose power to drain the life-force from anyone she touches isolates her beyond endurance. Others with less alienating abilities are aghast at a ‘cure’ which will make them like everyone else.
In X-Men 2 (2003), Mystique is asked by the Night Crawler why, since she can morph into any shape at will, she doesn’t pick a ‘more acceptable’ shape. She’s scornful in reply, “Because I shouldn’t have to!” While arrogant in Mystique, this acceptance and pride in mutant uniqueness is now, in X-Men 3, something most mutants seem to share, having largely matured from inner conflict at their difference. One of the superior elements of the X-Men series over other Marvel comic-to-film adaptations, is the feeling that the characters grow and mature both in and between films, as they learn to handle their unique mutations. Acceptance of their difference to non-mutants unites each of the groups internally, if not with each other, against the government-backed ‘cure’. As Magneto rightly predicts, non-mutants’ fear of their power make the ‘cure’ a weapon. True to form, Magneto is keen to extend and exploit the mutants’ power in violent resistance against this unilateral force.
Another element that makes X-Men one of the best comic book adaptations is the polish and coherent range of its allegory, managed with detailed plausibility within its own universe. The theme of corruption through extreme power is well explored from all angles politically and personally, nicely counterpointed against losing personal power (or perhaps gaining it over one’s life) in becoming normal. The ability of power to corrupt is seen most explosively in one returning character whose Jekyll-and-Hyde alternations point to the need for conscious awareness and self-knowledge to moderate and control one’s power. It’s Xavier’s whole stance, but even he succumbs to a paternalistic intervention when it comes to a Category Five power, greater than his own. Inner conflict is taken to a new level as Magneto seeks to exploit this character’s astounding, overwhelming abilities while ironically preaching, “I want you to be yourself…as nature intended”. Like other apologists for extreme violence, Magneto uses persuasive lies mixed with truth.
Extraordinary special effects and CGI as usual enable some spectacular stunts in the telekinetic-levitation, storm-brewing, fire vs ice and colossal strength modes: the most mind-blowing belong to Magneto (to Ian McKellen’s obvious exultant delight) in a stunt of magnetically picking up and re-placing one end of the Golden Gate Bridge onto Alcatraz Island, where the impressively instantaneous anti-mutant vaccine is being manufactured. Battles of ferocious force proliferate through the movie, awesome power matched by awesome power as dictated by the genre, and it’s as easy to be enthralled by the film as it was to be utterly absorbed by the comic when a child, in ways not as well achieved by other comic book adaptations. An intriguing scene early on setting the main theme of the dangers of extreme power presents Jean Grey’s backstory and uses CGI facial patches to present Xavier and Eric Lehnsherr/Magneto 20 years younger. Great fun.
Angel (Ben Foster) has a smaller role than fans might wish but his wings are glorious. A new, favourite character from the comics, Dr Henry McCoy (the blue furry Beast, played by a convincingly potent Kelsey Grammer), whose backstory is not detailed, represents a possible collaboration between mutants and non-mutants for the future, and though this is the last of the trilogy there are hints at a possible sequel. The source of the vaccine is young Leech, played with touching yearning by Cameron Bright.
Amid fears that the character and tone of the X-Men series might be lost when director Brett Ratner took over at short notice from Matthew Vaughan, who took over from Bryan Singer - in fact they ended up swapping projects, Singer taking up Superman Returns (2006) after Ratner left - Ratner’s helmsmanship in assured and competent, deepening characters’ emotional interactions and with less corniness than the first two in the series.
Make sure you watch till the end of the credits, for a last surprise.
© Avril Carruthers 24th May 2006
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