Oh how the mighty have fallen. The X-Men franchise used to be a leader in the superhero genre; the original X-Men basically kicked off the current craze and X-Men 2 was able to one-up all the other emerging franchises back in 2003. Then a man named Brett Ratner came onto the scene and Yoko-ed the whole thing up. X-Men: The Last Stand was a major step down from its predecessors, eliminating all the classiness that kept the series ahead of its competitors and reduced the whole thing to merely being a generic 00s action movie in the worst possible sense of what that can mean. It’s like the series had gone from something on par with the Bourne Series and suddenly turned it into something closer to the XXX series. To turn this into a musical analogy; the band just put out a pathetic album and decided to split up, now the popular lead singer has put together a mildly talented group of studio musician and put out a bland solo record called X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
Those who were somewhat intrigued by the prospect teased in the trailers of a story about an immortal living through the course of history, this movie will be a disappointment. All that material is finished by the end of the opening credits, in which the instantly healing Victor Creed (Liev Schreiber taking the role originally played by Tyler Mane) and Logan (Hugh Jackman) live through multiple wars throughout American history. This run ends in Vietnam where their power is discovered by Major William Stryker (Danny Huston taking the role originally played by Brian Cox in X-Men 2), who decides to recruit them for Team X, a group of mutants who engage in black ops for the government. Logan approves of this for a while, but the carnage begins to wear on him. After a particularly tense mission, Logan decides to leave and the team disbands. The film picks up six years later when Victor returns and murders the woman Logan was living with (Lynn Collins). Swearing revenge, Logan agrees to undergo physical enhancements from Stryker, but soon learns that Stryker is not someone to be trusted.
The first problem here is the new set of mutants. Liev Schreiber is pretty good in his role, even if they make no attempt to connect the continuity between his role and the Sabretooth from the first X-men film. The rest of the cast is second string at best and embarrassingly stupid at the worst. Many of the actors here like Taylor Kitsch and Daniel Henney feel like bland models from central casting. Will.i.am, an incredibly lame musician who makes one of the worst screen debuts in recent memory, plays a teleporting mutant who’s basically a poor man’s Nightcrawler. Then there’s The Blob (Kevin Durand), a character they really just shouldn’t have tried to translate from page to screen. Compare this cast to the rest of the series, which was populated by great character actors like Patrick Stewart and Ian Mckellen, even the smaller roles were filled by cool character actors like Alan Cumming and Anna Paquin.
To the film’s credit, it has two action set-pieces that are pretty cool. One is scene where Wolverine is attacked by a helicopter while fleeing on motorcycle, which is probably the film’s highlight. There’s also a fight scene towards the end which is fairly creative. However, outside of those two scenes the action here is lame. The problem is that all the mutants here are not just super-powered, they also seemed to have acquired crazy matrix-style acrobatic moves that they use to ridiculous results. The biggest offender here is the character of Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) who can apparently deflect the bullets of multiple fully automatic rifles with his swords and then split a bullet in half in mid air… right. He’s not the only one either. In the previous X-films the characters had powers, but were essentially human outside of them, this went a long way towards grounding the films. In this film pretty much every power automatically comes with superhuman speed, strength, endurance, agility, and balance.
There’s a wide variety of other problems of course. The political allegories which even the bland Brett Ratner movie had the courage to tackle had basically been abandoned here. Also, the special effects can be pretty bad at times, they’re fine in the big set-pieces but the CGI gets iffy during some of the quieter scenes in need of effects. The movie also has a lot of trouble staying in the continuity of the series, I already mentioned the Sabretooth disconnection that can only be seen as a retcon, but there’s also a nonsense plot device added to explain how Wolverine no longer had his memories in the later installments. There’s also an astonishingly predictable twist that the audience is in on long before Wolverine is.
What hurts about this movie is that it really could have been good if the people producing it had actually given a damn. There was room for interesting material in Wolverine’s origin, and every once in a while the movie shows signs of life, but its ultimately undone by its compromised by a central lack of ambition. It’s clear that the producers had done the math and realized they could get a great opening weekend by slapping the X-Men name onto any semi-competent movie and decided to deliver just that, a semi competent movie, and by all accounts they were able to fool a lot of people into showing up to see it. To return to my music analogy, the 20th Century Fox had better hope that this band can settle their differences and make a comeback album, because audiences aren’t going to put up with these half-assed solo albums for much longer.
*1/2 out of Four