Monday 30 May 2011

From the archive: "X-Men: The Last Stand"

Three blockbusters into 2006 - four if you count The Da Vinci Code, but I won't - and it's clear just how spoiled we've been by our recent holiday entertainments. There will not be a new film by Sam Raimi this year; nor one from Peter Jackson. The most we can hope, by way of an authored event movie, will be for Bryan Singer to do something with the least promising of all comic-book franchises in the forthcoming Superman Returns. Having delivered the solid X-Men and X2, Singer declined to occupy the director's seat for a third time on X-Men: The Last Stand. In his place, we get Brett Ratner (Rush Hour), whose films have never been about more than what might be described as a profitable functionality: if we're lucky, he gets the job done for both the popcorn-munchers and the studio suits, and that's about it.

This third instalment gives Ratner the novelty of two whole plotlines with which to juggle: one about a cure for the mutant gene dividing the superhero community, the other concerning the resurrection and defection of Famke Janssen's Jean Grey/Phoenix. (If that doesn't mean anything to you, you're in the wrong screen.) Most of the series regulars return: Hugh Jackman's Wolverine (special powers: bad hair, ability to set girls' hearts aflutter, vague resemblance to Alvin Stardust); Halle Berry's Storm (special powers: bad hair, ability to survive Catwoman unscathed); and Anna Paquin's Rogue (special powers: bad hair framing girl-next-door cuteness). Bad hair, it should be noted, is so rife in this world - almost everyone has some ill-advised tint or dye job - that one almost arrives at the conclusion the mutant gene is just an excuse to frequent untrustworthy barbers. Patrick Stewart's Professor Xavier has got it right: he's had it all shaved off, although even then you may wonder whether it's a mischievous hairdresser's idea of a joke.

That we're left marvelling only at hairstyles may give some indication of where we're at in this third film. Singer may have jumped ship because he felt he'd taken this mythology far enough, and all any director could achieve with another instalment would be to dot the "i"s and cross the "t"s. Replacing him with the firmly heterosexual Ratner - former beau (if that's the right word) of Serena Williams and Lindsay Lohan, and a man whose After the Sunset may have some claim on being the most leering PG-13 film ever made - has resulted in the straightest X-Men movie yet: when the characters finally end up in San Francisco, they go there not for the nightlife, but so Ratner can wrench the Golden Gate from its foundations and smash the shit out of Alcatraz. (One might accuse him of over-compensating.)

But the film is also straight in the sense of all surface, no subtext. Unlike Singer, Ratner clearly doesn't do hidden meaning (or doesn't know what to do with hidden meaning); as a result, and most peculiarly, we've ended up with a big summer movie composed almost entirely of footnotes and punchlines, concerned only with tying up story strands established elsewhere. (A cynic might add The Last Stand suggests that if you want to finish off a franchise, Ratner really is your man.) Typical is the fondness this final part has for minor, throwaway, background jokes, usually involving cars, a language all residents of smoggy L.A. - mutant or not - must understand.

The young Jean Grey, in the flashback that opens the film, makes the cars of her neighborhood levitate through a living-room window; towards the end, a female driver, seeing Ian McKellen's charmingly malevolent Magneto pass by her windscreen, takes care to apply the child locks. It still works, just about, even if X3 has the feel of a franchise entry doing nothing more than going through the motions: killing off several key characters, introducing others (Kelsey Grammer's mutant senator Hank McCoy, Vinnie Jones's Juggernaut) too late for them to have any real impact, and (presumably) making a lot more money for a director who insisted in Cannes this week that The Last Stand is the final X-Men film, "although there might be spin-offs". Ker-ching!

(May 2006)

X-Men: The Last Stand screens on C4 this Saturday (June 4th) at 10.15pm.

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