Why I thought X3 was so close, but ended up being so far
This may be going back a few years, but after seeing First Class and loving it; I have been revisiting the X-Men movies. I thought one and two were great, and will likely comment on them at some point, but Last Stand got me thinking the most. It had so much going for it and it could have bookended a definitive comic book movie trilogy. Here are my thoughts...
It is safe to say that X-Men: Last Stand was a major let down. Critical reception was low, posting a 57% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, down from the 82% and 88% of the first two movies respectively. Many fans did not like it, as it took one of the most famous storylines from X-Men history and did not live up to its potential. That is my biggest complaint about this movie...it did not live up to its potential. It had so many good moments, so many great opportunities, it was so close; but it just didn’t deliver. I am going to take a look at some of the things I loved from this movie, some of the things I hated, and some of the areas where I think a small tweak here or there would have made a world of difference.
There were a lot of good things about this movie. Perhaps the best thing this movie had going for it was the anticipation. X2 set up the dark phoenix storyline so well. With Jean’s powers increasing throughout the second movie, then her sacrifice at the end, and finally the phoenix flashing over the water where she died. Everyone knew what was coming in the 3rd movie, and based on what we had been given so far, we had no reason to believe it would be anything besides amazing.
The movie opened with us meeting young Jean and the audience was amazed by her raw power at such a young age. It adds to our anticipation...how powerful is she going to be as Phoenix...where is this movie going to go? I was excited walking in and my enthusiasm had only been increased by seeing the potential within Jean.
Then we show up in the Danger room. We have not seen this on film yet and I loved the depiction. A huge, over-the-top battle against the Sentinels (I know, kind of a tease, wish they took it a step further). We got to see the X-Men showcase their powers and work together as a team and this is the sort of fight I had been waiting to see on the big screen since I saw it happen in the 90’s cartoon.
The introduction of Beast! One of my favourite characters and I thought he was played excellently by Kelsey Grammar and looked and sounded exactly as I had imagined. They also introduced the ‘cure’ in this scene. I have read elsewhere that people did not like this plotline; that this should not have been mixed together with the Phoenix storyline. I think it was okay in concept, as there was a lot of room to explore different mutants feeling towards their mutation. It also provided a perfect reason for Magneto to gather his forces against a threat to mutants and we get to see Magneto put his new brotherhood together. However, I do not think the ‘cure’ was well executed overall; it, like much of this movie, came up short.
Basically, I loved the first 25 minutes of this movie. The first time I saw it I went in with such high hopes and was not disappointed. The story was moving along at a great pace, setting up plot elements I was waiting for and it looked like this was going to be an epic conclusion to a great trilogy.
Then they introduced the Phoenix. The decision they made at this point basically ruined the movie in my opinion. They killed Cyclops. His character and been highly underutilized up until this point in the trilogy and I thought this would be the movie that would really focus on him and let him shine, let him be the hero, let him be the leader of the X-Men he is supposed to be. But then they kill him. His and Jean’s relationship is the centre of the entire Phoenix story. She is a being of extraordinary powers, capable of terrible things, and her and Scott’s relationship brings out the little bit of humanity left inside of her. Every scene in the movie after this featuring Jean and Wolverine should have been featuring Scott instead. At this point the movie lost all of its heart. There were some cool action scenes, some great moments that I had been waiting to see...but it just wasn’t the same because the Phoenix story had been gutted of its heart.
Say what you want about Singer, I don’t think he would have let this happen. He understood the emotional undertones that drove the X-Men stories and this was one of the most important. The Phoenix character as depicted in this movie has awesome powers but was very one-note. We needed to see her struggle with her humanity, or the loss of it. We needed to see this through her interactions with Scott. Without this we don’t see Jean anymore, we just see an ultra-powered being that has basically become a bad guy and we no longer care about her. This movie makes us want the X-Men to stop her, but the story is supposed to be that we know the X-Men have to stop her, but we don’t want them to because we still care about Jean. This movie did not have this element and that was its major failure in my opinion.
As stated, the remainder of the movie has some great moments, but was lacking emotion. For example, Magneto’s rescue of Mystique from the travelling prison was awesome. Magneto totally owns an entire convoy of highly armed guards like they are nothing. He finds a bunch of new bad-ass mutants for his team. This was pretty cool. But then they go and ruin the entire scene with Mystique’s de-powering. It was not her de-powering that I had a problem with, but Magnetos reaction to it. All of the X-Men continuity does a very good job of pointing out that Magneto is not evil for the sake of being evil. He always has specific, relatable motivations for his actions. His reaction to Mystique losing her powers was just plain, callous, evil; not what I would expect from Magneto. I would have expected some emotions from this man who just lost his best lieutenant. Be it anger, sadness, regret, mourning...whatever, have some sort of reaction!!! He just walked away like nothing happened.
The scene where Professor X died also could have been epic but was wasted. I liked the argument and differing viewpoints and offers presented to Jean by Magneto and Charles. The fight with the other team members outside was also pretty cool. The effects as the house was being torn apart were also good. I was even okay with Jean killing Professor X, as it demonstrated how powerful she was and how far over the edge her powers had taken her. However, the death would have meant a lot more had Scott not already been killed, as it would have been shocking to have the first team member to die be Prof X. Scott could have been shown attempting to bring her back from the dark side or showing sorrow for how far she had gone. I felt this was another wasted opportunity to bring some humanity to Jean’s character.
There were some other highlights within the movie; Magneto moving the Golden Gate Bridge, the X-Men lining up ready to fight the brotherhood, the Pyro vs. IceMan fight with Iceman getting his full ice form, seeing the full scope of the Phoenix’s power...there was a lot of good fights and cool moments, but by this point all of the emotional resonance had been drained from the movie and these cool moments didn’t really amount to much.
It is too bad. There were so many things done right leading up to this movie and many things done right within this movie. However, there were a few moments that totally changed the direction of the story and effectively ruined it for me. I know that many others were also let down by it. Why did this movie not work for you? Please let me know if you felt the same as I did, or if you hated every moment of the movie, or what parts didn’t work for you.
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