June 2024

X-Men 3: The Last Stand (2006)

DIRECTOR: Brett Ratner


Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Sir Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen, Halle Berry, Kelsey Grammer, Anna Paquin, James Marsden, Shawn Ashmore, Aaron Stanford, Rebecca Romijn, Ellen Page, Ben Foster, Vinnie Jones, Josef Sommer, Bill Duke


X-Men 3: The Last Stand, the third installment of the original X-Men trilogy, is a mixed bag that veers from some of the best scenes in the series to a misjudged mess that desecrates some key characters and is crammed with more material than it can handle.

It is some time since events of the previous film, which saw the apparent death of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), and while the X-Men, particularly Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Cyclops (James Marsden), are still haunted by their loss, things are looking up for mutants. They have a mutant, Dr. Hank McCoy/Beast (Kelsey Grammer) in the Cabinet and a President (Josef Sommer) who is open to discussion. But trouble is brewing. A ‘cure’ for mutants has been engineered which is said to remove mutants’ powers and abnormalities. Some, such as Rogue (Anna Paquin) see this as a chance to have a normal life, while others such as Storm (Halle Berry) are offended by the suggestion that they need to be cured. Magneto (Ian McKellen) is convinced that this is the first step in the government’s ultimate goal of exterminating mutants completely, and is rallying an army to launch what he sees as a preemptive strike. And the X-Men have an even bigger problem. Jean has returned, only not exactly as Jean–a darker side has taken over, the immensely powerful, insatiably destructive Phoenix.

By now, with the exception of a few newcomers, the cast members have been in their roles for three films, so it’s no surprise that, for the most part, they seem at home in them. First and foremost are Hugh Jackman and Ian McKellen, who are possibly the best they’ve been in the series. Famke Janssen gets the chance to let loose as the uncontrollably powerful, destructive Phoenix, and provides the X-Men with an adversary even more dangerous than Magneto. Halle Berry’s screentime is noticeably bumped up this time around (she was unhappy with her characer’s limited role in the first two installments), but she still doesn’t seem completely comfortable as Storm. Anna Paquin, meanwhile, who provided the most emotional impact of anyone in the first film, gets a little less screentime every time around; Shawn Ashmore as her boyfriend Bobby/Iceman is starting to overtake her. Aaron Stanford also returns as Pyro, who’s now an enthusiastic henchman of Magneto. The real shortchanged veterans this time around are Patrick Stewart, James Marsden, and Rebecca Romijn, none of whom have more than a few scenes (Marsden’s small part was due to his being busy with a supporting role in Superman Returns, the same reason Brett Ratner is directing here instead of Bryan Singer). Alan Cumming’s Nightcrawler is absent altogether (Cumming was reluctant to endure the hours of makeup again for what would have been a small role, and chose not to return). Of the new characters, Kelsey Grammer, whose features are buried under heavy makeup but whose voice is instantly recognizable, is not someone many people would automatically think of play an X-Man, but proves a curiously perfect choice for the dryly intellectual Beast. Kitty Pryde, the girl who can walk through walls and appeared very briefly in the first and second films, has been recast here with Ellen Page, though I doubt anyone remembers who played her before. Other newcomers include Vinnie Jones as the Juggernaut, Josef Sommer as the President, and Ben Foster as Warren Worthington/Angel, and there are bit parts for Bill Duke and Anthony Heald.

One problem with The Last Stand is obvious: the filmmakers tried to squeeze too much into one fairly short film. Either of the two major plot points, Jean’s return of sorts as Phoenix and Magneto’s crusade against the mutant cure, would have been plenty enough to be the main plotlines of two separate films, and putting them together doesn’t leave a lot of time for anything else. The filmmakers at least get Beast right, but Worthington/Angel is so underused that his inclusion seems superfluous. Xavier, Cyclops, Mystique, and Rogue are all given short shrift, and at least the first three get raw deals in the ways their characters are handled. The entire Phoenix storyline, while inspired by a multi-issue arc in the comics, is poorly-handled. Xavier goes into laborious detail to explain what’s happened to Jean, but the explanation feels heavier on length than clarity, and is a little confusing for casual fans.

The Last Stand is not all bad; in fact, some isolated individual scenes are among the best in the series. The special effects are impressive, most notably Magneto’s lifting of the entire Golden Gate Bridge, a spectacular sequence in which live-action and computer animation blends seamlessly. In fact, all through the movie, Magneto is as formidable he’s ever been (he certainly gets more to do here than in X2: X-Men United , where he played second fiddle to Brian Cox’s Stryker in the villain contingent and spent most of his time as an uneasy ally of the X-Men). The fights are larger-scale than the mostly one-on-one duels in the first two installments, with the high point and climax being Magneto’s army’s assault on Alcatraz Island, the site of the lab containing the cure. Fans of Iceman will be pleased to see his full form featured in a one-on-one duel between he and Pyro, and a game of cat-and-mouse between Kitty and Juggernaut is also entertaining. There is still a thinly-veiled social commentary; the prologue features a young Angel desperately trying to hide his mutation from his father, and the debate about whether mutants have anything they need to be cured of brings to mind some of the conservative Christian camps which purport to be able to ‘pray away the gay’.

The Last Stand succeeds at action-heavy special effects extravaganza, but some of its other problems, particularly the way it screws a few essential characters who aren’t as disposable as it seems to think they are, are impossible to overlook. The ending seems to leave the filmmakers somewhat painted into a corner as to where to go from here; perhaps that’s why the next X-Men installments were prequels (2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which was a worse movie than this one, and 2011’s upcoming X-Men: First Class, exploring the early friendship-turned enmity between Xavier and Magneto, which will hopefully do something more interesting with them than Wolverine did with its namesake) who can conveniently avoid dealing with the mess it leaves off with. Some of its dubious decisions, and the fans’ displeasure with them, make it doubtful we will ever get a chronological sequel. The Last Stand is not the disaster some make it out to be, and is still an entertaining film, but nor is the third time the charm.