X-Men: The Last Stand was the third chapter of the X-Men movie franchise, and was the one that prompted a franchise reboot/revamp based on how poorly it was received by the fans even though it was a financial success ($459 million worldwide on a $210 million budget according to IMDB.com). But it wasn’t a total disaster like Batman and Robin. Like Spider-Man 3 that would come a year later it was heavily anticipated and left people very disappointed; both films had their moments and weren’t totally worthless but fell tremendously short of what they could have been.
Jean Gray, believed dead at the end of X2, is alive and at the mercy of what had been her mentally caged true persona known as the Phoenix. Prof. Xavier and Magneto each try to get her to join up with them for their own reasons. While that’s going on a ‘cure’ is found for the genetic mutation that gives mutant their powers and offered to anyone who wants it, giving every mutant a choice and Magneto a new target. Mayhem ensues as the X-Men and Magneto’s brotherhood fight over Jean and the cure.
What worked for me:
I thought the cure storyline was fine. It was fine as a culmination to the conflict between the X-Men and the Brotherhood and the budding conflict between mutants and regular people. They did a good enough job of how the chance to no longer be a mutant might affect different people, namely Rogue and Iceman (boyfriend and girlfriend in these films, they could not make any physical contact due to Rogue’s mutant abilities). It also served as a good motivation for Magneto’s fear of a final solution-esque approach to mutants by the rest of us. The final fight scene was good, and the way Magneto was ultimately defeated was fitting. We also go to see Beast, Colossus, and Kitty Pryde in action along with a full realization of the powers of Iceman and Pyro.
What didn’t work for me:
The Phoenix storyline. I’m not always a stickler for print version continuity, but I agreed with most people that the deviations that took place here were a bridge too far. In the comics the Phoenix was an alien force that inhabited Jean Gray and turned her into an all powerful force. Here it was just her natural condition that had held in check by Prof. Xavier putting mental blocks in Jean’s mind to keep it from manifesting itself fully. When it gets free, Jean starts disintegrating people like her boyfriend Cyclops and eventually Prof. Xavier himself. Cyclops was killed off screen for crying out loud. The leader of the X-Men was killed after less than five minutes onscreen because the actor who played him, James Marsden, was scheduled to be in Superman Returns. Yeah that’s as wack as it sounds.
Cyclops is one of the most important characters in X-Men lore and any killing of him is a big deal. So to do it off camera in the first 20 minutes of the film is flat out disrespectful. Then you follow it up by taking away Mystique’s powers and killing Prof. Xavier less than 20 minutes later. And then Jean basically sits on the sidelines until she gets provoked during the final fight and starts disintegrating everyone in sight before Wolverine kills her. The Phoenix Force is basically Jean having psychotic episodes when provoked. The Phoenix Saga is one of the greatest story arcs in comic book history and could not be told start to finish in one movie, and yet that’s what they tried to do here in addition to simultaneously running the cure plotline. The Phoenix is a world destroying force along the lines of Galactus or the Anti-Monitor and here it was reduced to a personality disorder run amok.
How to fix it:
Pick one plotline. If you want to do the Phoenix story, then use this movie to develop it and do the resolution in the next movie. That way you can introduce all the cosmic otherworldly parts of the story. Or you just do the cure story and leave Jean Gray dead until the end and use that as the kickoff point for the Phoenix story. This movie feels like it was a cash grab for the cast as so many of the ones we got used to in the first two movies either came and went quickly or did a mail it in version of their previous work (namely Ian McKellen as Magneto). This was a third chapter that had been built to over the first two films that was executed like it was the fifth or sixth chapter of a series that was made only because of the potential gate receipts. It was sloppy as hell and that screwed over what could have been a great movie.
Overall Grade: C.
Like the other movies in the category, it’s watchable if you’re not a print continuity purist. If you are then you probably want to burn every copy. I for one was glad when they retconned it out of existence in Days of Future Past.