GET OFF MY LAWN: X-Men the Last Stand (2006)

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Welcome fellow internet users! Each installment of “Get Off My Lawn” I examine a super-hero movie of the pre-2008 MCU era. This week we are going to look at…Hey, I know what this blog is, you watch an early superhero movie and talk about it not sucking. I figured out the formula!

Ok well, that is fair and usually, it is true but not this time. I watched X-Men the Last Stand, or as it’s sometimes called X3, directed by Brett Rattner and starring Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Famke Jansen, and Sir Ian McKellan. I have feelings and thoughts about his one.

Context:

The OG superhero franchise films began with 2000’s X-Men with director Bryan Singer. It spawned an X-Men trilogy, a Wolverine trilogy, and a reboot of the franchise which ties into the world created by Singer in 2000 in with X-Men First Class (2011), X-Men: Days of Futures Past (2014), X-Men: Apocalypse (2016), and the latest will be coming out next year – X-Men: Dark Phoenix.  X-Men (2000) and X2: X-Men United (2003) were both successful critically and financially. Bryan Singer left the franchise after X2 to pursue another superhero project, Superman Returns. Fox kept the franchise moving along while combing through a laundry list of directors until finally settling on Brett Ratner.

There are several reports about Singer and Ratner’s inappropriate sexual conduct and behavior. Although they are unconfirmed, support this movie financially at your own discretion. X3 landed after 2005’s mediocre Fantastic Four but before Ghost Rider. Interestingly enough X3 also opened shortly before Singer’s Superman Returns. It would go on to outperform Singer’s Superman movie critically and financially.

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Story and Reception:

X3 like most X-men films is a loose adaptation of one or two classic stories. In this case Ratner combined Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s “Gifted” storyline with Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s “Dark Phoenix Saga.”

As the X-men are slowly recovering from Jean’s sacrifice at the end of X2, Worthington industries announce that they have found a “cure” for the mutant gene. The mutant metaphor gets a little bit muddled when Storm’s “Born This Way” message gets a little mixed up with Rogue’s perspective and everybody getting all ableist on her and not understanding her view because of her powers. With no one way to go about it, the team is divided.

Meanwhile, Cyclops finds a resurrected and mega-powered Jean and it doesn’t end well for him before a comatose Jean is returned to the mansion. Later Magneto jailbreaks a bunch of mutant accomplices and coaxes Jean/Phoenix over to his side after she obliterates Professor X. A final showdown happens following Magneto and his brotherhood dropping the Golden Gate Bridge on Worthington labs in a mad dash to destroy the “mutant cure.” The final battle ensues between a Wolverine led X-team and Magneto’s small army of red-shirts. In the end, Wolverine kills the Phoenix in a moment of clarity for Jean. Storm and Logan are left to rebuild the Xavier school and the original trilogy is put to rest.

The movie was a tremendous financial success, grossing more than 459 million dollars worldwide and would remain the highest-grossing X-movie until Days of Future Past. It remains the 4th highest grossing X-movie. Critics were mixed on the film. It earned a 58 on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic though Cinemascore audience’s rated it an A-. Most of the criticism was directed at the characterization and jumbled plot while the special effects and mutant powers were almost universally praised. In an X-men movie, what more can you ask for? Well…

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How does it hold up:

Not great, especially with all the other superhero movies that came after. Usually, the pieces of these older movies that land are the special effects and more often than not, they don’t hold up. But X-3 is different.  This sequel had a budget of 210 million dollars so it really stood out back then and still stands the test of time as far as special effects go today. Notably, the flashback sequence with the subtle de-aging of Xavier and Magneto looks fantastic in 2018, as do several of the fight scenes and the Golden Gate Bridge sequence which is far stronger than I remember. There are lots of mutants and their powers never look overly CGI’ed, in fact, the Angel in X3 looks and has a better arc than the Archangel character in X-Men: Apocalypse.

The parts that don’t hold up are especially disappointing for a property as character driven as the X-Men. Characters and tone are really all over the place in X3. Stepped up roles behind the scenes really push characters into unearned places. For example, Storm is suddenly thrust into a leadership position by Xavier because he has given up on Scott. Despite the fact, Storm has been there all three movies. She should have been in a leadership role previously. In addition, the Professor giving up on Scott is lazy and not reflective of his character. Magneto is suddenly a super villain with no nuance, just in it for the child killing. Given his background as a survivor of the Holocaust, Magneto has never just been a supervillain, he’s been a man hurt by the world who’s actions are nuanced enough that you wonder if he’s right. This man isn’t what we get in X-3. And to wrap up the characters, Wolverine is all of a sudden the gung-ho X-Man who believes in the dream more than anybody else without any set-up.

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I know it’s a movie about people with superpowers and I should suspend disbelief but when it comes to characters and tone, I just can’t. Two writers are credited with the story but based on my research story credit could go up to 7 different writers, directors and producers. So many people hopped on and off this project that reportedly Ratner put his full trust in the final two writers and let them combine together two different scripts. Which shows.

The ‘what if’ game for this movie is fun though. Consider the things that could have happened if the script had gone a different direction: A) a more true to form “Dark Phoenix Saga” with Sigourney Weaver playing Emma Frost and manipulating Jean B) a bigger Alcatraz battle scene with Nightcrawler and Gambit including and having roles C) a slightly small “Days of Future Past” mini-plot/sequence that was trimmed from another film. This movie really ends up being a mess character-wise, and it should have let us know that Wolverine Origins was going to be a mess as well. The two movies were produced concurrently.

How should Wolverine be characterized?

In X3 a lot of the characterization of Wolverine feels unearned and more centered around Jackman as the breakout star of the franchise rather than a natural progression of where cinematic Wolverine would be. However, these days it is not too strange to think of Wolverine as the savior/continuation of the X-men. Some current day fans who started reading X-books around the time or after this film’s release may say, “Yes based on the last 10 years of Marvel Comics,” but in the 20 years before X3 comes out a bunch of us would have said “NO!”

Why does it work now but not 12 years ago? In my opinion, it is because of one arc and one series, both by Jason Aaron.

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In 2011 Aaron wrote X-Men Schism United No More. Schism was an event comic which pits Wolverine against Cyclops to control the spirit of the future of the X-men. In the story, Cyclops wants to continue to train future soldiers for the war of mutant survival. Wolverine stands on the other side and instead wants to protect the childhood and innocence of the young charges and bring the X-men back to a more classic “Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters” era.

At first, you may feel like the viewpoints should be opposite but Aaron really does a nice job filtering the idea of the X-men through each character’s experiences and worldview. Even though Wolverine is the more violent character he knows what it is to be turned into a weapon and wants desperately to stop that from happening to the next generation of mutants. Cyclops, on the other hand, was trained from childhood to be the tactician and field leader of Xavier’s team of mutant operatives. He needs to lead, therefore he needs more soldiers.

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Schism splits the team into two camps, Cyclops’s slightly more grown-up team continues with Brian Michael Bendis’ run and Jason Aaron shows Wolverine’s journey in Wolverine and the X-Men. Wolverine and the X-Men is not every X-fan’s cup of tea but I really enjoyed aspects of the story and the slow journey Logan took to become the headmaster of the Jean Grey School for Gifted Youngsters. I highly recommend all three branches of the story.

Where do I find X-3:

In the garbage behind Best Buys or streaming on Starz. Also, it’s available to rent or own on iTunes and Amazon digital.