“Born into a World Divided”: Matt Revisits X-MEN: THE LAST STAND

     May 18, 2014


[With X-Men: Days of Future Past opening on Friday, I'm taking a look back at the X-Men movie franchise.  These reviews contain spoilers.]

Even if Bryan Singer had returned to direct the third X-Men movie, X2 would have been a tough act to follow.  However, he hinted at a clear path forward, or at least enough of a hint that it allowed fans to imagine what could have been.  When Singer decided to direct Superman Returns instead, he left a sequel in limbo.  Fox was going to move forward with or without him, and it was a bumpy road just to put someone in the director’s chair let alone find a way to get the right script.  Even with these issues, X-Men: The Last Stand isn’t a disaster.  If X2 didn’t exist and this was the direct sequel to 2000′s X-Men, it would be on par.  But X2 raised expectations, and in The Last Stand‘s attempt to pursue two potentially great plotlines, it reduces the impact of both.

The movie starts with a digitally de-aged Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) visiting a young Jean Grey (Haley Ramm), and discovering she’s basically a Damian child.  Then we get another prologue where a young Warren Worthington III (Cayden Boyd) is trying to saw his wings off.  When your movie has two prologues highlighting two different characters who never interact with each other over the course of the movie, you may want to rethink your plot.  The beginning of X-Men: The Last Stand is a big warning sign that we’re going to be pursuing two storylines: “The Dark Phoenix Saga” and “Gifted”, the latter of which is about the mutant “cure”, which permanently removes a mutant’s powers.


Either one of these stories could have made a terrific movie on its own.  The “cure” plotline is still the driving force for most of the movie.  However, the execution is painfully clumsy because it’s so awkwardly paced due in part to the Dark Phoenix distractions.  Even with Jean out of the picture, you have a storyline where it feels like the movie was eviscerated in the edit.  Angel is a cameo-plus sized role, and Rogue’s consideration of the cure is given almost no time to breathe.  A lot happens in The Last Stand, and most of it lacks weight.

It feels like all of the emotional heft was put on Dark Phoenix and then The Cure was meant to supply the plot, and stories shouldn’t work that way.  You don’t use a subplot—between the two, that’s what Dark Phoenix is—as a handbag for emotions.  They have to be integrated into the larger story because if they’re relegated to a supporting role, then their significance is diminished.  When Cyclops (James Marsden) dies, that should be a huge deal.  It should shake all of the X-Men to their core.  Their friend and leader has been murdered by his wife.  Instead we get a clumsy explanation of how Jean (Famke Janssen) actually had a split personality because Professor X invaded her mind and implanted mental barriers.


The moral dubiousness of Xavier’s actions actually provides a new perspective on the Professor X to go to a new, morally dubious place where he’s angry, on the defensive, and uncertain of his actions.  Additionally, putting in these barriers raises the question of “Who is the real Jean Grey?”  Was there ever a good person deep down, or was that just a product of Xavier meddling with her mind?  While I was never a fan of the Damian-child Jean and thought that the second-mutation was pretty clearly laid out in the conclusion of X2, this approach to the Dark Phoenix could have provided some fascinating character exploration.  Naturally, they don’t build on it because we have to rush back to the cure.

The only bridge between the cure and Dark Phoenix is a loose theme regarding control versus choice.  It may be safer for everyone if Jean is kept under control, but it removes her ability to choose.  The cure may be safer for humanity, but when it’s put into guns, it removes mutants’ ability to choose.  From Magneto’s side, he’s still controlling Jean and he’s removing the choice from mutants like Rogue (Anna Paquin) who want the cure.  It’s a difficult conundrum, but the plot is so schizophrenic that it can’t build this theme into anything coherent.


Brief flashes of a better movie keep flickering throughout X-Men: The Last Stand beyond the unrealized greatness of the two plotlines.  When Jean is lying on the examination table and Logan (Hugh Jackman) is watching over her, it’s a nice visual callback and illustrates how the roles of the domestic/feral personalities have switched.  Then the moment is obliterated by having Jean announce that their roles have reversed.  Another scene loaded with potential is when the team is pinned down and sees a cartridge of syringes filled with the cure.  For a moment, it looks like they’re considering the ethics of using a weapon that would remove a fellow mutant’s power.  Then you realize they’re just formulating a plan on how to use it against Magneto, and the ethical ramifications never entered their minds.

While it’s easy to lay all of the blame at the feet of director Brett Ratner, it’s not entirely fair to do so in this case.  X-Men: The Last Stand lost the director it should have had because Singer found another comic book movie he wanted more.  Screenplays were scrambled, plotlines were altered, and while all of this isn’t unusual for blockbusters, the real hit to The Last Stand was Matthew Vaughn departing before filming was about to begin.  While the reasons behind his departure could be chalked up to family issues and studio meddling, the fact remains that Ratner was brought into a picture that was already in pre-production.  He was under a tight deadline, and Fox knew he was competent enough to meet the release date and his personality wouldn’t rock the boat.


Fox hired Ratner to get a competently made blockbuster, and that’s all they got.  The flash and style present in X2 was erased, and The Last Stand is more in line with the featureless X-Men.  Even the plot and set pieces are similar to the first movie.  The Last Stand doesn’t have a lot of action beyond a fight inside a house, Wolverine fighting no-name mutants in a forest, and the climactic battle at Alcatraz, which is really just a bigger version of the climax of X-Men: mutants vs. mutants at an American landmark.  The movie doesn’t take any chances, so it’s not unsurprising that it retreads familiar ground.

Where The Last Stand goes from frustrating to infuriating is where it becomes smug about how daring it thinks it is.  As I said earlier, Cyclops’ death is a bit surprising, but the emotional impact is botched because of the pacing and execution (also, if you know the behind-the-scenes machinations, then you know he’s being killed off not because it’s best for the narrative, but because it’s best for Marsden going off to shoot Superman Returns).  But where the movie really wants to shock the audience is by “killing” Professor X and “removing” Magneto’s powers.


These are the two characters who open the movie and they have been the core of the trilogy’s overarching conflict.  Wolverine may sell more toys, get more quips, and have more fans, but Xavier and Magneto are the pillars of the franchise.  If The Last Stand were truly daring, it would have stuck to its guns about the harsh conclusions for Xavier and Magneto.  Instead, it concludes by slinking back to the status quo.  The awkwardly placed scene where Xavier talks to his students about ethics doesn’t really relate to the larger plot; it’s to set up the stinger about his resurrection.  As for Magneto losing his powers, that should be a fitting conclusion to the character’s arc.  That’s a fate worse than death for him.  But the final moment of the film shows Magneto’s powers aren’t truly gone.  Additionally, for this little scene to happen, you have to assume that the most wanted terrorist on the planet can go out in public and play chess in the park on a bright, sunny day.

X-Men: The Last Stand is a “franchise installment” in the worst meaning of the phrase.  It keeps the franchise going through its presence alone.  The movie’s highest aspiration is “adequate” and that’s pretty much what everyone brought to the table.  Having the “fastball special”, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) as a main character, and giving Storm (Halle Berry) a more proactive role are what count as the film’s major achievements.  All that’s truly memorable about X-Men: The Last Stand is how much potential it wastes.  But as we would see, an X-Men movie could be so much worse.

Rating: C

[Tomorrow: X-Men Origins: Wolverine]

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  • Aquartertoseven

    I agree with that score, it was decent, had a fair number of positives, like Wolvie, Beast, Charles dying, the action scenes in general. But what does this mean; “But as we would see, an X-Men movie could be so much worse.”
    Is that referring to Origins, because Origins is better than Last Stand, it’s a C+. Yes, it goes weird with Deadpool but who cares, look how great it goes with Sabertooth. People need to stop going way over the top with the lesser X films, they’re just not that bad.

    • RiddleThemThis

      It’s been a long time since I’ve seen origins: wolverine, but I remember it enjoying it with the exception of the Deadpool finale.

    • Werefon

      Sabertooth was great, but overall plot was weaken than The Las Stand, also inconsistency that contradicts the stuff we saw in x-men 1 are very noticable.

      Stupidity level is very high in Origins (it is the most stupid, inconsistent of all X films yet).

      While having some good bits, there are too much of a crap there. And I am saying this about movie (at the moment of release I didn’t know anything about Deadpool and didn’t care was he butchered or not. In context of a film, the fact that he annoyed everyone by keep talking, and later on “Shuting” his mouth wasn’t bad in context of this particular film).

      It is not that butchering the comics is worst thing (especially for the major movie audience that did not read comics, I did but knew nothing about DPool) ,it is just the fact it is not fitting well into first X-Men by many factors and that is the biggest mistake if a film.

      • Aquartertoseven

        Eh, I’m able to get over that and enjoy this film. So it doesn’t quite line up with X-Men 1′s brief flashbacks on the procedure, it’s a very minor negative. As a movie it was fun, with good action and some strong moments. Plus I couldn’t care less about the comics.

    • Guy Smiley

      Wait… Xavier dying is a “positive”?

      Sorry, but killing off Patrick Stewart is never a good thing. And if it’s the death itself you mean, that’s even more puzzling. It was a terrible death scene.

      • Aquartertoseven

        The scene was probably the best in the film.

      • milo

        Regardless of whether someone thought that scene was good or not (the action and FX were cool at least), it was completely undermined by showing that he’s somehow alive in the scene after the credits. That’s one of the worst things comic book movies do, killing a character and then bringing them back, and this movie doesn’t even wait until the next one to do that. Same with Magneto, a fake loss of powers to go with the fake death. Maybe the first time you see the movie those have some impact, but on any repeat viewing they are empty, knowing they are just fakeouts.

      • milo

        Regardless of whether someone thought that scene was good or not (the action and FX were cool at least), it was completely undermined by showing that he’s somehow alive in the scene after the credits. That’s one of the worst things comic book movies do, killing a character and then bringing them back, and this movie doesn’t even wait until the next one to do that. Same with Magneto, a fake loss of powers to go with the fake death. Maybe the first time you see the movie those have some impact, but on any repeat viewing they are empty, knowing they are just fakeouts.

  • Scullibundo

    It really, really needs to be mentioned and remembered that Singer WANTED to make X3. He waited more than a year for Tom Rothman and FOX to finalize his deal. Then when WB came calling, it made perfect sense for Singer to jump ship, rather than being jerked around.

    You can also read Dougherty’s comments on what Singer’s X3 would have been. http://screenrant.com/bryan-singers-x-men-3-4-story-rob-34720/

    • Werefon

      Yeah, he wanted do it the moment after X2 premier. And if he didn’t he would not put Phoenix under water scene. Here, I should mention that David Hayter’s input is actually big since it was his idea with Jean briefly loosing control in first film. They changed some villains from his draft of X-Men 2 but a lot is left there.

    • Andrew Sanders

      Just been reading about that,…sounds like it would’ve been a worthy follow-up to X2.
      Shame we couldn’t really pull an X-Men DOFP & send Bryan Singer’s consciousness back in time to convince his younger self not to jump ship to make Supes Returns & stick with his X-family.

  • JBug

    @mattgoldberg:disqus I think “intact” should be “interact”

    • http://collider.com Matt Goldberg


  • ItsAnt

    You hit the nail on the head with this one. Bryan Singer was building a solid X-Men trilogy but he moment he got greedy and left, the vision was diminished and molded into something not so great by Vaughn and Ratner, but overall the producers, who were probably scrambling like headless chickens trying to find a new director and meet it’s deadline.

    The X-Men franchise could have been something so much more if Singer stayed on through the full trilogy. Then they could have done proper origin stories for all the important X-Men then came back, to do another trilogy with the Apocalypse storyline. That would have retired the original X-Men and allowed them to do spin-offs with X-Force, Deadpool, New Mutants, etc.

  • JBug

    Great review, Matt! Nice organization of pros and cons.

  • Werefon

    Finally, the review that mentions Ratner situation instead of bitching how he ruined it.
    Score is correct, while it is not worst movie in X-Men franchise it is obviously wasted potential. Combining plots for two separate films is a bad taste and perfect example of producers and studios forcing writers to execute their will and not what is best for the film.

  • World’s Finest Comments

    There are a few elements and pieces that I thought worked in X3, even though as a whole it’s still a giant disappointment:
    *Ian McKellan and Magneto in general. Particularly when he says “She was so beautiful” after Mystique was hit with the cure, it’s a very genuine moment for the character. And even though it wasn’t intentional at the time, Beast being the one to hit him with cure makes the First Class relationship a bit richer.
    *Ellen Page being cast a Kitty Pryde. She was spunky, the scenes with Iceman were charming and I’m thrilled Singer didn’t recast her for DOFP.
    *The final battle when every mutant is lined up before charging kind of reminds me of the opening to the X-Men animated series. Again, don’t know if that was intentional, but it was still a nice homage.
    *Even though there’s much more somber and powerful version of this scene if Cyclops hadn’t been killed off and he were more involved in it, Jean Gray’s death is still well handled to a certain degree in my opinion. It’s the heartbreaking expressions on Jackman’s face as he kills her that do it for me really, that’s it. But I still don’t think her death had been completely earned though. One of those reasons being, again, Cyclops being killed so early.

    Those are just some small thoughts though.

    • Agent777

      Magneto floating the whole Golden Gate Bridge. Always get a kick out of seeing a local landmark manhandled by the like of Magneto and Max Zorin.

      • cruzzercruz

        That scene always drove me insane, because even as a stupid teenager, I immediately realized that the scene shifts from early day time to pitch black night by the time the bridge lifts and lands on Alcatraz island. “This is the big action scene, the ‘splosions will look better at night.”

  • HE1NZ

    The Last Stand was dissapointing, but in the world where Man of Steel and Amazing Spiderman 2 exists it could pass as a masterpiece.

    • Guy Smiley

      Man of Steel, while hardly perfect, is a masterpiece when compared to both The Last Stand and Stuporman Returns. At the very least, it’s far, far better film than those two (and I’m sure it’s far better than ASM 2, but I can’t say since I haven’t seen it and don’t plan to).

    • spaceMONkeyx01

      Agreed. Man of steel was loud, dumb movie which took itself too seriously. Ended up being not even fun.

  • Person

    One of the few movies I’d ever argue should have been longer rather than shorter. I dunno why Ratner felt so obligated to bring the movie in at 100 minutes, which is pathetically short for a summer blockbuster, but if he and the studio had given the movie room to breath and maybe brought it in at 140 minutes, this could have easily rivaled X2. I still like this movie for the most part (although I haven’t seen it since around when it came out on DVD), but I recall it feeling like a sparknotes version of a much longer, richer movie.

    And the post-credits scene was annoying. Either kill Prof. X or let him live; don’t give the audience that emotional moment of him passing, only to undermine it with an OMG fanboy moment later on.

  • Drake

    Maybe just because people attack this movie so much – I do wind up defending a lot. Ratner was put into an impossible situation. And all things considered, he made a solid, entertaining movie. The action is terrific, and there are some big dramatic moments that work. It definitely lacks X1 & X2′s subtleties. But at the end of the day, I liked the movie.

  • Daz

    I get the impression that Last Stand dodges the bigger criticisms because they were fired at Wolverine’s Origins instead. Both deserve their fair share and then some. The movie that’s described above is an absolute shambles – as it comes across on viewing. Some of the new casting was terrible (Vinnie Jones anyone??) And the script had even a few senior pros struggling. Cyclops non-event death, Jeans overly theatrical state of mind, Rogues shoddy subplot, including the shoddy love triangle with iceman and Kitty, almost any scene with Angel in it, Mystiques shoving aside, and a poorly written and acted character in Storm who was almost painful to watch with so much more screen time… Sorry fans, but a couple of entertaining scenes and the odd, decent performance (amongst a huge cast) does not, a good movie, make. D rating for mine.

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  • Grayden

    Everyone hating in Singer for leaving needs to remember that he had a vision for these movies. When it came around to doing X3, the studio wanted him to go in a different direction. Rather than cave and continue the back-n-forth with Fox, he moved on. Fox is as much to blame for X3 ending up the way it did. Probably moreso than Singer and Ratner combined.

  • Doug_101

    Nice review, Matt. X-Men 3 was a film where I said, “Well, it wasn’t as terrible as I thought it was going to be,” whereas X-Men 2 is one of the best comic book movies ever made. So, it was kind of destined to disappoint.

  • Kaine Morrison

    At least Ratner knew how to use SuperPowers… Singer practically neutered all of the X-Men…
    Hopefully he’s found guilty like the rest of the scum in the lawsuit and will never make another film again.

  • Andrew Sanders

    Mostly agree with the review/score.
    A mixed bag of a movie really.
    Good-Kitty Pryde, Young Jean opener/backstory, Phoenix vs Xavier, Storm’s new haircut, Danger Rm, Phoenix telekinetically smashing steel door,music score.
    Bad-Angel, Cyclops off-screen death, Storm’s bad acting, ‘spiky’ mutant, day suddenly turning to night, OTT magnetic bridge demolition(the sub scene in First Class had way more impact I reckon!),standing there & looking ‘moody’ Phoenix,Oh & just no actual Phoenix!
    I didn’t hate it,…but I didn’t really like it all that much either!

  • the king of comedy

    Great review Matt, I agree the story didn`t have time to breath, and the poor pacing made that huge events such as the death`s of Cyclpos and Proffesor X, Magneto no longer being a mutant, mistique loosing her powers and even the death of Green didn`t have an impact.

  • Captain

    For me this is a better movie than the first. It was ok. Rushed mutants appearence were in on all three xmen movies and i like how they handle the phoenix saga. Her character gives a lot of tension to the movie when you see how she can kill anyone in a second. If they follow the comic version it would be even more mess. Cyclops never was a great character in the movies ( in the second he has almost the same small role) so i didnt bother if he was killed or no.So wasnt mystique who almost never speaks in the films. The bridge scene and the truck one were great . And wolverine is still is awesome altough by the end you think theres no way to kill him. Sorry for my english

  • http://www.collider.com/ DNAsplitter

    Finally a review that actually sheds some light in defense of Brett Ratner. People make him out to be the Uwe Boll of filmmaking over this movie but it’s the furthest from the truth (I actually loved Red Dragon and Rush Hours 1&2). The guy was brought in at the 11th hour for a studio driven project that he had little-to-no control over. It was his idea to hire Ellen Page and add the Danger Room sequence – the only real highlights of the film. Was the movie a let down? Sure. But was it all Ratner’s fault? Not even close. Killing Cyclopse was Mardsen and Fox’s decision – Marsden for choosing to be in the rival SR for turncoat Singer (in Fox’s eyes) and Fox studios for killing the real leader of the X-Men in retaliation to Mardsen’s choice. I really think DOFP will be the movie that will right the ship and get us back to filmmaking qualities of X2. It’s just a shame that it took 11 years for us to get there w 2 sub-par and 2 good/ok films in between.

  • Actually…

    All the X-Men movies including X2 have been entirely featureless.

  • TheDarkNut

    I can’t believe I read an honest and fair re-review of X3. Not the strongest film in the franchise by any means but not the worst either. The production issues are surely what contributed to the final product being the letdown many perceive it to be. I like to compare the trilogy with its studio (Fox) sibling Star Wars (first trilogy). The second films were so well received and executed that it was an uphill battle and a bit anti climatic by the time the credits rolled on the final films. I agree X3 could have used about 15-20 more minutes to really flesh out the multiple story lines. I hope that the DoFP will erase X3 from the canon thing is untrue, Fox should stand by their product good or bad.

  • João Paulo

    Great review Matt, but I still think this movie is good, with all problems they faced when Singer get out of the project (taking James Mardsen with him) and Matthew Vaugh quit before star filming, this movie could be much worse.

    I like this movie because I think is the first time with see X-Men fighting together as a team, and in the previous movie we don’t see much of this part of the group, X-Men is about a mutants team up fighting for the good cause about mutants. I understand the many faults of Phoenix plot, but I think cure plot works so well and give a ultimate confrontation between X-Men and Magneto with a politics issues in the middle.

    The introduction of Kitty Pride in the team and the great presence of Beast make the movie even better. Ok Colossus don’t have a line, Angel was useless in the end and they use to much mutants we don’t know, but hey nothing is perfect. I still love the movie because Storm is one of my favorite character and use all her powers in this one.

    The X-Men trilogy have so many faults we can’t count, but the worse part is Cyclops the leader of the team turning a useless coadjuvante.

  • cruzzercruz

    It is easy to blame Brett Ratner, and it also feels so good. Honestly, even if he isn’t ENTIRELY to blame for this colossal piece of shit, he deserves to be hated as a person in general.

  • Underground Anthem TX

    Enjoying these articles, Matt! Thanks!

    Nice to see a fair-minded review of X3– certainly not the worst of the films, which has apparently become the popular opinion. I actually think X3 has the strongest musical score of all the movies, and the “house fight” is the second-best action scene of the entire series (behind Nightcrawler’s WH rampage). It’s the film that feels most like it’s comic book counterpart, to me.

    My favorite is still X1, warts and all, because that’s still the only one that feels like an actual movie. X2 has some wonderful moments but doesn’t really work for me as a complete film. X3 is so breathlessly paced it barely has a moment to really dig into the material or characters, and suffers for it. Wolvie: Origins and First Class are the movies that really screwed everything, continuity-wise. Pretty much all of X3 is fixable with good writing, but it’s all torpedoed with the following movies. The Wolverine Unrated Cut went a long way to course correct the tone of the series, and I liked that one a lot. Hopefully DOFP is a stellar entry in what is basically a low-key sci-fi series.

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  • Werefon

    He will get there for the First Class as it seems.
    He didn’t gave a lesson, he mentioned obvious plot weaknesses that could’ve been fixed but were not because of combination of factors like two big plot lines stitched together, lack of drama and importance of characters death scenes. You, get everything you need to know.

    And studio at the point they were making The Last Stand, gave a big shit about MX and LK subtext.