X-Men: The Last Stand has legs

When a cure for the mutant gene is announced by a corporation working with the government, the militant Magneto rallies his mutant brotherhood for a decisive strike against Homo sapiens humanity. Charles Xavier and his school of X-Men prepare to respond in kind, but the return of a former teammate, thought to be dead, upsets everyone’s plans, as the nearly limitless Jean Grey may pose the greatest threat to mutants and humans alike. A heavy toll will be exacted, lives will be lost, and the greatest sacrifice will be made as the X-Men take The Last Stand.

The $#!+ hits the Fan

“The Juggernaut shouldn’t have been affected by the boy at all! His powers are mystically derived!” I nearly collapsed from laughter and tumbled down the escalator as this nasally fan whined in front of me. The inevitable geek-bleat had begun. Large bellies had begun to ache. Okay, never mind the fact that I also know that technically Cain Marco got his powers from the gem of Cyttorak, or that technically he’s Xavier’s step-brother. Never mind the fact that Jeans Phoenix force was not a split personality, but an alien entity she got while cavorting through space. This is not the mixed-bag soap opera that is the endless array of X-Men comic books, this is the end of the X-Men film trilogy, and a nice end-cap to a thoroughly enjoyable series. As William Shatner once said to the Trekkies, “get a life.” This is a fantastic summer movie and a sensational conclusion to an exciting film series. It’s certainly the most emotional of the films but to be fair, this quality hinges on relationships set in motion by the previous installments, particularly the second film by director Bryan Singer.

I’ve already seen X-fans griping about who dies in the film, even though these characters and more have died more than once, and returned (more than once)in the comic books. I’ve heard critics complain that one of the heaviest plot points is overturned by the ending and yet that’s what comics have done for decades. I’ve heard complaints about lack of character development (because the first two had SO much apparently remember Toad and Sabertooth?) and, worst of all, complaints from lovers of the first two films that they got characters and their powers wrong. Reality check, you rabid X-philes: Spider-man did not have organic web-shooters, Bruce Wayne was not trained by Ras Al Ghul before he was Batman, and (closer to X-home) Cyclops was not younger than Jean, Mystique wore clothes and not funky latex, Wolverine was not infused with adamantium at Alkali Lake, and Nightcrawler never had all those tattoos. Fans, you cant pick and choose where you bitch about your precious comic canon. Getting angry because you didn’t get alien races, planets blowing up, and giant evil robots in the world director Bryan Singer interpreted for the big screen five years ago is just silly. Director Brett Ratner finishes the down-to-earth version of the X-Men Singer started, and does so with grace and alacrity.      

Ratner-fied Success

When Brett Ratner signed on for the third X-stallment, everyone was worried. Franchises don’t do well when studios swap directors. (Remember Joel Schumacher’s Batman films, anyone? Neither do I.) Trilogies rarely hold together at all, especially if they have Keanu Reeves. And Ratner… would Chris Tucker or Jackie Chan be making an appearance? X-Men: The Rush Hour; yes, I was worried. What’s amazing is how Ratner shot this film with the first two features firmly in mind stylistically. It blends well with Singer’s vision, and there are amazing nuances in story and visual direction that make the movie truly feel that it’s bringing the entire saga full circle. While some pre-judgers seem to be calling for Ratner’s head on a plate, I think he deserves a medal. In fact, it brings to mind the original (read: only) Star Wars trilogy. The first Star Wars film introduced us to a fantastic world, the second focused more on character and added flesh to cardboard cutouts, but left us with no climax; when the third one came along, it finished things off with big explosions and bombast. This is the formula of the X-franchise as well, and it didn’t disappoint this comic-book reader. Also, see it soon, as some of the narrative choices in this film truly shocked me. Avoid spoilers.

Mutants: color, creed, or preference?

It’s no secret that mutants were a garish comic book device for dealing with racism. Creator Stan Lee even said as much. Not only that, but Xavier and Erik “Magneto” Lensherr contrast fairly well with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. Charles Xavier founded his school and seeks to promote peace through predominantly non-violent methods; Magneto will secure mutant rights by any means necessary. Anti-Semitism also plays a large part of the film, as this discrimination has fueled Magnetos cynicism toward humanity (what he fails to fully digest is that he now views he and mutant-kind as a master race, just like the Nazis). More recently the mutant metaphor has been expanded to include sexual preference issues, but it could also be applied to simply holding religious beliefs that are culturally unacceptable and being persecuted for ones faith.

In this film, there is an opportunity to receive a cure for the mutant gene. Ororo (Storm) protests that “There’s nothing to cure, nothings wrong with any of us for that matter!” But is this accurate? Are some mutations detrimental to others, or even the person who has them? In the course of the film, two respectable characters are confronted with the opportunity of the cure; one will take it, but the other rejects it. What seems prevalent here as the films theme is the ability to choose. What does this say for the metaphors above? Changing skin pigmentation really isn’t an option, but from an ethnic standpoint, it may be giving up the cultural distinctive to fit in. When it comes to sexual preference, however, an interesting dilemma emerges. There are people who claim that through various means (often spiritual, and particularly Christian), they have rejected being attracted to the same sex and enjoy heterosexual relationships. They are most often mocked and dismissed by mainstream culture, but isn’t that the same intolerance the homosexual community often charges religious groups with? What happened to that person’s “right to choose”? It seems that steering with a cultural compass only leads to more hypocrisy and intolerance.

Tough Choices

At the films opening, we find that when Xavier and Lensherr (Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, lending these films a gravity that simply would not exist otherwise) met a young Jean Grey and realized her power was off the charts. Some difficult decisions were made in regard to the girls mind, and Xavier reveals those when Jean returns from death. Characters are offered a chance to be cured of their mutagen. Jean must decide what to do with her powers, and just whose side she is on, and Logan must face the possibility that he needs to make the greatest sacrifice of all. I didn’t feel as though any true savior shone through in this film. It was very much the muddled, miry world of hypocrisy and confusion that we wrestle with every day. As a wise man once said in the book of Judges, “everyone did what was right in their own eyes”. If you read the book of Judges, you’ll see that most often that leads to pain, suffering, violence, and death. Some people had good intentions, others bad, but things rarely ended well. The same can be said for this film, and pretty much the course of our daily lives.      

Charles Xavier exhibits a high morality and a view of life that recognizes dignity and equality for all. However, even he reveals some choices he’s made that even the loose cannon Wolverine finds questionable. Erik refuses to seek peace and assumes that the only choice is domination, yet we see in an amazing scene that he has incredible respect for Charles. Most of the characters yearn for peace and community and strive for that goal, but it always seems out of reach. 

There is a hopelessness that pervades X-Men: The Last Stand and the only thing that brings any peace is a final, desperate act of true love and sacrifice. By the end of the film, several heroes lie in the ground, with no guarantee that the war is truly over.

The War 

Since the dawn of existence, there have always been moments when the course of history shifted. Such a turning point is upon us now. This was the narration spoken by Patrick Stewart in the trailer for this film, evoking something far deeper than the content of the film itself. The storyteller and listener in all of us yearn for this monumental scale of tale. Deep down, we know that there are core, pivotal events upon which all of human history swings, and that the narrative of existence we share as mankind has a beginning, an end, and a fulcrum upon which the story swings and the true hero is revealed… a hero who will bring true justice and true peace once and for all.      

Jean’s struggle is also particularly resonant in the film as she struggles with dual identities. I think we often feel this way, as our conscience pricks us and yet we act wickedly. Long ago the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans that “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do this I keep on doing.”

This Jekyll and Hyde concept, this war within, is not unique to Jean’s character or Paul. We know this war burns inside us, and honestly that we are not capable of containing it ourselves; we need help, and not the kind that just reads minds, fires eyebeams or sprouts knuckle-claws. We need help from above.

X-Men: The Last Stand will solve your desire for a great weekend flick. To cure the raging phoenix inside you? That requires something more.


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