X-Men III: The Last Stand

Title: X-Men III, The Last Stand
Director: Brett Ratner
Studio: 20th Century Fox
MPAA rating: PG-13
TradReviews rating: Mature
Why: stylized violence, strong language, mature themes, unnecessary sexuality
Excellence: 3 stars
Summary in a sentence: If they want the franchise to continue after this, it’s going to be on life support.

I have to admit that I collected comic books as a kid, though I did not avidly collect/follow X-Men in particular and Marvel Comics in general. I was always more of a DC kid, and hence followed Batman, Superman, and Green Lantern. The trailer for this movie included Nick Cage in Ghost Rider – so it seems that the excitement in comicbook-genre films generated by SpiderMan and the original X-Men movies doesn’t seem to be dying.

I saw both of the previous X-Men movies in the theaters. I have not seen them since, and do not own them on DVD, but I remember the story lines clearly. This movie picks up where X-Men 2 (X2) left off – with the “death” of Jean Grey. It was a “death” because the end of the movie focused on the spot of water where Jean “drowned” – and hence we knew what the hook was for the next movie.

This movie is subtitled “the Last Stand” and with good cause – it is the end of the franchise.

The movie begins with Charles Xavier/Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Erik Lensherr/Magneto (Ian McKellen) visiting the house of Jean Grey, who is the only “Class 5” mutant they have ever encountered. She is more powerful than either of them and it is touching to see the camaraderie of Professor X and Magneto before all of the “complications” of the storyline.

We fastforward 20 years to the present day to some training exercises that include Wolverine and Storm – Scott Summers/Cyclops is noticeably absent. A new girl, Kitty Pryde, shows an interest in Iceman, and Rogue, Iceman’s girlfriend, feels even more strongly her inability to touch her boyfriend – as her mutant powers take energy from others. This will be an overarching theme in the movie – sublayered below the entire theme of X-Men – the problems of diversity, toleration, evolution, and genetics.

The plot then quickly develops – a company called Worthington Labs has developed a “mutant cure” which strips mutants of their powers. Sold to the public as a benign “cure” Magneto sees it for what it is – a weapon to control the mutant community. Magneto’s job #1 in fixing this problem is reacquiring his number 1 mutant, Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) who has fallen into the hands of the government. We watch Magneto devastate the government convoy, free two additional mutants, but not before a guard shoots off a “cure weapon” filled with the weaponized virus. Aimed at Magneto, the shot hits Mystique, who steps in front of it – she becomes “merely” human again. Magneto abandons her, saying: “You’re not one of us anymore.” (Franchise Ender #1 – the de-mutanization of Mystique)

The X-Men are torn about whether this is really a “cure.” Are they sick? Is being a mutant a disease? In the meantime, Rogue leaves to go get the “cure” so she can be able to touch her boyfriend, whom she fears she will lose. Cyclops, tortured by memories of Jean’s loss, goes to the lake where she died. He unexpectedly brings her out of the lake, and she, also unexpectedly, then kills her former love interest (Franchise Ender #2 – the death of Cyclops).

Jean Grey is brought back to the mansion by Wolverine and Storm, who were sent there by Professor X. Professor X discloses to Wolverine that he helped build psychological walls to prevent Jean from using her full strength. This created a dual personality – Jean – the calm intellectual/empath that Wolverine and Cyclops fell in love with, and Phoenix – a dark, brooding, passionate destroyer. Wolverine is upset at what he feels is “control” on Professor X’s part, and walks out of the room. He later returns, awakens Jean, and after an inappropriate sexually suggestive kissing scene, Jean breaks out.

Professor X and Magneto inadvertently rendevous at Jean’s house, where, in trying to persaude her to come back, Professor X is killed by Jean/Phoenix. (Franchise Ender #3 – the death of Professor Xavier). Magneto mourns briefly, but then takes Jean away with him.

The remainder of the story revolves around Magneto leading an attack on the main laboratory of Worthington Labs, which is located on Alcatraz, as well as Wolverine pondering his love for Jean, his understanding of the dangerous personality of Phoenix, and his responsibility both to his fellow X-Men, the Professor’s memory, and his country.

In the final attack, Wolverine manages to distract Magneto long enough for them to place 4 vials of weaponized “anti-mutagen” in him, and now the focus is on Jean/Phoenix, who has started to destroy everything – objects, humans, mutants, within a 5 mile radius of herself. (Franchise Ender #4 – the de-mutanization of Magneto).

Wolverine walks up to Jean/Phoenix, his rapid healing abilities the only guard against instant disintegration. He makes a personal connection with Jean long enough for her to whisper “Save me.” Wolverine responds by saying “I love you” and killing her. (Franchise Ender #5 – the death of Jean Grey).

The hook at the end of the movie is Magneto at a chess board in a public park. He holds his hand over a metal chess piece, and the movie ends.

The franchise can only continue if the anti-mutagen didn’t work, or only worked temporarily – in which case we get back Mystique and Magneto, though Mystique would obviously be antagonistic to Magneto, who abandoned her. However, this deus ex-machina beginning to the next movie is something worthy of the suspension of disbelief of all the watchers of Jack Bauer’s 24, but cannot be sustained here – for though X-Men is based on a comic book, the director and writers have succeeded in putting depth behind the characters and at least passing significance to the sideplots and implications, so we take the deaths of the Professor, Cyclops, and Jean as definitive, and hence the movie’s title is appropriate, the Last Stand.

This movie is a must-see for those who have seen the previous two movies, but like any fan-niche movie (Star Wars, LOTR, etc.) I can’t imagine why a novice viewer would jump in and see X3 without having seen the previous two films.

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