A departed fanboy director. A widely reported rush production. And Brett Ratner as replacement director. Things weren’t looking good for the third installment of our X-Heroes. Cynics crossed their arms in haughty resignation, while comic geeks vented their outrage in a fittingly Phoenix-inspired display. And yet despite the odds here it is, tipped as the last stand, and the fears of those expecting the worst were perhaps unjustified.
Promising more emotional grounding in his instalment, director Ratner managed to pacify the blood-braying fanboys (and girls) still reeling from the sudden departure of fan favourite Singer. A snazzy trailer helped, showcasing some saliva-inducing imagery, and confirming that Ratner was faithfully sticking to Singer’s staunch visual style. The question remained, however; could he follow through and create an X adventure worthy of its highly acclaimed predecessors? The surprising answer is yes. And no. Well, sort of. X-Men: The Last Stand is a leaner, more streamlined entry excelling in slick sets, breathtaking action, and top-notch special effects. This is a summer blockbuster to the core, and damn proud of it.
Ratner’s presence behind the camera is unmistakable, and it is undeniably his crowd-pleasing instincts that steer X3 through the pitfalls of studio money-spinning agendas that surrounded the production. Unleashed on his audience is an infectious enthusiasm for visual spectacle that generates satisfyingly outrageous cinematic results. Not only are we are afforded a spectacular face-off at the Grey residence, but also the stunning sight of the Golden Gate Bridge being magnificently relocated, and a striking finale in which the world is literally turned upside down in an emotional confrontation.
This, however, is a film creaking with franchise baggage. The events of not one, but two previous X films bear down on Ratner’s film like the fists of Colossus, giving it a somewhat schizophrenic ambiance. The thrill-seeking director clearly struggles to compose X3 as both a sequel and a stand-alone adventure. As a consequence, few actors are given much to work with save the key players, who do what they can with a script that appears in a bit of a hurry. Famke Janssen stands heads above the rest: nothing short of brilliant as the returned Jean Grey (or Dark Phoenix), she portrays just the right amount of inner turmoil, vulnerability and downright creepy-ness to really hit the right notes. Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart are again the glue that holds everything together, both skilfully communicating the subtle nuances of their characters’ complex relationship. Others, like Kelsey Grammar’s Beast, and even James Marsden’s Cyclops come across as something of an after thought. There’s simply too much cast spread much too thinly.
The sacrifices extend throughout the rest of the film, too. Those little moments that imbued the other X films with heart and gravity are glaringly absent here; characters rush through expositional speeches, barely pausing for breath before the next explosive encounter. So while the pow-pow-pow approach ensures X3 a vigorous pace that effectively gathers momentum, its resultant whirlwind can tend to sweep over the rest of the film to its own detriment.
And when the final credits roll, just how has Ratner done with his last minute leap into the world of X? It’s difficult to judge how much tighter his X3 could have been if more time and creative control had been offered to him. The studio leash tightens noticeably as the running time accumulates: the three plot lines each struggle for exposure but none reach an entirely satisfactory conclusion. In the end, Ratner must be commended for crafting a film in a decidedly dubious climate, a film that is not only watchable, but entertaining too. X3 has its shortcomings, but there’s more than enough bang for your buck. And of course things are nicely left open for another installment. Now, where to find a fanboy director to fill those Singer-sized shoes?
7 out of 10 stars