It’s widely agreed that X-Men: The Last Stand is the most painful Ratnerizing of a franchise we’ve seen. And, keeping with a theme of retrospectives on the lowlights of some recent franchises, I revisited it, only to find that the answer to this question is… No. Actually, it’s not that bad. But it wastes potential, which is arguably worse.
Point, Shoot, Cut
Brett Ratner is the deserved butt of jokes because he’s repeatedly shown himself to be a terrible human being, but as a director, here, he’s just… well, blandly competent, one supposes. There’s little visual imagination here, which is obviously a problem, and Ratner has an unfortunate tendency to underline his points visually which starts at the beginning of the movie and just gets worse. Professor X can’t step out of a car like a normal person; no, he’s got to step out with both feet close together and stand that way so we can get a nice close-up.
But mostly, this is a TV pilot of a movie. Ratner points the camera at something and once it stops moving or making noise, he yells cut. It’s not the most engaging style but it has the virtue of letting the cast try and make the most out of what they have.
Quick, Cram It All In
Ratner, people tend to forget, was a fill-in. Bryan Singer had delivered for Fox two massive hits on a rushed schedule with a far lower budget than he needed twice and had been working on the third one for a while before being handed the gig he’d always wanted.
As a result, Singer split to make Superman Returns, taking essentially the entire creative team that had built the X-franchise with him. Fox dropped Ratner in to salvage what was left.
This is very much a movie that wants fans to like it, but at the same has no clue how to talk to them. Hence poor Vinnie Jones has to figure out how to spout “I’m the Juggernaut, B*TCH!” and not look like a total idiot, Rebecca Romijn quotes The Exorcist, and we get a far too long and self-satisfied take of Kelsey Grammer hanging upside down.
Again and again, the cast saves this movie. The scene where Magneto shows a young mutant his “mark” should be terrible, but McKellan gives it the weight it needs not to feel shameless. When Hugh Jackman doesn’t have to pretend he’s James Dean with a better immune system, he does a surprisingly effective job. Even James Marsden, shamefully wasted here, gets at least a decent moment where he and Jackman simultaneously turn a clichefest of a scene into something tolerable.
Too bad none of them get the screen time to develop. Why this movie is so overstuffed and rushed is hard to discern, and yet, there it is. Again, it’s that sense of fanservice, without being aware of the fans or even what you’re servicing.
Not Bad, But Bland
It’s to this movie’s credit, one supposes, that it’s not as bad as it felt in 2006. But by the same token, it’s still a wasted opportunity. Who knows? Maybe Fox will develop a taste for absurd continuity problems, and someday let Singer make the movie he always wanted to.