It’s the least crappy flick yet from fauxteur* Brett Ratner, which is actually quite an accomplishment from the man who gave us Rush Hour, Rush Hour 2, and the upcoming Rush Hour 3. His mom is sure to give this one a prize position on the refrigerator, held up on the door there with the special shiny star-shaped magnets, and moviegoers looking for some cool explosions and superpowered fisticuffs and little else won’t be disappointed.
Fans of the X-Men comic books and sophisticated superhero movies, though, we like to think of ourselves as the geek elite, and if some purists had issues with Bryan Singer’s X-Men and X2, well, his mutants had spunk and spirit and humor and humanity, which was supposed to be the whole point of the endeavor: Mutants are people, too, right? But Ratner just sucks all the emotional energy out of this oversize FX coloring book, stuffing in as many new mutants as he can but lavishing more care on tossing trucks and planes and bridges around like a spoiled brat breaking his toys than on creating any kind of satisfying oomph to what is, on scales both large and small, quite an apocalyptic tale for the mutant friends we’ve come to love over two previous films. Say what you will about Singer demoting Cyclops to second banana to Wolverine, or switching out yellow spandex for black leather, but audiences gave a shit about these freaks, even audiences who wouldn’t normally be caught dead at a comic book movie.
The most we geek elite can be grateful for here, I think, is that Ratner didn’t cast Chris Tucker as a mutant with the ability to turn into Stephin Fetchit when someone waves a paycheck at him.
It’s not all Ratner’s fault, because we can blame screenwriters Simon Kinberg — who was responsible for the perfunctory XXX: State of the Union — and Zak Penn, who, for all that he may have contributed to X2, also perpetrated Elektra, and can you believe they let him write again after that one? These three seem determined to drown the X-Men in lethargic soap opera, pretending to have given them a story all about love and honor and dignity and genetic pride but one that turned out to be all about people talking about their feelings instead of expressing them, and about forcing metaphors that hadn’t needed to be forced before. How did they manage that? They had an easy template to follow, and a great cast with experience portraying these extraordinary characters. And what do they say to one another? Crap like “I don’t have to be psychic to see that something’s bothering you” (as Xavier says to Storm at one point). Are you fucking kidding me? Next someone will be saying between gritted teeth, “Magneto wants a war, we’ll give him one.” (And yes, that does actually get uttered.)
And you can see the cast can’t be bothered to care any more than the audience does. This should have been the most affecting X-Men ever: Wolverine (Hugh Jackman: Van Helsing, Kate & Leopold) and Cyclops (James Marsden: Heights) are still deep in mourning for Jean Grey (Famke Janssen: Hide and Seek, Eulogy), and then — holy crap — she’s back from the dead with all sorts of scary powers that call into question just what being a mutant means, as in, Should our good-guy mutants be considering themselves human at all, or is Magneto (Ian McKellen: The Da Vinci Code, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) right after all? At the same time, the mutant community is threatened by a controversial genetic cure — one shot of a new vaccine, and mutants could be “normal” again. On top of all that, more than one returning character suffers ignominious death or disability. We should all be sobbing our geeky eyes out by the end of The Last Stand… and instead, an indifferent shrug is about the best you can manage. Ratner simply has no idea what to do with any scene that doesn’t involve an explosion or a car crash. He manages to drain all the animal magnetism out of Jackman’s Wolverine to deflate him into something hangdog. He prompts Patrick Stewart (Chicken Little, Star Trek: Nemesis) to look nothing if not exhausted as Xavier. He completely wastes Kelsey Grammer (Teacher’s Pet, 15 Minutes) as the big blue hairy beast named Beast — why cast Kelsey Grammer if you’re not going to somehow take advantage of his inherent Kelsey Grammer-ness? Even Ron Howard couldn’t turn plummy Ian McKellen crap-weary in The Da Vinci Code, but Ratner achieves this. Give the man a medal.
No, Ratner saves his juvenile idea of what’s compelling for such obviousnesses as pairing off, in the big climactic battle scene, Storm (Halle Berry: Catwoman, Gothika) with the evil Hispanic mutant chick — it’s Battle of the Brown Girls! — and the good mutant teenage kid who can do things with ice and the bad mutant teenage kid who can do things with fire. *yawn* And his idea of what’s funny extends to a bad mutant calling a good mutant who happens to be female “bitch.”
I mean, come on: How can you have an X-Men movie with bitingly witty Wolverine and not have him snark on Storm calling up fog in San Francisco Bay. “What is she gonna do next?” he’s snapping in the Bryan Singer version of this movie now playing in an alternate universe near you. “Make it rain?”
*I wish I could claim that genius coinage, but credit goes to the brilliant wags at Defamer.