In 1963, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby stumbled onto the ultimate nerd cashcrop: a comic book about a group of teen superheroes who were hated and persecuted because no one understood them. Real life angst-ridden teens, pissed off at those who don't understand them, have flocked to comic book stores across the world for their weekly dose of paperback power-fantasy ever since. Since the sixties, the X-Men have spawned innumerable comic lines, action figures, playing cards, over 15 videogames, two television shows and three movies.
The first two X-Men movies, directed by Bryan Singer, were quippily written, fun to watch and generally regarded as two of the better superhero movies available. The third X-film, X-Men: The Last Stand, directed by Brett Ratner, is a festering pile of crap.
The plot picks up where X2: X-Men United left off, with pretty much everything back to normal at Xavier's school for gifted youngsters. At the end of X2, Jean Grey, powerful psychic and principal character, sacrifices herself to get her friends out of a military installation before it floods. At the outset of the film, Scott Summers, Grey's grieving husband, drives a motorcycle all badass-like up to the flooded military base for no other purpose, it seems, than to yell at the water. After a good spot of yelling, the lake explodes, revealing a very much alive Grey, who is now evil. Nerds will recognize this as a quick, dirty way for the screenwriters to kick-start the popular early-80's "Dark Phoenix" comic book story arc, so the lazy writing is almost reasonable as a sacrifice to the needs of Hollywood brevity. Sadly, every subsequent plot point remains just as contrived.
The laughable plotting and logic the film is built around speaks to its fundamental flaw: writing so awful it's almost offensive. Right from the outset, The Last Stand drives its adamantium claws through viewers' eyes with some of the most ham-fisted dialogue in any superhero-genre film-and that's a rough field to be playing on. One scene has Professor X, the patriarch of the X-Men, speaking with his student Storm-whose mutant gift allows her to control the weather-on the changing social perspective of those born with mutant powers.
"You, of all people, should be able to tell when the weather is changing," he says. Get it? Because she can control the weather. Get it!?
Even the action scenes, which are often the saving grace of superhero films, are found wanting. Comic fans will get tingles up their spine when Colossus throws Wolverine at a giant robot (a staple of the comic books known as the "Fastball Special"), or when Iceman covers himself in a layer of ice-armor (known to nerds as "Icing up"), but average viewers will feel ostracized by the constant geek-references and nauseated by the Schwarzenegger-level one-liners. Even Magneto throwing flaming cars at people-something that should be necessarily awesome-comes across as a tacked-on attention grab.
X-Men: The Last Stand could have been every fan boy's fantasy if it had been left in the hands of a more competent creative team. The buzz surrounding the movie certainly hinted at potential for greatness. It's like being told you were getting a unicorn for Christmas, only to receive an emaciated badger with a cocaine addiction. We could have had a nerd masterpiece. Instead, we're left with the dried husk of a good franchise, heaped upon with uncreative direction and clichéd writing until it choked, sputtered and died.
X-Men: The Last Stand disgraces box offices everywhere Fri., May 26. Save your money for Superman next month.