As we all undoubtedly know, X-Men: Apocalypse comes out on May 27th, which is just three and a half short weeks away. In the time leading up to this premier, I will be re-watching and writing about each X-Men movie made so far. Today, X-Men: The Last Stand.
Ah, The Last Stand. How I have dreaded thee. Just like this movie, my thoughts about it are a crowded clusterfuck of regret and disappointment. Please, bear with me.
One of X3’s first failings is that it took two very heavy comics storylines and tried to force them to share a movie. The Dark Phoenix Saga is literally the hugest, most enduring story in the near-infinite X-canon, and it really needs its own space. This movie takes Comics Jean’s slow loss of control and ultimate surrender to the Phoenix Force and replaces it with essentially a finger snap. Jean is bad now! Deal with it.
The first sizable chunk of this movie isn’t bad at all. In fact, for a while there I was thinking “Am I remembering this movie as worse than it actually is? Does this movie deserve the vitriol I and those like me have thrown at it over the past ten years? Did hating X3 become such a fandom tradition that it has transcended the actual quality of the movie?”
Then Jean shows back up and no, no it didn’t.
For some reason (WHAT REASON?!?) this Phoenix is not actually the cosmic force that is drawn to Jean and yearns to live through this, the only human vehicle powerful enough to contain her. This Phoenix is… Jean’s subconscious personality? Xavier explains to Logan and to us that “Phoenix” is the name of some sort of alternate personality that formed as the result of Xavier rummaging around in Jean’s brain, trying to help her maintain the sort of self-control necessary to keep her unrivaled power from running wild in destruction. In the words of Carl Jung, “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.” Come on, Xavier. You know this. See, this is not only the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever heard, it also makes Xavier a really ethically questionable character. You start to wonder exactly why we’re supposed to esteem him over Magneto when both are apparently willing to entirely fuck people up for “the greater good”. This is the kind of thing that makes me so iffy about Xavier’s character, but it’s just so hard to hate anyone with Patrick Stewart’s caring eyes and quiet dignity.
After going through this again, I think what makes X3 so particularly painful, what has earned it this reputation among the X-fans, is that it actively punishes viewers for being familiar with the source material. It takes some of the most emotionally affecting and well-paced storytelling in the history of comics and hacks it to bits.
As in the first two X movies, we have this ill-conceived Logan/Jean/Scott love triangle to thank for a lot of the low points. So much of the weight of Jean’s story is meant to be conveyed to us through Logan’s feelings and reactions, since he ostensibly has this deeper, more profound connection with her than any of the other characters who have known her for years (in some cases, decades) longer than Logan has. When Ororo (aka Storm, for the uninitiated [If you are the uninitiated, what are you doing here? Aren’t you bored? I’m so sorry.]) guesses that Logan cannot seem to let Jean go even after all the remorseless destruction she has caused because “you love her”, I literally screamed at my TV, “He doesn’t even know her!”
Let us not forget that in the events between X-Men and X2, Logan was absent, and in the events between X2 and The Last Stand, Jean has been missing. There is not more to their relationship that we just haven’t seen. Logan is not in love with Jean. No way. And when he says “I love you” to Jean right before killing her, it just sounds wrong. Like even Hugh Jackman couldn’t make it seem like he believed it.
A woman being unable to control herself and thereby going insane is not a new concept to storytelling. It’s annoying and disheartening to spend your life as non-male person seeing story after story where non-males have no agency and are thrown to the mercy of whatever/whoever happens to be around. In Uncanny X-Men’s Dark Phoenix Saga, Jean takes her own life in the end. She knows she will never be free of the Phoenix Force entirely, and so she chooses to save the world from it, from her. This movie takes this one huge and heart wrenching display of personal willpower and gives it to a man to do for her. Jean is clearly relieved when Logan kills her. Excited, even. But why did it have to be him? Oh, right, so we can watch him hold her body and scream “NOOOOO” in his shock and horror that the person he just killed is dead. Please. Nobody cares about this non-relationship.
Enough about Phoenix. (It’s never enough about Phoenix, but this piece is already way too long.) There’s another plot line in this movie adapted from the comics, and that’s the development of a mutant cure, seen in “Gifted” from Joss Whedon’s spectacular run on Astonishing X-Men. It’s particularly cruel that just as Whedon was revitalizing the X-Men comics with some of its best writing in years, Brett Ratner and company were doing everything they could to suck the life out of the film franchise. I for some reason had always assumed that Whedon’s Astonishing run had happened a couple years later than it did, but upon being reminded how much this movie echoed his work, I looked it up. “Gifted” would have been coming out right around the time this movie’s screenplay was being written.
I would have included some some scans from “Gifted”, but my garbage ex-boyfriend refused to give me my Astonishing trades back, so everyone go yell at him.
Rogue isn’t around for “Gifted”, but of course, of course, she would be the first X-Man to want the mutant cure. And of course Magneto would be offended by its very existence. In the first two X-movies, something with this much emotional weight and moral complexity would have gotten much more time and space to be examined. As it is, we just get Rogue saying “I want to be able to bang my boyfriend, ya feel?” and Magneto’s Brotherhood screaming “We are beautiful just the way we are!” There’s a lot going on here that has fascinating real-life relevance. (If you could choose to be just like everyone else, would you?) It’s a bummer to miss out on the emotional and psychological depth the first two movies had.
Character Notes Lighting Round!
Kitty Pryde is my favorite X-Men character, hands down. (Mostly thanks to Whedon’s depiction of her in Astonishing, which was my first X-comic.) She’s one of the few high points in this movie. I don’t know why they bothered to introduce Angel at all if all they wanted him to do was pop in once every 45 minutes to say something super emo. Pyro, once again, is dead weight. It’s brutal watching Magneto drop Mystique so suddenly and without feeling when she gets hit with the cure. Mystique is one of the best-written characters in this film series, and I can’t wait to get into the early parts of her character arc in future posts. Arclight is such a babe what the fuck. #BringBackArclight2016.
Even though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I shall fear no evil for you, my dear readers, are with me. I’m only halfway through the valley, because the next movie I must take on is X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Stay tuned for my impending meltdown.
In the meantime, please do not hesitate to leave your thoughts on X3, anything I may have missed or anything you particularly agree/disagree with in the comments below!