X-Men III: The Last Stand

X-Men III: The Last Stand (2006)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: High Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart
Extras: Commentaries, Trailers, Deleted Scenes

"X-Men III: The Last Stand" is the supposed final film detailing the formidable world of mutants and their struggles with society at large. Fanboy punching bag Brett Ratner took the reigns of the franchise once original director Bryan Singer bolted to helm another comic book fantasy with "Superman Returns." While there has been much derision over Ratner's involvement and the bastardization of the "Dark Phoenix" storyline, I'll primarily focus on what the film itself accomplishes or doesn't accomplish, without regard to these outside complaints.

"X-Men III: The Last Stand" is nothing if not ambitious. It crams enough ideas and characters in its conservative running time to fill about five movies worth of material. With so much going on, it rarely stops to take a breath and the visceral intensity ensures that we never become bored. The plot revolves around a young boy named Leech who can cure the genetic defect inherent in mutants. A pharmaceutical company named Worthington Labs synthesizes this cure, which sparks dividing lines between the mutant community. While some view the cure as an opportunity to live life "normally," others view it as a way to strip away personal freedoms. Magneto (Ian McKellan) emerges out of hiding to form a Brotherhood of Mutants to stifle the government's attempts from producing and offering the cure.

Magneto's cause is helped further by the resurrection of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), who appears from her watery grave a decidedly different woman. No longer the Jean of old, she has now become the "Phoenix," a personality that has uncontrollable anger and awesome destructive powers. While Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) struggles to control the new Jean, Magneto hopes that he can harness her telekinesis in order to liberate his mutant movement.

Mixed in with the heady themes of identity, social acceptance and the power of choice are subplots involving Bobby (Shawn Ashmore) and Kitty Pride's (Ellen Page) emerging friendship, Rogue's (Anna Paquin) desire to be a "normal" girl, a newfound responsibility for Storm (Halle Berry) and Warren's (Ben Foster) Daddy issues. Throw in tons of new characters (most of them bad guys, who we recognize as bad because they wear dark clothing, sport tattoos and have unkempt facial hair), lots of explosions and some impressive set pieces and you got yourself quite an evening's worth of entertainment.

And that may be the biggest fault of the film. From a pure entertainment standpoint, "X-Men III" delivers in spades. But problems occur when the film fails to delve deeper into the themes and characters that it has worked so hard to establish. Major, prominent characters are unceremoniously killed off while others are given short thrift (especially Warren, aka Angel, who is introduced in a stunning prologue, only to sporadically appear for some third act heroics). It becomes difficult to drum up much emotional support for a film when it displays a total disregard for its characters, killing them off with little fanfare and puts nearly no effort forward to flesh out the dozens of fresh faces. Despite these drawbacks, "X-Men III" is filled with some stunning set pieces; from Magneto's attack on a convoy to Wolverine's (Hugh Jackman) berserker rage in a forest and all-out warfare on Alcatraz Island.

For sheer grandiose spectacle, Ratner pumps the screen full of breathtaking imagery. Unfortunately, the film never quite reaches the emotional or creative heights of its predecessors, but it also isn't the embarrassment that Ratner's detractors would have you believe. Strangely enough, I think the small screen serves the story better, since many of the hokey moments come across more subdued and less laughable. As such, I actually enjoyed the film more so now than during its initial big-screen run. As long as you don't mind a shallow emotional core and the slight desecration of established characters, "X-Men III: The Last Stand" provides enough bombast and action to keep you entertained.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment presents "X-Men III: The Last Stand" in an anamorphic widescreen 2.40:1 aspect ratio. I'm not sure what to make of this transfer. At times, the image quality is perfect, with lush greens, bright blues and deep reds bursting from the screen. But every now and again (mainly during the chaotic action scenes) everything seems to fall apart. There are some extremely noticeable pixelation issues and digital artifacts that turn all the images into mush. I'm quite surprised that a film of this magnitude has been given such a shoddy presentation. One can only hope that the screener copy I have here isn't representative of the final product.

For sound, we have a DTS 6.1 ES, a Dolby Digital 5.1 EX mix and a Spanish and French Dolby Digital 2.0 mix. Unlike the transfer quality, the sound quality is exceptional. The thundering soundtrack is aggressive and displays a nice dynamic range. Directional and atmospheric effects come across nicely, with laser blasts and crunching metal emerging from the rear speakers. Dialogue primarily appears from the front channels and is devoid of hiss and distortion. Overall, it's a well-rounded mix that will give your system a suitable workout. Turn it up and wait for your windows to shatter.

For Special Features, we first have a "Director and Writer Commentary by Brett Ratner, Zak Penn and Simon Kinberg." Informative and entertaining, the commentary is rife with sly nods to the comic book and technical secrets. Writers Penn and Kinberg provide many laughs as they joke about themselves and give director Ratner a hard time. Both are exceptionally funny and quick-witted. Also, the three discuss many of the sequences that were left out of the final cut (and script), like the elusive inclusion of Gambit's character and why Anna Paquin's character disappears during the last third of the movie. Continuity mistakes are pointed out and all discuss the problems with writing sequels for fans and non-fans alike.

Next is a "Producer Commentary by Avi Arad, Lauren Shuler Donner and Ralph Winter." While not as entertaining as the previous commentary, there is some interesting tidbits dished throughout. Unfortunately, the screen specific commentary has long stretches of silence, which makes it difficult to get through at times. We learn the origins of the Marvel logo, how Ben Foster is afraid of heights and how the crew continually pulled practical jokes on Vinnie Jones (who played Juggernaut), making fun of his soccer-playing background. Also, the three voice their complaints over a significant choice that one of the characters makes. Boring at times, it will test the patience of all but the hardcore of X-Men fans.

Then we have a collection of fourteen "Deleted and Extended Scenes with Optional Commentary by Brett Ratner, Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn." Running for nearly ten minutes, most of these scenes are superfluous, but a couple stand out. "Pyro tells Magneto about the Cure Announcement: Bearded Version" takes place in an underground bunker where a bearded, Osama Bin Laden-esque Magneto is hiding out. Then there's the "Extended Fight Sequence at Jean Grey's House" that contains several moments of knock-down violence that is literally "shocking." Lastly, the "Alternate Ending: Rogue Returns" scene offers up one of the more controversial deleted portions of the film. View for yourself and decide which version was the proper choice.

Finally, the DVD contains two Trailers for the film, as well as Trailers for "24: Season 5," "Daredevil," "Elektra" and "Fantastic Four." On top of this, we get "A First Glimpse of The Simpsons Movie" which is basically an unfinished animatic scene from the film (and it's pretty hilarious) and yet another Trailer, this time for "Night At The Museum."

"X-Men III: The Last Stand" is the perfect example of popcorn entertainment. Although suffering from a stranded emotional core and lacking character development, the film nonetheless delivers tons of exciting action through impressive set pieces. Even though this is the lesser installment of the trilogy, director Brett Ratner has stayed true to the vision of Bryan Singer and, in turn, hasn't shamed the X-Men mythos. Although the transfer is fairly pathetic and there are only a few interesting Special Features (I'm sure there will be a wealth of better Extras available in due time. Possibly in a Deluxe Edition?) "X-Men III: The Last Stand" is well worth a purchase for action fans.