#11 in my ranking of the X-Men franchise.
What had held such promise so completely fell apart in the hands of Brett Ratner. Gone is any real sense of character, narrative construction, or even action chops. This is a dreary, uninteresting movie with too many moving parts, too many unfulfilled promises, and a complete misunderstanding of the story it does try to tell to the point where we have the wrong main character. Singer didn’t want to come back for a third movie. Matthew Vaughn left the production as director. So, Fox found Brett Ratner, proving to the world that he can barely keep things in focus even though he hired a cinematographer to handle the camera.
This movie is essentially trying its hands at two stories. The first is of a mutant cure, and the second is Jean Grey coming back from the dead to become the Dark Phoenix. I’ll say this up front, while I’ve never read the comics, I have heard that the Dark Phoenix storyline is a great one. I have a feeling that it doesn’t resemble this at all, though.
The movie begins with Jean Grey getting recruited at her childhood home by Professor X and Magneto before their rivalry turned antagonistic with early de-aging effects applied to Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen that is actually okay, especially considering the film’s age. The scene itself isn’t very much, showing that Grey was really powerful in her youth, Xavier was worried about it, and Magneto was excited about it. It works as a flashback. And then we get another flashback to characters we’ve never seen before, a pharmaceutical executive and his son who has discovered he’s a mutant by growing wings that he tries to shave off.
So, it’s been some time since the end of the second film. It’s really unclear how long, and that’s a bit of the problem at the beginning. Wolverine has a line near the beginning about how he’s just passing through, and we all need to get over Jean’s death, but Cyclops is taking it really hard still and Wolverine, being the least emotionally sensitive one, is the only one to tell him to move on while everyone else is still kind of in mourning. Is Cyclops’ mourning unreasonably long or not? It’s unclear. The problem is that this movie takes no time to really establish any emotional grounding in anything it does. It’s the payoff moments without anything to actually build up to them.
At best, the movie wants to rely on the previous films for that, which is largely a mistake generally, but it usually just skips to the emotional bits without laying any of the groundwork. Cyclops is sad and shoots lasers into the lake where Jean died, and she instantly comes back and kills him off screen. Wolverine brings an unconscious Jean back to the mansion, and they almost instantly start making out when she wakes up. The kid with the wings grows up and is the first to get the cure for mutation, but he’s in the room for about ten seconds before he’s having second thoughts with his dad saying that they’ve talked about it, except we never saw any of that previous conversation. Magneto rescues Mystique from prison, and he instantly says goodbye to her forever because she got shot with a cure gun and is no longer a mutant, despite this being their first scene together in this movie. No single emotional moment is built up.
In terms of the larger two stories, the one that works best is the cure storyline. It’s not good, but it’s better than Jean standing around mutely for an hour until later for reasons. The cure is voluntary for mutants. Storm (who should have been the main character, which I’ll get to in a second) finds it reprehensible to even consider it. Rogue (who should have been the other main character) desperately wants it because she can’t touch her boyfriend, Iceman, and he’s been getting too close to Kitty Pride, who can walk through walls, for her comfort levels. There’s also Hank McCoy, Beast, who is a cabinet level secretary for the president who, um, shows up to give exposition and then is part of the final action scene.
Magneto hates the very idea of the cure and thinks it’ll be used against them forcefully at some point. He makes oblique references to his past as a Jew in Nazi Germany to justify the belief. He’s convinced it’s happening when they break into the highly secure mobile prison and, as a last resort after the guards have been beaten/killed, one shoots a cure weapon and turns Mystique human. Does Magneto believe that this is genuinely the direction the US government is going to take? Is he using the situation to start the war that he’s been egging on for three movies now? It’s unclear, but it does point to a more interesting and morally ambiguous take on the material where each side is lying to justify what they want. This was directed by Brett Ratner, though, so the opportunity passes him by and he doesn’t even seem to notice.
The final big action setpiece is when the film enters complete incoherence. Remember how Storm was all against the cure? Well, she leads the defense of the facility where the cure is generated for reasons. It’s really unclear. And this points to how she should have been the main character instead of Wolverine. Wolverine’s story is effectively over after the second one unless you find a new direction to take the character. Instead, they focused on his never terribly convincing romance with Jean to carry his story and anchor the film as a whole (as much as there is an anchor, which isn’t much). Storm, though, gets chosen by Professor X to take over the school in the event of his death, which happens. She’s presented with a moral quandary that she needs to work through. She’s thrust in the middle of a larger conflict that tests her leadership skills and her morality. She’s the natural central point for this entire story, and she’s a side character at best with Wolverine taking up the leadership mantle in the final conflict because reasons.
Rogue also completely disappears for the final third of the film despite being the only prominent character who wants the cure. She feels like she should be at the center of it all, not completely forgotten.
So the final action sequence is a boring little mess. Filmed obviously on a set when its set outside, Magneto brings the Golden Gate Bridge to Alcatraz, connects it to land, and we never see anyone cross the bridge to fight on the island. I’m guessing it’s supposed to happen considering the number of mutants in the final fight versus the number of mutants on the bridge with Magneto when he moves it, but there’s, again, no build up to the fight. It just happens. And what happens is dull, borderline incomprehensible visually, and silly.
This movie is a complete mess. This is the work of a rushed production under the hand of a director who doesn’t understand how to tell a story at all. Dreary, unfocused, shallow, and pedestrian, this franchise fell off a cliff all of a sudden.