X-Men: The Last Fight turns 15
Ricky Church revisits X-Men: The Last Stand on the occasion of its 15th anniversary …
Superhero movies might be all the rage now, but in the early 2000s they were rarely in development with only two or maybe three produced per year compared to the several we have now. In those early years of the superhero genre, one franchise that comic book fans and the general public loved was that of Fox. X Men. The first two films, directed by Bryan Singer and starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen and James Marsden as the X-Men, were blockbuster hits and are still considered one of the best superhero movies made 20 years later.
X-Men: The Final Showdown, the third film of Fox’s initial X Men trilogy, today celebrates its 15th anniversary. However, despite the film’s impressive box office revenues at the time of its release, the film is considered a disappointment by the vast majority of fans. Looking back on the X Men film franchise, one can’t help but notice a downward trend in the way most films have been developed by Fox and received by fans starting with The last Stand. For a franchise with two strong opening installments, what went wrong with The last Stand?
For starters, Singer didn’t have a complete picture of his next X Men after X2, which ended with Janssen’s Jean Gray dying while teasing his resurrection as the Phoenix. Her story, which was not yet over, saw Jean return in a loose adaptation of The Dark Phoenix Saga, one of the most epic, ambitious and beloved stories of not only X Men, but all the comics. Singer even wanted the legendary Sigourney Weaver to play the telepathic villain Emma Frost who would attempt to control Jean Grey’s Phoenix for her own gains. Everything Singer had in mind would never come to fruition, as he decided to leave the project to focus on Warner Bros. Superman Returns, something of a smooth reboot and the continuation of Richard Donner and Christopher Reeve Superman films of the 70s and 80s, which incidentally met its own share of criticism from fans and the general public and failed to restart the Superman franchise for a few more years. With him he took his X2 writers Dan Harris and Michael Dougherty as well as Cyclops star James Marsden.
Lots of complaints over the years X Men the movies had to do with the Fox executives and that’s where they really started to step into the productions. Fox commissioned Matthew Vaughn to direct the film, but he had to give up due to family issues. Funny enough, Vaughn would get the chance to lead a X Men movie years later in the prequel / soft-reboot First class. To take his place, they hired Peak hour and Red Dragon director Brett Ratner, a man who admitted to having little or no knowledge of the feature film (and often confusing) X Men mythology. Plus, Fox is making all kinds of requests for the movie, like not focusing so much on The Dark Phoenix story because they thought it was too dark for a superhero blockbuster as well as the death of Charles Xavier from Patrick Stewart and Cyclops from Marsden, the latter was only required due to the engagement of Marsden at Superman Returns instead of a real reason for history.
The final product, which was written by Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn, was ultimately a mesh of two completely different storylines with The Dark Phoenix Saga and Gifted, the story is written quite recently at the time by Joss Whedon in the Stunning X-Men comic book where an apparent “cure” for the mutation had been developed. Gifted was primarily used for the political angle of the story as well as setting up the X-Men’s conflict with Magneto while Dark phoenix was used very liberally and brought back to Earth in a literal way. Gone are the cosmic entity known as the Phoenix Force, space travel, and alien species chasing the Phoenix Force. Instead, the Phoenix was a split personality in Jean Gray competing for control of his mind and the full extent of his powers that Magneto sought to use in his war on the cure for mankind.
While X-Men: The Final Showdown isn’t really a bad movie, nor is it very good. The story does not do justice to many characters. The fact that Cyclops dies offscreen and the team barely mentions him afterwards is a pretty big rejection of a character who was the frontman of the X-Men for years, both in the movie and in the sequel. from the comics, although Marsden couldn’t play a bigger role due to Superman Returns. Other characters suffer as well, such as Snape and Iceman’s relationship which was a pretty big subplot of X2 but now relegated to one or two brief fights between them with Snape’s decision to withdraw the cure quickly as it has nothing to do with the main story or the climax.
Angel is also completely lost as he was teased in promotional material with him in a full X-Men uniform to have very brief appearances throughout the film and Juggernaut is primarily used to bring an internet meme of him to life. Even the Phoenix is presented more as a conspiracy than a malicious villain. See how after Last StandWith the great shock of Xavier’s death in his hands, Jean / Phoenix does nothing substantial to the plot until the final moments of the climax when he suddenly remembers that she is there.
The only true redemptive aspect of The last Stand is the cast as Stewart, Jackman, Janssen and Ian McKellen again give great performances as Xavier, Wolverine, Jean and Magneto. That said, there’s not much that Jackman can really do either, as Logan’s arc feels largely over afterwards. X2 and having found a group to call family, he’s still seemingly reluctant to be a part of the team and teach the new X-Men and spends most of the movie pining for Jean. Janssen portrays the creepy Jean / Phoenix well, but again, it has nothing to do with the second half of the film. Stewart and McKellen shine again as Xavier and Magneto with their back-and-forth, but true saving grace is FrasierKelsey Grammer as Hank McCoy / Beast in an Inspired Cast. As strong as they are in the film, they weren’t enough to save him from his many flaws.
The fallout from X-Men: The Final ShowdownReceipt of the latter was not immediate, but had a significant impact on the franchise. Since it was billed as’The last Stand‘and the potentially final adventure of the X-Men, there was nowhere else for the heroes or the studio to back down. While Last Stand was in production, Fox was in active development of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the prequel recounting the entire backstory of Jackman’s Logan and how he passed adamantium metal through his body and lost his memory – a story that slightly echoed some of the information audiences received. X2.
This film, which also saw Fox executives interfering to some extent, bombed both critically and at the box office, leading them to the junkyard. Origins of the X-Men: Magneto and use elements of this script in X-Men: First Class about the formation of the team and the initial friendship of Xavier and Magneto, who also regained some aspects seen in The last Stand. It wouldn’t be before the sequel to this film, Days of Future Past, where Fox got the ship right with the return of Bryan Singer and some of the original cast in a time travel story that effectively erased Last Stand and brought back deceased characters like Xavier, Jean and Cyclops. Even then, Fox decided to stay in the past instead of another full-fledged, proper adventure with the adult cast. Even when he traveled to the future with Logan, he only focused on Wolverine in Jackman’s Swan Song as a character in a dark future where the X-Men were dead and the mutantkind was on the verge of extinction.
The ramifications of X-Men: The Final Showdown cannot be denied as its aftermath has been felt in the franchise for years and started a tendency for Fox to really meddle in the production of every film, demanding which characters should appear or how the story should be directed. This is not a bad movie and not the worst of X Men series, but quite a disappointment for such a fan-favorite storyline. It should be noted how Fox and Simon Kinberg essentially remade Last Stand with Dark phoenix, using many of the same plot points and character beats to try and do it justice The Dark Phoenix Saga while failing. Whether you like it or not, X-Men: The Final Showdown occupies a very important place in the X Men franchise.
Ricky Church – Follow me on Twitter for more movie news and nerd chats.