X-Men: The Last Stand (Special Edition)
- Street Date:
- April 21st, 2009
- Reviewed by:
- Peter Bracke
- Review Date: 1
- April 16th, 2009
- Movie Release Year:
- Fox Home Entertainment
- 104 Minutes
- MPAA Rating:
- Rated PG-13
- Release Country
- United States
The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
When we last left the mutants in 'X2: X-Men United,' things weren't going so badly for them. They had successfully deflected growing support in Congress for the "Mutant Registration Act," and had foiled an offensive by the evil William Stryker (Brian Cox) to eradicate all mutants. Sure, the beloved Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) was dead, but with Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) finally uncovering the secrets of his past, Rogue (Anna Paquin) and Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) getting on all hot and heavy like an episode of 'Dawson's Creek,' and Professor Xavier managing to hold onto the Xanadu-like X-Mansion, it was hard to feel too sorry for such a photogenic band of superheroes and their way-cool powers.
Well, all of that gets blown apart in 'X-Men: The Last Stand,' which (at least at the time of its theatrical release) was reported to be the last in an X-centric-trilogy. If 'The Last Stand' is indeed the end, then the film takes the series out with something between a bang and a whimper. Overstuffed with characters, subplots and storylines that go nowhere, it is far too convoluted and inconclusive to be called a truly exceptional curtain call. Yet it is also filled with enough fun action scenes, cool new characters and neat twists on existing X-mythology that it certainly isn't as crappy a capper as, say, 'Matrix Revolutions.'
First, the bad news. As directed by uber-hack Brett Ratner, 'The Last Stand' lacks the cohesive vision, classy visual style and level of mutant empathy that Bryan Singer displayed with the first two X-flicks. No offense to the guy (who I'm sure is a very nice person), but Ratner always seems to make Identikit movies that lack any discernible personal vision. Though he remains respectful both visually and narratively of the world Singer fleshed out in 'X-Men' and 'X2,' he also doesn't bring much new to the material. And that Singer is an openly gay filmmaker is more important than it may at first appear; the X-movies are so clearly an allegory for the current state of gay civil rights in America that it doesn't even need explaining. The strong connection between the director and the material gave 'X-Men' and 'X2' a level of humanity and passion rare for a comic book movie, which leaves 'The Last Stand' feeling a bit bloodless by comparison.
Yet even if, with its soap opera storylines and over-the-top number of characters, 'The Last Stand' is the "As the World Turns" of mutant movies, I still enjoyed taking the return trip. Watching the film again for this Blu-ray review, I was struck by how much better the film plays on video. It's very vignette-y, and almost feels like an overly-long episode of an 'X-Men' television series. Which may have made it somewhat disappointing as a theatrical experience, but it's no less fun than such small-screen comic book hits like 'Smallville' or 'Heroes.' Every character gets an arc so narrow it takes but two or three scenes to introduce them and then send 'em packing. Wolverine barely hangs on to his star status with little to do but glower and flick his knuckle-knives, while Halle Berry's Storm finally gets to use her superpowers, although she could have been replaced by any other mutant and it would have made little difference to the narrative. More appreciated is the humanity in the film's core dramatic concept -- would you willingly give up your "otherness" if you could enjoy a discrimination-free, normal life? -- which is well-played out (if far too briefly) in the ultimate fates of Rogue and Mystique (Rebecca Romijn). I also liked the fact that (spoiler alert!) some major characters die, and some of the lamer mutants from past X-flicks are also killed off quickly or don't return at all.
Again, 'The Last Stand' is a total soap opera. It also seems a waste that more wasn't done with such cool new mutants as Kelsey Grammar's Beast and Ben Foster's Angel. And what is up with that little bald kid who sits in a white room the whole movie, adding nothing to the story? Nor can I deny that it is still jarring to think that Singer didn't return for the third and final X-go 'round. But taken on its own terms, 'The Last Stand' is nothing if not a fun flick, and the perfect Saturday night rental. Sure, I wished the X-saga had gone out on a true high note, but quite frankly, I will be utterly shocked if Fox doesn't make another one of these things. Don't believe me? Stick around all the way through the end credits of this one... you won't be disappointed.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
X-Men: The Last Stand' hit Blu-ray in late 2006 as one of Fox's flagship luanch titles. It came in a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.40:1 widescreen), stuffed on a BD-25 single-layer disc. This new three-disc set sees the feature film getting it's own BD-50 dual-layer disc to spread its wings across, but don't expect any change in video quality. The average bitrate of this new version is generally higher throughout the film's runtime, but I had to squint just to see the slightest of upgrade in visible detail. I suspect Fox took the same master and simply did a re-encode.
That said, 'The Last Stand' remains a very fine-looking Blu-ray presentation. Brett Ratner has been a vocal proponent of the Super35 process, which tends to increase visible film grain. Indeed, 'X-Men 3' does look grainy here, with a thin veil covering just about every scene, and some shots veer on the excessive. But that's indicative of the source, and video noise isn't really a problem (more on that below). This is certainly the least slick of the 'X-Men' movies. Colors are well-saturated, yet not too overdone. The X-films always looked a bit more naturalistic to me than, say, the 'Spider-Man' movies, which is again evident here. Blacks are rock solid and contrast is eye-popping but not tweaked to hell. Whites don't suffer from harshness or blooming (the exception being that damn bald kid again and his all-white room, which seems intentionally diffused).
Detail is above-average. Though I thought some of the large-scale effects shots (such as Magneto moving the bridge for the film's climactic battle) appear a bit soft and flat, medium and close-up shots are often extraordinary. Is this new encode any sharper or more detailed? Not to the naked eye. I did quite a few A/B compares, and on a few shots -- such as a cool moment where Angel opens his wings, and a very CGI-laden death scene -- I thought I saw a very slight increase in the finest textures. But this is nowhere near an appreciable upgrade. The only other improvement is the lack of artifacts -- the original Blu-ray suffered from moments of noise, and banding. None of that is present here -- I noticed nary a problem. Those hoping for a remaster may be disappointed here, but 'The Last Stand' looks so good there seems to be no reason to complain.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
At the time of Fox's original Bu-ray release of 'The Last Stand,' there were no DTS-MA decoders on the market, so few fans, if any, could enjoy the DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio track that Fox included on the disc. They've repurposed the same audio here, giving us a super sweet 6.1 Surround mix (48kHz/24-bit) that still shines very brightly.
The sound design of 'The Last Stand' is as superb as you'd expect for a movie with a reported budget of nearly $150 million. Surround use can be incredibly aggressive; just about every action scene in the film could serve as demo material. My favorites were Magneto's attempted rescue of Mystique, Storm creating a tornado, and the big climactic X-fight. Imaging is excellent, with near transparent pans between channels a wholly immersive 360-degree soundfield. The clarity of individual sounds in the mix, and the ability to locate them easily, is what high-def home theater audio is all about.
Dynamics are predictably top-notch, with crystal-clear clarity in sound effects and dialogue. Bass extension is also very powerful, with some serious vibrations delivered by the subwoofer. The extended action of the film is a whopper, and this is one of those Blu-rays that is so fun to crank up and listen to it almost compensates for the deficiences of the movie itself. 'The Last Stand' seems to sound even better than it did two years ago.
The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff
The biggest improvement Fox has made with this Blu-ray re-issue of 'X-Men: The Last Stand' is in the extras. We get two BD-50's of material, plus a third disc with Digital Copy (see next section below). The lack of an HD upgrade on most of the video is disappointing, but purely in terms of content, it's a strong set.
- Audio Commentaries - The "highlights" are the two audio commentaries, the first with director Brett Ratner and screenwriters Zak Penn and Simon Kinberg, and the second with producers Avi Arad, Lauren Shuler Donner and Ralph Winter. Shocking to me is how banal and inconsequential both are. Ratner seems not so much dismissive as indifferent -- he and his screenwriter pals joke and goof around to the point where we get little more that surface-level insight into the mutant characters we already know so well, and such fascinating tidbits as how CGI can actually render objects that weren't even on the set! The Kinsberg guy also doesn't even seem to know anything about the X-universe at all, so I wonder how he got such a plum screenwriting job?
Unfortunately, the producer track doesn't fare much better, with lots of back-patting and high-fives about how great the movie is, the stellar cast, and Ratner's "energized" direction. I must say, these were two of the more disappointing commentaries I've heard on a Blu-ray.
- Deleted Scenes (SD) - Up next are ten deleted scenes and three alternate endings. Most are mere scene extensions, and inspire a fair amount of interest. Some stuff is dull, like a gratuitous spat between a guard and Mystique during the president impersonation scene and an alternate opening voiceover for Professor X, while a different introduction for Beast and Logan and an extended version of the battle at Jean Grey's house are a bit more exciting. Likewise, the alternate endings are all over the map. The "Next Year at School" coda is totally cheesy, while the two other endings offer more fleshed-out resolutions for Logan and Rogue; indeed, the film's theatrical ending was the best choice.
- Documentary: "X-Men: Evolution of a Trilogy" (SD, 44 minutes) - This was one of the two highlight features for me (the other being the "Generation X: Comic Book History" doc. "Evolution" is just that, tracing the entire 'X' trilogy, and compiling interviews and behind-the-scenes footages, plus fresher interviews with Marvel artists and other comic book commentators. I doubt fans will learn anything new, but the perspectives are interesting and entertaining.
- Documentary: "X-Men: Comic Book History" (SD, 68 minutes) - The best extra on the disc for me. I'm pretty comic book-stupid, and know next to nothing about the X-Men aside from the movies. Many Marvel artists, current producers (including Arad) and, of course, Stan Lee, all give a very well-edited and illustrated history of the original comic book, and its many, many characters (far more than seen in the films). It also veers off into other aspects of the entire X-Men franchise, including merchanding and spin-offs. Essential viewing for any X-Men fan, as well as the uninitiated.
- Documentary: "Brett Ratner's Production Diaries" (SD, 41 minutes) - Yet another documentary, this material is culled entirely from Ratner's obsessive filming of making his own film. The fly-on-the-wall quality certainly makes it stand out from the other docs, though some some of the footage does get re-used. My problem is that I just find Ratner somewhat off-putting as a personality -- a little of him goes a long way. Ehhhh. (Editor's Note - Think he's bad here? Watch the doc for 'After The Sunset')
- Featurette: "X3: The Excitement Continues" (SD, 21 minutes) - This is the film's standard EPK. It's all glossy and behind-the-scenes, so it plays like a very long commercial. There's some fun character and make-up footage, but the other documentaries are far more informative and substantial.
- Featurette: "Anatomy of a Scene: Golden Gate Bridge" (SD, 12 minutes) - The good is that this featurette delivers exactly what it promises. The scene is broken down step-by-step, from the practical shots and stunts required, to the integration of green and CGI, all to complete the final effect. There are also storyboards and tech crew interviews presented. The bad is I thought this was one of the dumbest scenes in the movie, and quite frankly looks like a cartoon.
- Vignettes/Blogs (HD, 21 minutes) - Finally, some "high-def " content, though this stuff appeared on the previous DVD, so what be new to fans. First we get 27 minutes of High-Def Vignettes, which can be good, or awful. Ratner comes off as pretentious (even at one point saying that 'The Last Stand' is "not just a superhero movie...this is a movie that's about something!"), but I liked the bits with producer Kevin Feige, who reveals some unused storylines for the sequences, and also reveals many in-jokes.
There's also another four making-of Blogs (14 minutes), which originally appeared on the web at the time of the film's marketing push.
- Profiles: "X-Men Close Up" (HD) - Sort of interactive character files, here you can select all the main heroes and villains in the film. Each provides a short clip from the movie, plus detailed text and graphic data.
- Animatics (SD, 26 minutes) - There's a big chunk of scenes here, about 27 different segments. All are "pre-viz," meaning rought CGI and composites that are used to guide the animators as they prepare and complete a sequence for final output.
- Still Galleries (HD) - There are two galleries here, "Conceptual Art" and "Characters." The latter is the best, with many drawings of earlier costume designs, and other cool shots. Controls are straightforward, allowing you to click still-by-still, or pause as long as you want to inspect an image in detail.
- Theatrical Trailers (HD) - Rounding it out is the film's theatrical teaser, and two trailers, all in 1080 video.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
'X-Men: The Last Stand' came to Blu-ray the last go-'round with at least one exclusive, a pop-up trivia track with Marvel Comic history. I couldn't find it on this new version, and have no idea why Fox didn't include it. Granted, it's not a terrible omission, but odd nonetheless.
- BD-Live - We do get BD-Live connectivity (Profile 2.0 player required). Promised is a sneak peek at the upcoming 'Wolverine: Origins" movie, though seeing as a workprint version has already been leaked on the web, this preview may come off as ironic. At press time, there has been no other BD-Live content announced.
- D-Box - 'The Last Stand' also comes embedded with D-Box codes, which work with D-Box home theater furniture to give a little rumble in the jungle.
- Digital Copy (SD) - Finally, a third disc in the set gives us a Digital Copy of the film (in stnadard-def only). It's compatible with PCs and iTunes. Since I don't believe this Digital Copy was included on the DVD version, I'll consider it a Blu-ray exclusive (for now).
We've found one so far. On disc 1, highlight "Play" and press up, select the X when it appears to see Beast recite Shakespeare. Thanks to Nick Gatti for the tip!
'X-Men: The Last Stand' was not unanimously praised by fans of the series (that's an understatement), but it was still a big box office hit. I can't deny that I enjoyed the movie on a pure popcorn level, though it certainly can't compete with the first two Bryan Singer-directed films in the series. Fox has re-issued one of its earliest Blu-ray releases, and gives us two discs of fun (and a Digital Copy). Video and audio are rather terrific, and there is a considerable amount of new content to earn the special edition label. You won't find much of a tech upgrade here, but if you're interested in extras, or didn't purchase 'X-Men: The Last Stand' the first time around, this Blu-ray is an easy recommend.
- BD-50 Dual-Layer Discs
- Three-Disc Set
- BD-Live (Profile 2.0)
- 1080p/AVC MPEG-4
- 480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only)
- English DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround
- English SDH
- Audio Commentaries
- Deleted Scenes
- Theatrical Trailers
Exclusive HD Content
Justice League: The New Frontier - Commemorative Edition
Tobor the Great
Master of the Shadowless Kick: Wong Kei-Ying
The Sea Chase