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.
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.
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 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.
'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.