There’s a lot of hoohaw online among the Marvel fanbase about the creative liberties that Brett Ratner and the suits at 20th Century Fox took with X-Men: The Last Stand; about how Bryan Singer, who directed the previous installments, bailed on the script and the schedule (those damned suits, again!), leaving it to anyone else to deliver the mess; about the unforgivable appropriation of the revered Phoenix saga, used here as a flimsy plot device and excuse for lingering close-ups of a stolid Famke Janssen, and it’s all true, I’m sure. But the hardcore fans are missing just how significant the movie is. Even in the hands of anti-Wunderkind Ratner (whose previous credits include Santa Slay and Whatever Happened to Mason Reese — and if you have to ask who Mason Reese is, you are lucky), the story is powerful and the visuals are amazing. To boot, it’s slipping a nice little cultural timebomb right under the noses of our prissy conservative friends.
In case you are one of the 3 people who haven’t see it yet, don’t worry I’m not going to spoil it by recounting the plot — if you want that go read Roger Ebert. I’m concerned with the dramatic engine that drives this movie and that you probably already know about. In the previous X-Men movies the menace the mutants faced was external — nasty politicians and mad scientists who wanted to wipe them out. Added tension came from the internecine struggle between Professor X and Magneto over how — or even whether — the mutants should accomodate to the normal culture around them or exert their powers to dominate it. But this time the threat to the mutant way of life is internal. The father of Angel, pictured here, has come across a mutant named Leech who has a very special trait — he neutralizes the mutant X gene in others. A little laboratory hocus pocus and, presto, a “cure” for mutants is announced. There begins the real drama of the movie: how do you really destroy a mutant? You give them the option to be normal.
Some won’t have it. Magneto, of course, sees this as genocide. Storm announces flatly that “there’s nothing to cure” because being mutant is not a disease. Hmm, where have we heard that before? Others — don’t worry, I won’t say who — think that giving up their difference is not too high a price to pay for happiness. And, logically, the final conflict of the movie comes down — as it has to — to the warring factions of the mutants themselves. Since we know from previous movies that the mutants face no real threat from normal people (they have super powers fer Chrissakes!), the real conflict is between those who want to foreclose the possibilty of a cure and those who want to preserve the choice. It’s a political struggle and it echoes right through every important cultural conflict in this country.
Others have noted the political overtones of the film. They usually stop at the obvious — poor suppressed mutants at the mercy of a reactionary society. It’s the disenfranchised, the minorities, the gays vs. the Republicans. I suppose it can be seen that way. But to me the real genius of the X-Men story is how it explores the challenge to those who are different to find a place in the world, without compromising their integrity. If there is one thing missing in this movie it’s a confrontation between Storm and Magneto about how one defends difference in a reactionary world without adopting the tactics of hate that would turn you into what you oppose. Instead we get Famke Janssen looking angry and sleepy at the same time (damn you, Brett Ratner!) I see it as a homily to the liberal brethren to hold firm in defense of the tenets of liberalism itself.
Not bad for a summer movie.