Oct 9, 2020
Bad Superhero Movie Showdown 2006: X-Men: The Last Stand vs. Superman Returns
After helming two successful X-Men films, director Bryan Singer departed from the franchise to work on smaller, more personal projects. But we’re dealing with Bryan Singer here, which means that he left to do a $200 million Superman film that’s almost entirely made of frowns. The X-Men series was deposited into the questionable hands of Brett Ratner, who was most famous for directing the first two Rush Hour movies at that point. Thus was the state of major superhero films in 2006.
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Would X-Men: The Last Stand present a satisfying conclusion to what had been a pretty solid trilogy so far? Would Superman Returns provide us with a return to form for a character that had been written off as the lamest thing ever? Would 2006 surprise us with two outings that would redeem a genre that had seemingly fallen into self-parody?
No! Not even a little bit!
Round 1: Worse Hero
I wish I could say that X-Men: The Last Stand was a movie where every protagonist got their fair share of the spotlight. And on the surface, it sure seems that way. Kitty Pryde gets to display some…emotions, I guess. Iceman says some lines. Professor X dramatically dies for the first time. But despite the huge cast, this is the Wolverine show. And that’s not a bad thing. As X2 and Days of Future Past and The Wolverine and Logan have shown us, there are worse options than to focus on Hugh Jackman’s throbbing facial muscles. It’s just that, unlike those movies, Wolverine is not the main character here because he’s especially important, but just because he’s in every scene. He’s the main character out of sheer addition.
Superman, on the other hand, mopes around, feels all tragic and stuff because of his stance as a lonely god, and is generally disappointing. It’s not a bad performance, but the balance between “heroic character moments” and “moments where Superman internally sobs about the state of his sad, sad life” is amazingly lopsided.
Loser: Superman Returns
Even in his most unnecessary moments, Hugh Jackman is delightful to watch. I’m convinced that he’s one of the only actors in the world that could be in nine superhero films as the same character and never once acknowledge that at least some of it is pretty stupid. On the other hand, Superman is so misused here that this movie should have dropped the “Returns” and been retitled Superman Stands Around.
Round 2: Worse Plot
X-Men: The Last Stand doesn’t so much have a plot as much as it has a list of things that it wants to get done: These are the characters we want to kill off, these are the characters that we want to introduce, these are the emotional beats that we want to hit, and these are the things that we want our characters to contend with. Sadly, rather than arrange these in any kind of narrative structure, they are hastily taped together, as if the screenwriting process was an executive quickly shouting random X-Men clichés and the writer making the script out of the ones that he managed to jot down, in the order he received them.
Superman Returns fixes any potential problems by not really having a plot. Or at least any plot that would fill a two-and-a-half-hour Superman film. Superman Returns feels like someone had an idea that would reasonably fit a thirty-minute episode of something, and then never bothered to come up with a second idea.
Loser: X-Men: The Last Stand
Superman Returns attempts to give you something to think about. X-Men: The Last Stand throws scenes at you, hoping that you won’t ask “Hey! Ummm…why?”
Round 3: Worse Action Scenes
For a movie called “The Last Stand”, you’d expect some kind of memorable last stand, or stand of any kind. But all we get are X-Men fight scene B-sides. Wolverine runs and cuts people, people that do lasers throw lasers at other laser people, and the hand-to-hand fight scenes are all remarkably brief. You do know that we’ve seen the last two X-Men movies, right, makers of X-Men: The Last Stand? Not to sound like a filthy elitist here, but maybe some effort would be nice.
Superman Returns, on the other hand, has a few action scenes, and one is outstanding. The scene where Superman rescues the plummeting airplane is the closest the film gets to putting us in a state of awe due to how great Superman is. Unfortunately, this scene is surrounded by the rest of the movie.
Loser: X-Men: The Last Stand
I will take one exemplary action scene over a thousand ones that I’m having trouble remembering, even though I watched the movie yesterday.
Round 4: Worse Villain
Kevin Spacey’s Lex Luthor is a performance out of the Jack Nicholson’s Joker playbook. I can’t call it good, and I can’t call it bad. I can only call it HUGE. I’m enraptured by it. It’s a performance that’s as big as the sun. It literally eclipses the movie at times, and that’s for the best, honestly.
On the other hand, Ian McKellen’s Magneto is both grandiose and subtle at the same time. He’s adept at delivering both magnificent Shakespearean declarations and displaying hints at his inner fury. He’s the best actor that’s ever appeared in multiple superhero sequels.
They’re both incredible. I’m sorry.
X-Men: The Last Stand
Superman Returns isn’t a good movie. It’s 154 minutes and it feels like four days, a lot of the emotional notes don’t really land, and compared to other superhero movies that actually feel like fun adventures, Superman Returns is basically a meandering experimental film. But it’s way better than X-Men: The Last Stand, which is 20 ccs of pure forgettable.