X-Men: The Last Stand
You can’t tell the mutants without a scorecard
By Devin D. O'Leary
X-Men: The Last Stand
Directed by Brett Ratner
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Famke Janssen, Ian McKellen
Sure, you can start a controversy by making a major studio film that brings into question the most basic foundations of one of the world's largest religions (The Da Vinci Code). But that's kid's stuff. If you really want to ignite a raging controversy over summer movie season, just turn a popular superhero comic book into a movie. Yeah, Catholics can get angry; but they're taught to forgive. Fanboys, on the other hand, hold a grudge forever.
So, it's really no surprise to witness the moral outrage comic book fans have expressed over Bryan Singer being replaced by Brett Ratner as the director of the third X-Men outing, X-Men: The Last Stand. Singer (The Usual Suspects) ingratiated himself with hardcore mutant-lovers by taking one of comicdom's most beloved franchises and turning it into a couple of surprisingly smart, serious and well-acted action flicks.
So it was with great sadness and furious anger that fans greeted the news of Singer’s departure from the world of mutants. The news was slightly ameliorated by the revelation that Singer was heading off to helm another popular superhero series, this summer’s Superman Returns. However, the fans went right back to their apoplectic online flame wars when they heard who would be replacing Singer in the director’s chair: Brett Ratner.
Ratner has garnered plenty of money, but little respect, for giving the world such classics as Rush Hour, Rush Hour 2 and the upcoming Rush Hour 3 (to say nothing of his dating Lindsay Lohan). Internet chat rooms all but melted down when Ratner was named as the Man Most Likely to Mutate.
But mutate he has, delivering the third (and possibly final) film in the X-Men trilogy (not counting spin-offs like Wolverine and Magneto, of course). The good news is that the X-Men films are largely cruising under their own power at this point, and it’s far beyond the meager talents of Mr. Ratner to destroy them entirely. All he’s really got to do is show up to work on time, approve the costume designs and make sure the camera is pointed in the right direction.
X-Men: The Last Stand picks up right where the last successful film left off. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), having perished (sort of) at the climax of X2: X-Men United, comes back from the grave as the more powerful (and much more evil) Phoenix. Though this adaptation of writer Chris Claremont/artist John Byrne’s famed “Dark Phoenix” saga does steal a page or two (at most) from the comic book's most classic run (The Uncanny X-Men 129-137), it spends most of its time spinning off in a totally original (read: “non Marvel comics continuity”) direction.
Seems a controversial “cure” for mutants has been developed by a wealthy industrialist. On the one hand, normal humans need no longer fear their more powerful brethren. On the other hand, mutants would be stripped of their most basic identity. While the idea holds a certain angle of appeal to mutants like Rogue (Anna Paquin), whose very touch can steal the powers and identity of anyone she comes in contact with, it's a call-to-arms for villainous Brotherhood of Mutants leader Magneto (Ian McKellen).
As in the previous films, the cast is stuffed full to bursting. We get Kelsey Grammer’s Beast, Ben Foster’s Angel, Dania Ramirez' Callisto and Vinnie Jones’ Juggernaut added to the already large roster of mutants this time around. Like before, there’s barely enough time to put names to faces what with the film's brief running time and abundance of action. (Would another 10 minutes of breathing room have killed anybody?)
Ratner’s strength does lie in action, though, and he delivers one of the most kinetic of all superhero movies. The film’s stunt team works overtime, while the impressive CGI effects culminate in the memorable destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge. This is action writ appropriately large, with barely enough room to breathe between action sequences.
The script does find time to shoehorn in a bit of well-rendered drama. The central messages of “can’t we all just get along?” and “can’t we love ourselves for who we are?” give the film a stronger emotional resonance than most superhero films. A couple of love triangles are also in there jockeying for audience empathy. Nice as these moments are, they’re merely quick pitstops in a vehicle for which the primary fuel is action.
In other words: This isn’t the sort of film to welcome newcomers. If you're already a dyed-in-the-black-leather fan of X-Men, however, this car-exploding, wall-smashing, bridge-destroying epic is just the sort of summer movie ticket you're looking for.
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