OK. “X-Men: The Last Stand” broke records with its opening take of $123 million over Memorial Day weekend. The question is: is it worth it? My answer? Not to me.
Part three of the trilogy, obviously, has a ready-made audience based on the success of the first two installments of the franchise. Brian Singer, who has a cinematic flair for storytelling, directed the first two and he did a solid job transforming the comic book characters to flesh and blood super humans on the big screen. Unfortunately, Singer decided not to direct (or wasn’t asked) the last of the trilogy and Brett Ratner of “Rush Hour” fame was tagged to take the helm. The result is a movie that is more, with lots of new mutants, and less, with a lackluster story that relies too heavily on special effects instead of character development
Worthington Industries has discovered a cure for the mutant gene and has offered it to any and all who want it. The X-Men, led by Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), and a growing number of powerful and malevolent mutants, called the Brotherhood, headed by Charles’s former colleague and, now, enemy, Magneto (Ian McKellen), have drawn a battle line with the fate of humankind in the balance.
All the mutants you came to know and love return in the last act but with only an exception or two are given little to do to bring out their individual characters. So many new mutes are introduced in “X-Men 3,” it has the effect of diluting the gene pool. This is so pronounced that, at the film’s big finale, it dissolves into little more than a gang fight rather than a titanic mutant battle. Little is done, for the background mutants, to even bother telling us of their powers as the big bunch of bad guys attack the tiny band of good guy mutes. For me, except for some very cool special F/X involving the Golden Gate Bridge, I just wanted it to be over with.
The producers of the X-Men series emphatically state that this is the end of the story. But, with so many new characters introduced, I’m betting that the promise of big bucks will force a fourth, fifth and, even sixth, to be forthcoming in one form or another. Of course, there is the prospect of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) getting his own spin off film(s). Truthfully, though, I’m not holding my breath. “X-Men: The Last Stand” is popcorn entertainment best left, except for the fans, as a curiosity for DVD rental. I give it a C+.
Jimmy (Cameron Bright, "Thank You for Smoking," "Running Scared") is a mutant with a most unusual power - his proximity drains other mutants of theirs. Driven by the plight of his own son, Warren (Ben Foster, "Hostage"), Warren Worthington II (Michael Murphy, "Silver City," "Heights") uses Jimmy to develop a cure for mutancy. But the cure is highly controversial both racially and politically and once again pits Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart, "X2") against his former best friend Eric Lensherr (Ian McKellen, "The Da Vinci Code") in "X-Men: The Last Stand."
Fans worried about mainstream director Brett Ratner ("Rush Hour," "Red Dragon") taking over the reigns from the more independent-minded Bryan Singer (now working on the upcoming mega-budgetted "Superman") can relax. With the ultra-charged "Phoenix" story as their focus, writers Simon Kinsberg ("Mr. and Mrs. Smith," "xXx: State of the Union") and Zak Penn ("The Last Action Hero," "X2") have ended the trilogy with its most memorable story and new mutants Dr. Hank McCoy/Beast (Kelsey Grammer, TV's "Frasier"), Juggernaut (Vinnie Jones, "She's the Man") and Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page, "Hard Candy") add to the fun.
Ratner begins with a couple of flashbacks which foreshadow the film's climatic endings. Xavier introduces Lensherr to the young Jean Grey (Famke Janssen, "X2") whose rebirth as the emotionally willful Phoenix will have dire consequences. A father (Murphy) is horrified to find his son mutilating himself in the bathroom, having cut off the giant white feathered wings which give him his alter ego of Angel. A jump to the future sees Storm (Halle Berry, "Catwoman") working in tandem with Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, "Van Helsing") in a futuristic battle against a gigantic armed robot. Ha! this last turns out to be simulation training, but the training proves mighty useful when the whole pitched battle is recreated at film's end.
The announcement of the cure is immediately rejected by Magneto (McKellen), who recruits mutants from the underbelly of society to take up the fight to destroy it, whereas Xavier has a characteristically more thoughtful approach and debates its meaning in his classroom. Riled up by her boyfriend Bobby's (Shawn Ashmore, "X2") touchy attentions to new student Kitty, Rogue (Anna Paquin, "The Squid and the Whale") is the most drawn to the idea of shedding her individuality. Meanwhile Scott (James Marsden, "The Notebook") is being tortured by the voice of his dead fiancee Jean and travels to the scene of her death, Alkali Lake, and witnesses her emergence from its waters. But Jean is no longer in control of her powers and her risen Phoenix kills the man she once loved. Logan is unaware of this and sees a parallel to the cure when he discovers Xavier had previously interfered with Jean's brain functions and he remains determined to save her even when she falls in with Magneto's mob.
The climate of the U.S. Government has become more moderate towards mutants, even including one, the furry blue Beast, as a Presidential advisor. The President (Josef Sommer, "The Sum of All Fears") announces that the cure will, of course, be voluntary, but when police intervene upon Magneto's rescue of an incarcerated Mystique (Rebecca Romijn, "X2") and are discovered to be armed with the drug, the President appears to be on the very slippery slope his advisor warned him about.
And so, armed with conflicts ethical and romantic, that final stand builds to quite a wallop. The Golden Gate Bridge is rerouted. Major characters (or sometimes just their alter egos) die - or do they? Characters given short shrift in earlier installments, particularly Halle Berry's Storm, come into their own, while major players like Logan and Xavier maintain their charisma. Kelsey Grammar is a real surprise as Beast and offers a great furry foil for Wolverine's wise-assing. And if Ellen Page doesn't get to astonish like she did in "Hard Candy," she has one of the film's best and funniest set pieces, racing the determined Juggernaut through walls towards the innocent Jimmy.
"X-Men: The Last Stand" doesn't require its audience to be fans of the comic books or even to have seen previous installments. It stands on its own as a solid piece of entertainment and although it may proclaim itself to be an end, there's that "Wolverine" spin-off to look forward to - I hadn't been until now.
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