X-Men: The Last Stand
directed by Brett Ratner
(20th Century Fox, 2006)

X-Men was an amazing superhero movie. X2, the inevitable sequel, faltered. And now there's the third in the series, X-Men: The Last Stand, which strives for a greatness it fails to achieve.

A good number of fans are quick to pin the blame on director Brett Ratner, who replaced Bryan Singer on the project -- but frankly there are far too many missteps to dump on one person. Let's start with an accounting of some of the more obvious flaws.

• The Dark Phoenix storyline was a major event in the X-Men comics line, with long-lasting repercussions. In this film, it was a minor subplot, the biggest crisis of which was it turned the beautiful Famke Janssen, as the newly reborn Jean Grey, all veiny and mean-looking.

• Like him or not, Cyclops, a.k.a. Scott Summers (James Marsden), is a major player in the X-line. In this movie, he's killed off-screen in a fairly meaningless twist near the start of the movie, a total waste of character and opportunity.

• Rogue (Anna Paquin), a major character in the previous movies, was reduced to a handful of brief cameos. One wonders why she bothered to show up on set.

• Newcomer mutant Angel (Ben Foster), who figured so heavily in movie previews, also had no real reason for being there. Newcomer mutant Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) fared better, but her few excellent appearances should have been expanded.

• The X-Men, who are supposed to be the good guys, continue to use lethal force in fights where it's not required, a major sidestep from their comic-book counterparts.

• Two major characters are depowered and three major (and several minor) characters are killed without much reason or impact. At least one of the dead guys is given an avenue for return (if another sequel is approved) that feels like a very big cheat.

• There are just too many damn mutants. Perhaps Ratner thought it would be impressive to blow the budget on supertheatrics, filling the screen with countless bodies that are leaping and flying and flaming and glowing, but overkill just numbs the senses. Besides, since Ratner seemed likely to introduce new mutants just so he could kill them, it seemed a waste of time and attention to figure out who they were and what they could do.

If you made it through all that and still want to know the plot, it's time to reward your patience. A corporate researcher, driven by his son's embarrassing mutation, has discovered a "cure" for the mutant gene. Some mutants embrace the opportunity to live "normal" lives, while others see this as a first step towards genocide; the government's inevitable involvement (including the invention of new weapons that deliver the serum to unwilling targets) convinces them that the United States, at least, is going to do its best to wipe out mutants altogether.

Enter Magneto (Ian McKellen), who leads his Brotherhood of Mutants on a holy campaign to stamp out the humans first. Enter Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who leads his X-Men to protect the humans at any cost, even when peace between the two sides seems impossible to achieve.

Hugh Jackman provides one saving grace as Wolverine, and Halle Berry is given a chance to develop her character a little more as Storm. The X-Men also gain an ally in the form of Kelsey Grammer as Beast, replacing Nightcrawler from X2 as the blue-skinned hero in this film. On the other hand, Rebecca Romijn -- who wowed audiences of the first two X-films as the shape-shifting (and naked) evil mutant Mystique -- gets relatively little to do this time around.

After a steady decline in quality, let's hope Hollywood gives the X-franchise a rest -- or, if an X4 proves unavoidable, let's pray they put someone at the helm who has a better grasp of the concept.

by Tom Knapp
30 December 2006

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