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Stand and Deliver

 

X-Men: The Last Stand

Brett Ratner, USA, 2006

Rating: 3.5

 

Posted: May 30, 2006

By Kevin Forest Moreau

So much was made of the last-minute choice of Brett Rush Hour Ratner to take over for Bryan Singer, you'd think that villainous master of magnetism, Magneto, had taken over Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. Ratner settled into the director's chair so late in the game that it's impossible for Internet quarterbacks to fully determine which of the film's strengths or flaws can be laid at his feet.

But whoever's responsible, in X-Men: The Last Stand, fans of the mutant franchise finally get a film that rings true to the comic book source material. Which is to say: it's crammed tight with more super-powered characters and subplots than can easily be digested; it bungles the power of the book's central metaphor; and key characters are killed off in anticlimactic ways, with at least one of those deaths proving to be no more than a cheap dramatic cheat.

Not that The Last Stand doesn't have its fun moments. Over a premise taken straight from Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men (involving the introduction of a "cure" for mutantkind), the movie hangs some highly entertaining action sequences, although most of the good stuff -- including Magneto redirecting the Golden Gate Bridge to land at Alcatraz, and a fun chase between the unstoppable Juggernaut and intangible Kitty Pryde -- comes toward the climax.

But at this point, it's neither plot nor even set pieces that keep X-audiences coming back for more; it's the actors, who truly seem to be having fun with their (admittedly occasionally silly) roles. Ian McKellen has a grand old time as Magneto, and Hugh Jackman clearly relishes his turn as Wolverine; it's refreshing these days to see an actor who doesn't resent the action-movie role that helps to pad his bank account. Speaking of Halle Berry, she's given much more room to roam as the weather-manipulating Storm, and manages not to look like she'd rather be anywhere else. (Funny how much perspective a flop like Catwoman can bring.) And hey, any X-movie that dramatically cuts short the starched-shirt stiffness of James Marsden's half-dimensional Cyclops can't be all bad.

Indeed, The Last Stand could use much more of the principals -- and Kelsey Grammar's enjoyable, if limited, turn as furry scientist/diplomat Hank McCoy -- and a lot less attention given to newcomers who barely register. Ben Foster is an afterthought as the winged Angel, who interacts with the main characters in exactly one scene. Someone named Dania Ramirez (doing her best, for some reason, to recall Jada Pinkett Smith in the Matrix sequels) flits by as Callisto, who neither looks or acts like the comic character for which she's named. And Daniel Cudmore's Colossus doesn't exactly leave an indelible impression (although you've gotta give the big-screen Colossus credit for being nearly as bland as his comic counterpart).

But more jarring than the plethora of new faces and subplots (including a love triangle between Shawn Ashmore's Iceman, Anna Paquin's Rogue and Ellen Page's Kitty Pryde) is the film's muddy approach to its own plot and themes. The X-Men rush into battle against Magneto mainly because, well, he's their arch-enemy; there's never much discussion about the fact that maybe he has a legitimate grievance, given that the U.S. government, in contrast to its promises, seems to be developing this mutant "cure" as a weapon. As a result, the audience never really feels the righteousness of their cause.

And when Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) allies with Magneto, it's not because she necessarily believes in his cause; it's because she's mad at Xavier (Patrick Stewart) for messing with her mind. (By the time patient audiences get to a very short "surprise" scene after the interminable closing credits, they'll begin to sympathize with her.)

It's no secret that the X-Men comics have been convoluted, clogged with confusing storylines and ridiculous characters -- like the time-traveling mutant cyborg Cable, easily one of the worst mutant superheroes ever -- since somewhere in the mid-to-late '80s. So perhaps it's inevitable that the X-Men film series would ultimately follow suit. But, like the comics themselves, the series, including The Last Stand, contains enough compelling summer-blockbuster action and pleasurable performances to merit a couple of hours on a hot summer afternoon. And if you walk out of the theater trying to keep all the characters straight in your head, count your blessings: At least Cable's nowhere to be seen.

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